Friday 21 December 2018


The bullets were fired 50 years ago. They're about to hit home.

There are times in life when you just need a particular kind of book. Something that will take your mind off everything else and will smooth the edge of restlessness when what you need is to settle. Revolver did that for me this week, even if it did keep me up way past my bedtime last night to undo some of that good work. 

The novel opens in 1965. Stan Walczak and his partner George W Wildey are taking a break from their duties while they sip cool beer in a Philadelphia bar. Within a couple of pages we know enough about them to understand that we like them and that they live in interesting times. The mood is good and the music's fine. It's a shame that their time is interrupted by a customer pointing a gun. 

Chapter Two takes us on thirty years. Same family, same city, same profession, different case. Jim Walczak stands outside the bar where his father was killed thirty years earlier. 

Chapter Three and the next generation of Walczak's are gathering to commemorate the murder of their grandfather. 

The structure continues in a similar sequence from there. 

Working back from 1964 to the opening chapter, we get to find out how Walczak and Wildey came together. They make a hell of a team as they set out to clean up the streets of the city's toughest area. Slowly but surely, we come to understand that they're getting themselves into waters that are murky and shark-infested and in which they are way out of their depth. It becomes clear that their killing was more likely down to their own actions than the pure accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In 1965, Jim Walczak is struggling to keep hold of his sanity and his family life. Haunted by the killing of his father and the release of the man suspected of the murder, he's also investigating another homicide involving a young journalist with a bright future.

In 2015, Jim's daughter Audrey has ideas of her own. She's a flunking student of forensic science who sees only one option to help her straighten out her life, and that's to solve the mystery of her grandfather's slaying once and for all. In order to do so, she needs to poke a stick into the hornets' nest of her family history and risk alienating herself from even more alienation. 

Each of the stories is wonderfully told. The excitement builds and the need to understand what's happened over the three generations grows exponentially as the plots unfold and twist together. The layers compliment and feed off each other in a wonderful and natural symbiosis. Pace gathers and tension mounts as the storylines ratchet up, but never at the expense of attention to detail. Elements of backstory for each character are handled with subtlety and the interesting facts about the city are dripped in in such a way that they are always welcome and never get in the way. 

The resolution to the novel is extremely satisfying. Not only does it bring the whole of the past together, it also sets out the present and the future. It would have been so easy for such a complex work to fall flat on its face at the last hurdle, but Revolver sails over it. 

I love this one. The characters and sense of culture and place are top class. It's right up there as one of the favourites of my year. Michael Connelly gets a quote on the cover, suggesting that Swierczynski is 'A great storyteller.' How absolutely Mr Connelly has hit the nail on the head. This one's glorious.   

Sunday 16 December 2018


Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

A black-cloaked killer leaves a bag behind when disappearing onto a bus. Patrolman Richard Genero sees what happens and goes and opens said bag. The only thing in it is the hand of the title. A murder investigation takes place, using the reports of missing persons as that's about the only line of enquiry available. 

I suppose that any series is going to have it's highs and lows. It also makes sense to say that the better a series is, the more enjoyable the lows will be, so it stands to reason that any of the 87th Precinct books are going to be worth reading even if they don't always hit the mark. 

This one didn't really get me totally absorbed. I'm unable to put my finger on why. As much as anything, I suspect that it's because there's no serious development of any of the central characters. 

The case itself goes like clockwork. Though the leads don't take them far in the early stages, they soon come together to help the detectives crack the case. 

Notable in this one are some of the set pieces. Genero trying to get a warming Passover wine from a local tailor, Carella spoiling for a fight (and finding one) and an amusing visit to a high-brow clothes shop stood out for me. The ending also provides a terrific and bizarre finale that is hugely twisted and has been oft borrowed since.    

More good stuff from McBain, but there are better vintages available. 

