Wednesday 20 March 2019


Here's a book that's just been re-released that's more than worthy of your attention. Down and Out books have had the foresight and understanding of quality to put this one out and it's one that needs noting. 

This is an old review that I posted at Goodreads a good while ago. The references may be dated, but the book most certainly isn't:

It's not easy to define Patti Abbott's talent, for indeed that's what she is. I notice that Ken Bruen was hailing her in the intro to Grimm Tales where he suggests that she'll be up for an Edgar this time around for her entry.

If that's the case, I fear that story has competition - from every one of the entries in Monkey Justice.

They are crime stories in the main, but they go beyond the run-of-the-mill telling of events and flow over into detail in every way a reader might require. Setting, character and plot merge into perfection.

I read a lot of short stories. It's something I love. Monkey Justice (US) ranks up with the best collections out there and you should check it out. That way, you'll be able to say you were aware of her talent ahead of the masses.

Should she choose to aim for the stars, this lady will go much further than the barn roof.


Don't say I didn't tell you, but give her and her publisher some support by picking up a copy. They deserve that at the very least.  

Saturday 9 March 2019

One Man's Opinion: WILLNOT by JAMES SALLIS

Willnot is a town that lies out on the edge of the world. The community has its quirks and routines, all of which are unsettled by the discovery of human remains. While this is happening, a soldier returns home and the FBI are keen to find him. 

At the centre of the town is Dr Lamar Hale. He has a finger in lots of pies. His work at the hospital means that he sees everyone and has an understanding of each individual history. He has access to the bodies that have been found and has the ear of the local police chief. His partner, Richard, is a teacher who feels his way through education with his heart and manages to find hope where others would see none. And there’s a cat called Dickens. 

In terms of the plot, there’s not much I feel I can pass on. Though the main events pop up every now and then to take things forward, there’s a lot of back story and introspection on the part of the doctor. There are vignettes on healing and dying and on key families in the area and there are plenty of musings on Dr Hale’s writer father. There’s also an other-worldliness about Hale and the returning soldier. Both had episodes in their youth where they were in a coma and both seem able to disappear into a different plane whether consciously choosing to or not. 

Truth be told, I think I may have missed something with this novel. I wonder if my mind drifted away when a crucial piece of information was delivered. I know Sallis to be a fine writer and I’ve loved a number of his books. The way the literary and philosophical mingle with the crime stories is usually a plus, but in this case I think there needed to be more of a consistent crime angle to keep me hungry. Because of the meandering, I feel I lost the sense of drive (excuse the pun) and it took me longer to finish than I might have expected. 

Will I be highlighting this novel as one of Sallis’s best? The answer to that one is the title itself.  

Friday 8 March 2019

Newcastle Noir 2019

The programme for Newcastle Noir has just been released and it offers a feast of entertainment for fans of crime fiction. The list of authors is terrific and there’s such a mix that there’s something there for everyone. 

I’m delighted to be part of it this year. I’ll be part of a panel including Paul Heatley, Alan Parks and Tony Hutchinson. We’ll be exploring the gritty side of noir fiction. Our event will be on Sunday 5th May at 10:30am and the programme reads:

‘Nasty makes the noir world go round and these authors play it as dirty as it comes. Their fiction is as raw as it is real, a bad-to-the-bone ride to dark places where nothing is off limits and every bite draws blood.’

That will do very nicely, thank you very much. 

Check out the festival here and see if you can’t find something to get you salivating. 

Of course, a weekend can be a long time and crime fiction may not be something you want buzzing round your head for all of that time, so I thought I’d pass on a few of my favourite Newcastle (and surrounding area) things to do. 

We were there last weekend, minus our studying daughter. She’s been working hard for her National 5s and couldn’t afford the distraction (or so she said). It was the first time she has been home alone for a night and, thankfully, everything was still standing when we returned. 

We managed to get to three galleries this time around. 