Friday 14 December 2018


The Ramsay brothers are keen to move up in the world and get the hell out of town. They gather all their hopes in one basket and set up the Scottish Open dog-fighting tournament. In Leo they have the animal to win it. All they need to complete the plan is a fair wind.
Carlo Salvino returns home missing an arm and a leg. He’s keen to win back the affections of his teenage girlfriend and mother of his child. If he can take his revenge on the Ramsays, so much the better.
The Hooks, well they’re just a maladjusted family caught up in the middle of it all.
A tale of justice, injustice and misunderstanding, Smoke draws its inspiration from characters introduced in a short story first published by Crimespree Magazine and later in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime Stories 8.
Praise for SMOKE:
“Grim, but really good.” —Ian Rankin, bestselling author of the Inspector Rebus novels
“Highly recommended.”—Thomas Pluck, author of Bad Boy Boogie
“It’s the real deal.” —Les Edgerton, author of Adrenaline Junkie
Smoke is reminiscent of Allan Guthrie’s Savage Night in the way it cleverly interweaves different strands of the story and its great mixture of colorful characters, absurdest humor and hard-boiled crime.” —Paul D Brazill, author of Last Year’s Man
“The pace of Smoke is first-class and a definition of noir itself. The characters are well-rounded, the dialogue top-drawer, the ending a satisfying conclusion to a cracking tale.” —Ian Ayris, author of the John Sissons thrillers
“This is a truly great piece of writing with characters that will live long in your mind.” —McDroll, author of Feeling It
“Grim, brutal, never pretty but laced with enough black humor and cautious optimism to elevate it above being a bleak and hopeless read.” —Col’s Criminal Library
“Gritty, working-class fiction from a hell of a writer.” —Matt Phillips, author of The Bad Kind of Lucky
“Horribly compulsive reading.” —Kath Middleton, author of The Sundowners
Smoke is Brit Grit at its very finest. Think in terms of Layer Cake or Snatch.” —Darren Sant, author of Dark Voices

• Amazon — Trade Paperback | eBook 
• Amazon UK — Trade Paperback | eBook 
• Barnes & Noble — Trade Paperback | eBook 
• iTunes — eBook 
• Kobo — eBook 
• Play — eBook
or directly from Down and Out Books

Saturday 8 December 2018

Dancing With Myself: TESS MAKOVESKY interviews TESS MAKOVESKY

It's a rare sunny day in Birmingham (the original one in the UK). I'm heading for Cannon Hill Park, a vast open green space (yes, the city does have green spaces, read on for more of that) on the borders between Moseley and Edgbaston. Tess is already there, perched on a bench near the boating lake, swinging her legs and looking worryingly as though she's plotting a murder. Mine, perhaps, if I don't get this interview right...

I recognise the bench from a picture on her Instagram account. It's the same one that a duck pecked Todd's backside through, mid-way through Gravy Train (US). That book is set in Birmingham, in a myriad locations including this park, Moseley itself, a back-street boozer near the Jewellery Quarter, and of course, Birmingham's sprawl of canals.

Which brings me rather neatly to my first question. Nervously, I clear my throat.

So, where did the idea for 'Gravy Train' first come from?

You can blame Birmingham's canals for that! The city has more miles of canal than Venice, and the police are always fishing odd things out of them. Not just litter and shopping trolleys but dead bodies, and in a case that made the local papers about four years ago, an entire bag of money.

This was unusual enough to make all my crime-writing instincts start squawking. Where had the money come from? How had it got there? By accident or design? And if the latter, what had the people who put it there hoped to achieve?

At the time I wrote a very tongue in cheek flash fiction story inspired by the idea, called rather inevitably, Money Laundering. It was published on the online website, and also appears in their anthology of collected stories from the site, which is available on Amazon if wet money floats your boat...

Usually when I write a story it satisfies the creative urge on that subject. But the idea stayed with me and I began to plot out just how that money might have made its way into the canal, and who it might have got involved with along the way. And suddenly, the outline of Gravy Train was born.

You set both this book, and its predecessor 'Raise the Blade', in Birmingham. You must know the city quite well?

I moved down to Brum in the mid-1980s to work, and ended up living there for over twenty years. As I don't drive I travelled everywhere either on foot or by bus, so I got to know places that most people never even notice as they drive past at thirty miles an hour.

Although the city has a reputation for being nothing but motorways, factories and dull 1960s concrete, there are actually all sorts of unusual nooks and crannies if you know where to look. These range from swathes of Victorian and Edwardian suburbs to stately homes; medieval manor houses and churches to gleaming modern office blocks; dodgy back alleys to tree-lined boulevards. And of course, those canals!

Although the city council works hard to preserve the city's heritage, things are always changing and every time I go back I discover something new, so it's a place that's full of surprises and well worth getting to know.

What's all this about a link to Pink Floyd?

Guilty as charged! I'm a huge fan of the band, their music in general and Roger Waters' brilliant lyrics in particular. When I was writing Raise the Blade I realised that the lyrics for their track Brain Damage (from the famous Dark Side of the Moon album) summed the book up perfectly. I nicked a tiny fraction of the lyrics for that book's title, as well as hiding other references to the track, and to Floyd in general, throughout the book.

When I came to write Gravy Train it seemed like a good idea to carry on the Pink Floyd connection, so that title is also from a Floyd track - this time Have a Cigar from Wish You Were Here. Again, the lyrics match the ethos of the book perfectly, and again I've scattered references to both that, and the equally appropriate Money (Dark Side of the Moon again), throughout the book. I hope readers have fun spotting them!

Although I've never managed to see the band live, I did stay up into the wee small hours to catch their amazing reunion at Live Eight, and have also seen their official tribute band Australian Pink Floyd, in Birmingham, several times. And last year I went to the fabulous Their Mortal Remains exhibition at the V&A museum in London, which was an adventure in itself - and which I've just realised would make a brilliant title for a book...

Are your characters based on real people?

Well, I don't know anyone called Ballsy McBollockface if that's what you mean!

But no, this time around the characters aren't really based on anyone I know. In Raise the Blade some of them (the over-bearing Gillian, for instance) were amalgamations of several people I'd met, but for Gravy Train I didn't seem to need that extra prompt. The characters were already there in my head, and spilled out onto the page ready-formed.

The only exceptions to that are Justine and Fred. They first turned up in my short story Wheel Man, published in the Drag Noir anthology by Fox Spirit Books. I loved writing that story, and when the plot in Gravy Train called for a car thief, it seemed silly not to turn back to Justine and finish off her story. I hope the readers agree.

Are there any more Pink Floyd-inspired, Birmingham-set books in the works?

Funny you should ask! I'm currently scrabbling around on the 50th rewrite of another crime caper set around those same canals, and featuring a bizarre getaway on a narrow boat. It's called Embers of Bridges, which is cheerfully nicked from the Floyd track High Hopes (The Division Bell) - one of my all-time favourites and a perfect fit for the melancholy and suppressed anger I'm writing about. I'm hoping to finish it in the new year, and submit it to All Due Respect after that. Whether they'll actually like it is another matter!

As well as that, I have a dark psychological novella called Consumed by Slow Decay which is set in Birmingham again but inspired by the rather odd case of a body discovered under the tarmac of a car park in Manchester. And as well as that, I've penned a few chapters of another book which doesn't even have a proper title yet, but which features Edgbaston Reservoir and a bloodthirsty murder in the first few chapters!

All three still need a ton of work. I just have to tie myself to my desk and find the time to actually finish some of them...

And that's that. I've asked my questions, and I'm still here to tell the tale. She hasn't killed me, or even threatened to write me in as a victim in her next three books. Then again, I did happen to mention that I quite like Pink Floyd too.

I fold away my notebook, tuck it into my handbag, and turn to shake her hand. Then I squawk. There's a sharp jab from something small but very hard, right through the slats of the seat. I look at Tess but her hands are folded on her lap. There's a mocking quack.

"Bloody ducks," I say.

Tess just laughs.

Sunday 2 December 2018


I’m not much for organized religion. I don’t believe in karma and all that. I believe there is a God, but not the God that is proclaimed from most pulpits. The God I believe in is a hands-off kind of being who only steps in when all is truly lost for mankind and not for individuals. He doesn’t help anyone win football games and He doesn’t save people from famines, pestilence and war. He gives people a guide and if they choose not to follow that guide, well, there are consequences clearly delineated. From what I know, God is interested in the individual’s soul and not their earthly bodies.

All that said, I just witnessed a Thanksgiving miracle.

I received an email from a woman who said she had discovered she was my daughter from a DNA test she’d submitted to

It was a communication I’d expected for fifty some years

I wrote about it in the memoir that was just published on the nineteenth of this month, Adrenaline Junkie (US).

A book it turns out she had read just after discovering I was her birth father.

Here’s the first message she sent me:

Hi, I recently did my ancestry DNA and apparently we are closely related. I was adopted at birth. I have no biological family information, including medical history. I don't know if you have or are willing to give me any information on who I am, but if you are I would appreciate it. Thank you.

Signed, Maria

To which I replied:

Nov 21, 2018

Hi Maria,

How old are you and when were you adopted? I have a daughter and was married to her mother and unfortunately was in a place where I couldn't stop it (prison), but she put our daughter up for adoption. That would have been in 1967 or 1968. I've often wondered what happened to that little girl. If it's possible it was you, I would absolutely love to meet you!

Blue skies,
Les Edgerton
Here's a place with my photo and some info about me. Nowadays, I live in Ft. Wayne, IN.

And she came back with:


Nov 21, 2018

Well, that would match. I was born in 1967. Wow, a lot to take in, going from no history to this in a matter of minutes. I would very much like to meet you. Let me know some times that would be convenient. I was adopted as an infant and given no information. I am so overjoyed right now.