The Baltic Gallery is a must. You don’t really have to see the work inside to enjoy it. The building is a thing of beauty, the infinite staircase a fascination and the view from the top is stunning. What I like about the Baltic is that it has never failed to rouse a range of emotions. I love a lot of the work they’ve exhibited and I’ve hate a fair bit, too. I take that as a good thing – I don’t go along to be wowed, but to be challenged. Highlight this time for me (and this will still be open over Newcastle Noir’s weekend) is the Baltic Artist’s Award 2019. Three artists are on display and I was moved to the edge of tears by much of the work. Truly powerful. 

The Side Gallery is also a total winner. It’s a small and intimate space, but they make the most of it by showing photographs that are stunning. Currently on show is called Small Town Inertia by Jim Mortram, a hard-hitting set of portraits of people struggling to get by, to be heard or to be visible. This one won’t be there in May, but if you’re there before, check it out. 

The Laing Gallery is a different space again. Walking through the doors to be greeted by Henry Moore’s Seated Woman With A Thin Neck is the best kind of welcome. Look out for Shot Boy by Ken Currie – haunting in every way. 

Grainger Market is a classy undercover space that ticks lots of my boxes. Cheap fruit and veg, second hand books, stylish shoes, delicious eats and lots more besides. You want it, you’ll probably find it and if you like a bargain, check it out. 

Talking of bargains, Newcastle is blessed with some top charity shops. We always find something and they’re not priced in the rip-off range that some places insist upon these days. 

The Quayside market is a Sunday morning treat. After you’ve popped along to our event and decided to hang around to catch the lovely Helen Fitzgerald, you can stroll down here to pick up an exotic lunch and a present for your loved ones back home. 

There was the cat cafe down by the quayside. I’ve never been to one before and wasn’t sure how I would take to it. The coffee wasn’t the best, but the cats were cool and the atmosphere was perfectly chilled. My kids loved it and can’t wait to go back.

We went in to a climbing facility at the top of the Eldon Square shopping centre for the first time. It’s similar to others we’ve been to and lots of fun. My two loved it and while they were scaling the heights, we took the chance to soak up some of that art I mentioned earlier. 

The Discovery Museum was on hand to help us pass the final hour before out train was due. There’s lots to see and do and if it’s raining and you’re not sure of where to go this is one of the best places to take shelter. 

We managed all of that in around twenty-four hours. It helps that the city is compact and vibrant and well worth a visit at any time of year. 

Other places we love there that we didn’t make it to this time around:

St James’s Park. It’s a great stadium. I took my son to see his beloved Spurs at the beginning of the season and we also went down to see Wolves showing their fangs. The Magpies are at home to Liverpool on Saturday 4th May, so the city and the pitch will be buzzing.

Whitley Bay’s a beautiful place to see the sea. A Metro or a bus will take you there from the centre with ease if you have a little more time to spare. 

Tynemouth Metro station has a Sunday market that has it all. Even if you don’t fancy buying anything, it has a lovely atmosphere and there’s plenty to do in the area if you like browsing, walking or checking out historical buildings (the castle and priory is just at the end of the street).

The Victoria Tunnel is an ace adventure. Take a walk underground and hear some great stories of past lives from expert volunteer guides. We loved it. 

The Biscuit Factory is a gallery we also like to get to every once in a while. It’s commercial in the sense that it’s selling work, offering a space to artists and craftspeople everywhere to get their pieces seen. There’s a huge variety again and there’s always something to catch the eye or to feed the spirit.

For those with time on their hands, a trip on a boat across the Tyne to South Shields is a treat in itself. It’s even more exciting if you pop into The Word, a stylish library that’s full of light and, well, books. 

And the place I’ve not visited, but have always meant to, is Seven Stories. I hear good things. If you have young children who love books, I reckon this should be on your radar.  

Which about wipes me out for now. I’m not a drinker or a clubber and the city is famous for its nightlife. Just turn up and wander around and you’ll find a suitable home if that’s what you’re after.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s simply a reflection of personal experience. Basically, Newcastle is a terrific city that’s full of warmth and energy. It’s a great place to visit. It’s a wonderful venue for a classy crime fiction festival

If you get along on the Sunday morning, come along and say hi. Unlike my fiction, I don’t bite.