I replied, sending her my contact info and the little information I had about her mother. She sent me the following email:

It should take us about 2 hours, to get there, I hope that is okay, which would be about 1730 hours. My husband, Joe, is a finish carpenter, though he can do most any type of general contractor work. My daughter, Nikole, is a supervisor with Forte Residential and Home Health Care Services, working with families with disabilities. She is a certified behavioral technician, having passed her boards for that this year. She graduated from college in Nebraska in 2013, completing her BA in 3 1/2 years, while working 3 jobs, (I am a little proud). She recently took the job with Forte after working for several years with Meridian as a behavioral clinician. She was very good at her job, however she was given several of the worst cases of child abuse/neglect in St Joseph County to handle during that time, and needed a change for her own mental health. I am a Public Service officer, certified in mental first aid, assisting individuals in crisis, group crisis intervention, and suicide prevention. Fortunately, I've only had two seriously suicidal people recently and one who was homicidal/suicidal, and all three ended well. I also train all new hires. In 2013, I had a several tumors removed, one of which was over 5 lbs, and apparently was not breathing for a little while during the surgery. During that same time, I had to be cut open in the doctor's office to relive some bleeding that was pooling and apparently could kill me. The doctor had to cut me open in her office, without benefit or anesthesia, or even Listerine, (I asked), I didn't yell at all, not wanting to scare the other patients, but my poor husband passed out. Apparently, I was squeezing his hands too hard. He is a very wonderful man. We spent a lot of 2011-2013 in and out of hospitals, (everything is good now), and it was very hard on him, so he goes a little overboard on the protective side sometimes, but I figure he earned it. He is very excited to meet you. The tumors and cancer were what started my quest in earnest, as I had no medical history. We had my daughter checked and she was at risk for some of the same things I had, which we dealt with immediately, so she won't have to go through the years of pain, but I wanted to try to find out everything I could to help ensure her health. I didn't dare hope I would actually find a close family member, let alone birth father. I had applied for my birth certificate, as soon as it became possible on July 15, but still have not received it. I had no information to go on, it was a closed adoption, didn't list even a city of birth, my birth certificate was actually issued April of 1968, my birthday being Oct 8, 1967. My dad offered to help, but I wouldn't have put him in that position, he always worked so hard to protect me, I wouldn't knowingly create another issue for him. Finally knowing that I have family and that family wanted me and wants to meet me, is wonderful to hear and over whelming. I am very excited to meet you and hope that I do not disappoint. I am overjoyed to hear I have more siblings, too!!

See you Monday!


Some more tidbits…

Maria, I was "downstate" when you were born, but I'm pretty sure it was in Memorial. When Sherry put you up for adoption (against my will), she'd given you a name but didn't tell me. But you had a legitimate birth and a legitimate mother and father. That was very important to me and why I insisted she marry me, so that you wouldn't be illegitimate. I don't understand why none of this info was made available to you. You weren't some illegitimate baby at all. I wish I could tell you more about Sherry but I was only with her for a few months. She was a very small blonde and worked in the office of an insurance company and I don't recall the name, alas.

Blue skies,

I was so overjoyed to read in your book that you wanted me and that you tried everything to keep me. That it was in there, without your ever knowing if I would read it, means that it was how you really felt and that means more than if I had been told that my birth parents named me this or did this or that.


Well, we met in person when Maria and her husband Joe came down and spent Monday evening with us. I can’t begin to describe the feelings I experienced during that time. Maria looks like me (poor girl!) and it turns out we share a lot of genetic traits. She’s already corresponding with her new sisters, Britney and Sienna, and they’ve all made plans to meet and are all excited to have a new sister(s). Mike is also anxious to meet his new sister.

She’s just an amazing person and I’m so blessed to have been able to meet her and begin a relationship with her. The timing of this is just incredible. Adrenaline Junkie had just come out a day before she found out I was her father and I’d written about her in it and it meant the world to her to find out she was truly wanted. She told me she’d always had a feeling of being unwanted all her life and it meant so much to her to find out her birth father had really wanted her.

So that’s it. I have a new daughter and my life has been immeasurably enlarged and blessed. As happens so often, true life is much more interesting than fiction! If I never make a dollar from my memoir, I’ve already earned a treasure from its existence.

Blue skies,


P.S. If you’re interested, a full account of Maria’s birth situation is in my memoir.

Friday 23 November 2018

Dancing With Myself: LISA DE NIKOLITS interviews LISA DE NIKOLITS

I’m, waiting to interview Lisa de Nikolits, author of Rotten Peaches. I’m unavoidably early (I’m always early) and I’m annoyed the author isn’t here although she does have twenty minutes grace. Oh look, there she is, she almost collided with a couple, one of those awkward door-tangling episodes. Lisa looks perplexed as if Starbucks is an alien world, confusing and inhospitable and she’s gazing around, peering nearsightedly at her phone. I stand up, making lifeguard signalling motions and I finally catch her eye. I have her books piled up on the table and she waves back at me, smacking a hefty man on the shoulder. She apologizes and heads towards me, threading dangerously through the tables and nearly knocks a venti something or other into a teenager’s lap and the teenager scowls. 

Lisa apologises for being late, I assure her she wasn’t, and we chat about who’d like to eat and drink what and Lisa goes off to procure a venti Pike for me and a pumpkin scone, and a grande non-fat, no-foam latte for herself, with a Marshmallow Dream Bar on the side. I wanted to do the purchasing but Lisa’s order was far too complicated and I let her do the honours. I watch her. She’s shorter than I expected her to be and she looks older, tired. She’s quite chatty to the barista and I tap my pen impatiently against my notepad. 

When she returns, we get settled and I launch right into it.

What’s your worst nightmare?

The one where you are submerged under water and you can’t breathe and you can’t make your way to the top. You can see the light shining down through the water and it’s like you’re lying on your back on the bottom of a murky pond, you’re Ophelia, sunken and there’s no escape.

I meant your worst nightmare in real life, the worst situation you have been in or could imagine being in.

Real life is so boring! I far prefer to think in imaginative terms.

Real life is boring? Isn’t that what inspires you?

No. My imaginary life inspires me. Reality is a killer. Hour upon hour of mind-numbing tedium… that’s real life for you. 

And yet you come across as someone endlessly fascinated by the people and minutiae around you! I’ve read all your interviews.

I am fascinated by life, you’re right. But only as a base ingredient for what my mind can do with the thing. In and of itself, what I observe around me is merely a starting point.

And what is the catalyst for turning a dull base chemical, as it were, into a magic potion for a story?

[Laughs] Honestly, I have no idea. I guess it comes to down to having a good imagination, a touch of psychosis and an almost pathological commitment to being a writer.

With the emphasis on psychosis, I’d like to discuss Rotten Peaches with particular attention to the two secondary characters, the two love interests. JayRay, the conman, and Dirk, the Afrikaner who wants the old South Africa back and who will do anything to try to make that happen. How did you come up with them?

I always loved Frank Chambers, the conman love-interest in The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain), and I wanted to write my own spin on that kind of guy. I had a lot of fun with JayRay, he’s one of my favourite characters! He’s so sleazy and so gorgeous!

Dirk was inspired by an ex-boyfriend, an Afrikaans man with strange moral boundaries that were dictated to him by his Church and People – the Afrikaans morality. I wondered what happened to him in the new South Africa and that became an interesting line to follow.

Both of those characters opened up fascinating plot lines for me and writing the dialogue was a blast! As a writer, it’s the greatest gift, when characters present themselves, fully formed, script in hand and a bunch of warped ideas! It creates so much opportunity.

Rotten Peaches is primarily about love, lust, greed and obsession. But there is racism too. Can you talk a bit about that?

I was born in the era of apartheid and I grew up in it. Voting for Nelson Mandela was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. It was a time of wonderful optimism and hope, it was truly amazing. I always wanted to write about the apartheid experience, as a way to acknowledge the terrible wrongs that existed when I grew up.

We had a housekeeper, although in those days we simply called her the ‘maid’ even although she was a woman in her thirties with her own children. I never even knew what her surname was. Betty. And I wanted to apologise to Betty by writing about her. It doesn’t make things right, of course it doesn’t, and Betty, my real Betty, will most probably never know about the book, but sometimes you write about things that have worried you in your life, things you can only put right in fiction.

You have described your writing as Little House on The Prairie meets Pulp Fiction. That’s quite the combination, can you explain this?

[Laughs] Yes, well there is a farm scene in Rotten Peaches which starts off feeling all peaceful and lovely and then it’s like Quentin Tarantino arrives and it gets quite nasty! I like to take ordinary lives and ordinary people and then use the worst ‘what if’ that I can imagine. But my ‘what if’ definitely has a noir spin to it, noir with some humour.

Yes, let’s talk about your humour in writing. Is that an intentional writing device to ease plot tension and bring depth the characters or why do you use it?

I don’t use it, it uses me! I don’t have as much control over my writing as I’d like – honestly, it pops out and I’m like a bystander, mouth open, going okayyyyy…. But that’s what makes it hugely entertaining. I’m not funny by nature, I hate watching comedy, it really stresses me out.

What kind of person doesn’t enjoy comedy? You have to explain more!

I just don’t! Half the time I just don’t get the joke! But that said, I can watch Ace Ventura, Pet Detective on repeat and I never stop laughing. Or Dumb and Dumber. Cracks me up! I don’t write that kind humour of course, mine is more satirical, wry. I think I have a rather cynical view of life and that comes out in humour. But it’s as if it was written by someone else – like when I read JayRay’s comments, I wonder where they came from!

Do you have a writing routine?

I just do as much as I can in a day before I fall over. I have a day job, I’m a graphic designer/magazine art director, although these days magazines are as rare as hens’ teeth, so mainly I do graphic design. Which is actually a lot easier than writing! Writing is a very tough gig! So I do as much as I can at night and on the weekends. I have a running to-do list when it comes to my writing and it’s very long! My motto is this: Do One Thing A Day For Your Writing and I stick to it. One sentence or 10 000 words, it doesn’t matter, just do one thing.

Tell us about a few things on the to-do list.

I’m doing a lot of readings for Rotten Peaches which I always enjoy. Going to festivals, reading from the book and being on panels is always such a treat after all the hard, solitary slog of getting the book out there!

I’m also working on a short story, Hit Me With Your Pet Shark, for the anthology In The Key Of Thirteen, which will be published by The Mesdames of Mayhem in 2019. I’m a member of the Mesdames, we’re a collective of crime-loving ladies (and two gentlemen!) and it’s a great group of superbly talented people.

The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution will be coming out in 2019 and I need to do a lot of self-editing on that! I am working on another noir novel, The Weegee Doll, and I have the fledging idea for a time-travel crime novel called The Rage Room, although I do seem a little stuck on that one which is frustrating! There might be nothing there! I’m also looking forward to going to Milan in April of next year to launch Una furia dell’altro mondo (The Fury From The Other World), the Italian publication of No Fury Like That. So there is lots to look forward to, lots to keep me out of mischief! Although being mischievous is so much more fun than not!

Anything you’d like to add, in closing?

Readers, keep reading and writers, keep writing! Books (and fat-bottomed girls!) make the rockin’ world go round and let’s keep it that wayFor more information, check out Innana Publications ('essential reading for feminists the world over'). 

Friday 16 November 2018


Kate Tempest is an extraordinary poet. She musters power and depth and windows into humanity with such a brutal honesty and turn of phrase that it’s impossible to remain untouched.

Her novel, The Bricks That Built The Houses (US) often reflects these strengths.

It opens with a burst of excitement. Harry, Becky and Leon are leaving their home town with a bag of money and their hearts pounding like crazy. They’re not safe. They’re on the run. South London is all they really know. It’s a catchy start and an edgy one.

From this point on, we’re draw back to the beginning of this tale – their journey from a late night meeting at a drug deal through to the danger of what lies ahead.

Having established our main characters, the novel takes regular tangents to fragment into vignettes of the bricks that built the houses. There are back stories galore as we get to understand the lives of each family member in some depth. Each of these pieces is well told and has enough intrigue to pull a reader in. Though the key narrative gets lost through this process, the book never loses its energy and drive. Lives overlap. We get to understand that every person has a tale to tell. That the histories that are hidden well beneath the surface are tough, exciting and incredible.

Each individual story forms a circle. When these circles come together, they fill the canvas like a pointillist painting.

The simile there may be terrible, but it draws me to a key element of the writing. The description here is stunning. Whether it’s the urban landscape or the body that’s on view, the pictures are painted in such a way that they burst from the page. It’s really quite something. It’s also something that can get in the way of the plot on occasion and could maybe become stronger with a touch of dilution.

I really enjoyed Bricks a lot. I’d often stop reading and immediately want to pick the book up again, which is always a good sign. That’s not to say it was perfect. In fact, there are lots of flaws that are difficult to overlook.

The exploration of each character’s back story may be well-handled, but the novel begins to feel the weight of all those tales by the end. Momentum slows a good deal before sparking back into life at the conclusion.

There’s also an issue with the range of character responses. Too many of them experience the world in the similar ways. Their biologies are almost identical. Their reactions could be interchangeable. Which, of course, may be the point, who knows?

As the strands of the work came together and come close to getting back to where things began, the energy fizzes and sparks. It’s a change of pace that is welcome, but is also slightly incongruous. In many ways, if the individual elements were surgically removed and reworked, there could be two novels here, a well-paced crime drama and a literary gem.  

All of those issues may have fallen to the back of my mind had it not been for the ending. The ‘what happened next?’ element arrives and drags down the energy so that it disappears even more quickly than it came. It was something of a let-down and I’d rather have had the ultimate conclusion left to my imagination.

Which all seems rather damning.

It shouldn’t. In spite of the things I feel were wrong, I still found the read compelling and would recommend it without much reservation. There are so many things to like and so many touches that need to be experienced that I hope you’ll give it a try.    

Sunday 28 October 2018


'Me and Frankie M., we got balls.
I just gotta blow Frankie's off.'

Everybody loves Frankie Machianno, aka Frankie theMachine, aka Frankie the Bait Guy. The fishermen, the Little League kids, the students from the drama club, the soccer kids, the surfers, ex cops, his ex wife, his lover, his daughter, the basketball players and the local Vietnamese community.

And I love Frankie, too.

Frankie's past is more colourful than most. He has been a hitman, amongst other things, for the mob and has earned the reputation for being the toughest and the best that is well-deserved. Not that you'd know it from the opening chapters. For the first forty pages, we just get to know the guy. There are tasty hints of what might lie ahead, but in the main we find out about is his daily routine and about the things he cares for the most in life. It's a crucial section of the novel as it lays down the foundations of the man and gives us all the material we need to want to root for him all the way to the end. What is so impressive here is the way that this introduction is never dull. There may not be anything explosive to latch on to, but the smoulder is a pleasure.

I'd have been happy to carry on in the same vein for a lot longer, wondering how he was going to pay for his daughter to go to medical school and maintain order on the pier, but that wasn't to be. Instead, in chapter seven, Frankie returns home to find an unfamiliar car in his alley. He's been waiting for such a visit for many years and is prepared to deal with whatever appears before him.

What he finds is Mouse Junior, son of the boss of the local family, who asks for Frankie's help. Vince Vena, new member of the ruling council of the Combination, wants a heavy slice of Mouse Jr's porn pie and Mouse Jr needs someone to help him out. Frankie is obliged to offer his support no matter how much he dislikes the idea. He agrees to go to a meet, but only on the condition that he's there to help with the negotiations. He knows how things work and comes up with a plan that should please all sides.

Unfortunately for Frankie, this is no ordinary meeting. He's been set up with bait as good as the stuff he usually sells, while Vena awaits him offshore ready to gut him and send him off to sleep with the fishes.

But this is Frankie the Machine we're talking about. It would take a hell of a surprise to bring him down. Needless to say, he gets himself out of the problem. In doing so, he opens himself up as a target for the mob and goes into hiding. What he needs to find out, and quickly, is who ordered the hit, who sanctioned it and why. If he can do that, he can either clear up any misunderstanding or wipe out the problem in a different way.

The remainder of the book works by shifting from flashback to the present. We get to know how Frankie earned his nickname and also to follow his increasingly tense foray into saving his life.

Those forty pages at the beginning earn their salt as the story unfolds. Without them, the strength of bond to the protagonist wouldn't be there. It would still be a great read, but the power of the connection elevates it even beyond that.

The Winter of Frankie Machine (US) is a class act. It brings in all the warmth, romance and nostalgia of the mafia while also reflecting upon it and pulling it apart as a pile of bullshit. In the end, what seems to be important to all the people who lived through the period of time covered is that everyone had their day. It's only Frankie who seems to understand that it's not enough to live in the past and that it's the present and the future that mean everything. 

This one's a real winner. A real delight. A guaranteed hit. 

Friday 26 October 2018

Dancing With Myself: TOM LEINS interviews TOM LEINS

Paignton, UK.

It’s a hot, unpleasant day, but then again, at this time of year, aren’t they all?

I look up at the pub sign to check I’m at the right place. The Dirty Lemon. The hanging sign tilts slightly in the dank breeze. Someone has spray-painted a massive cock across the lurid citrus logo.

I walk up the wheelchair ramp, past a bloodied man who has been manacled to the railings by his throat with a dog chain. He reaches out, pleadingly, and I accidentally tread on his fingers.

Fucking Rey, no doubt. His reputation precedes him around here.

Inside the pub, I see him straight away. He is partially obscured by the cigarette machine.

The barmaid – Spacey Tracey – rolls her eyes, and goes back to watering down the house spirits with a jug of pissy-looking tap water. Shit, this place is even worse than I remember.

Two pints of lager sit on the table in front of my contact, sweating in their chipped glasses.

“Kronenbourg alright for you?”

I shrug.

“It’ll have to be.”

He doesn’t offer his hand, and neither do I. He doesn’t look hard, but he’s big enough to make me not want to find out. I drink an inch off the top of my pint, keeping an eye on the door.

“Spit it out then, mate.”

He clears his throat.

People say they picture you when they read the Joe Rey stories. How do you feel about that?

I used to be surprised, but then I started to play up to it. It still makes me laugh when people make that observation, but now I compose myself and incorporate another random personal detail into whatever I’m working on! We currently share the same age, height, drinking tastes and the lack of a driving licence. This approach probably peaked with my mocked-up mugshot on the back cover of the Meat Bubbles & Other Stories paperback, but I’m sure it will re-emerge. As I keep telling people: just don’t expect me to win a knife-fight with a sex offender after ten drinks!

The common perception is that short story collections don’t sell, and yet you have published two this year. What’s wrong with writing a fucking novel, like everyone else?

Easy, mate! Firstly, I’m a big believer in playing to my strengths, and – line for line – my short fiction is definitely stronger than my novella-length material. I’d rather introduce myself to the book-buying public with a pair of strong collections than with a pair of stunted novels.

Case in point: I’ve just finished a Joe Rey novella that I started ten years ago – a truly ridiculous time-frame for a short book. I revisited it last year, with a view to making it the first book in the Paignton Noir series, but then I accidentally wrote and published three novelettes and two short story collections instead! I’ve learned that I can’t force it when things don’t click, so I will just crack on with an alternative project, and try not to sweat the constant continuity headaches!

Personally, I like it when short story collections drag you into a sustained environment – either mood-wise or in terms of narrative voice – and that is what I was striving for with my books. Hopefully the over-arching narratives of Repetition Kills You (US) and Meat Bubbles (US) provide an extra hook for readers who are normally reluctant to read short story collections. I’d love these two books to find an audience straight away, but I’m also comfortable with them being rediscovered further down the line, after the novellas emerge. Most of my favourite authors didn’t find an audience straight away, so I have no qualms with undiscovered status.

Repetition Kills You  is an experimental book. Is that a one-off, or do you have more leftfield ideas up your sleeve?

I’m obsessed with subverting the storytelling process. Experimental work, interlinked collections, collaborations, serialised work – everything is on the table. I’ve got a couple more curve-balls up my sleeve, but Joe Rey will always be the lynchpin that binds the ideas together.

Whichever order you read them in, my stories are designed to complement each other, but I really don’t want to write the same book twice. For now, I don’t even want to write in the same format twice. There are thousands of standard issue pulp-crime thrillers out there – I want to rework the blueprint each time and try and stand out from the crowd.

I don’t want to give away any specifics, but I have some really offbeat ideas I want to explore. I’m used to working with open-minded publishers, but some of these ideas will be a genuinely tough sell until my commercial prospects sync better with my ambition!

This book is dedicated to your children, but you warn them that they can’t read it until they are 18. What were you reading when you were 18, and how does it compare to this subject matter?

The sheer number of books I’ve read over the last 20 years makes this very difficult to recall. I definitely remember reading Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh while working as a hut-jockey at Roundham Pitch & Putt that summer. I got it at the Old Celtic Bookshop on Hyde Road after trading in some music biographies – which definitely formed the bulk of my reading activity back then.

I also read the first couple of John King books around that time (Football Factory and Headhunters). Next up on my radar was Bret Easton Ellis. American Psycho cropped up early on in my English Literature degree, as part of a module of transgressive fiction. All of these authors have influenced me to some degree, although it probably isn’t particularly obvious. Is my work more intense than the work of those authors? I would say ‘no’, but others may beg to differ.

Do you think it stretches credibility to write about a PI – that most American of characters – in a small-town UK setting?

To be honest, it has never really weighed particularly heavily on my mind. Right now, it would stretch credibility further to write a crime story about a police officer set in Paignton. They bulldozed the local police station several years ago for a property development that never happened, but I have kept the building intact for the purpose of my Paignton Noir stories, and it continues to feature prominently.  

In storytelling terms, having Rey dragged into the basement interrogation room at Paignton cop-shop by a deranged middle-aged cop is far more effective than having him invited into the lobby of the library by a nervous PCSO!

I hope readers consider Rey to be a refreshingly down-to-earth protagonist. His PI status is pretty flaky, and I hope he isn’t too much of a cliché. Fans of hardboiled crime fiction aside, I’d really like my books to appeal to people who want to read thrillers, but are discouraged by the surfeit of ‘sexy-yet-troubled female FBI agent’ and ‘taciturn middle-aged detective’ stereotypes. Granted, my mysteries need a bit of refining, but hopefully there is an audience in the UK for a working-class protagonist investigating crimes in a working-class environment.

Ultimately, this series is intended as escapist Brit-pulp with a little bit of social commentary sprinkled on top. I’ll leave po-faced character studies to…

I don’t get the chance to finish my response.

A man who looks like me – only a lot fucking harder – steps towards my companion and bounces his head off the cigarette machine with a dull thud.

“If I wanted your arse there, I’d pay you for a fucking lap dance, mate.”

Fucking Rey.

I spill my Kronenbourg over my jeans in my haste to get away from him, and stumble down the wheelchair ramp as quickly as possible – careful to avoid the bleeding man who is still chained to the railings. I hit the pavement and I don’t look back.

This fucking town.