Wednesday, 23 September 2020

One Man's Opinion: DEATH OF A DIVA by DEREK FARRELL

 


In Death Of A Diva, published by Fahrenheit Press, Danny Bird has big plans and they all rest on the launch of his new pub where Lyra Day is set to kick off an evening of high camp with renditions of her long-distant greatest hits. Lyra hasn't read the script and choses the moment to leave with maximum impact, only her departure is not of her choosing. She's found poisoned by a pill even more bitter than she is and there don't seem to be many possible suspects to pin it on, Danny being right at the front of that queue. 

And so begins Danny's quest to solve the case. 

On his journey he meets a cast of grimly entertaining folk, each of whom has a story to tell. There's also a rather handsome policeman who Danny gets on with rather well and may well be the antidote to a heart that was broken by his former lover and the window cleaner. 

While there's a crime at the centre of the plot, it's not always centre stage. The murder is a vehicle that allows us to journey through a series of meetings and experiences in a way that made me laugh as much as anything else. The dialogue and description are packed with humour ranging from the pun to the straight gag to the innuendo. In many ways, the Britishness is reminiscent of the excellent Paul D Brazill and I reckon these two would make an ominous pairing should they ever choose to collaborate.

Very enjoyable and pleasingly light (in a dark kind of way). 







Friday, 28 August 2020

One Man's Opinion: FACELESS KILLERS by HENNING MANKELL



An old farmer living in isolation in the Swedish countrys
ide wakes up in the middle of the night to a familiar set of aches and pains. What's unfamiliar is that there's no noise from the horse in the neighbour's stable. The lights are on in the house next door and one of the windows appears to be smashed. He contacts the police and Inspector Kurt Wallender responds to find an unsettling bloodbath at the scene. 

The neighbour lies butchered on the floor and next to him, his wife lies with noose tied in an unusual fashion around her neck and is fast approaching her own death. She's rushed to hospital where her final word, recorded by the officer watching over her, is 'foreigner'. When this is leaked to the press, not only does it bring disquiet to the team of officers in whom trust has been compromised, but it stirs up the narrow minds of right wing agitators who are already at odds with Sweden's immigration system. 

When another murder takes place, Wallender is forced to prioritise. This case is where all the energy lies and provides a strong contrast to the cerebral slow-burn of the rural affair. 
The stories that follow come together well as the plots unfold, the key elements binding slowly to create a nicely-paced whole. 

There's a fine cast of characters with relationships that exist in a fragile balance. We have an old detective who is meticulous and dying, a woman on the switchboard who will to the extra-mile if treated right and who knows all the station's gossip, Wallender's father who has painted a version of the same image throughout his life and whose mind is rapidly crumbling and a prosecutor who is firm, strong and prepared to cut corners if it serves a case, but will not bend an inch if justice is in jeopardy. Throw in an ex-wife and a compelling daughter even though we barely get to know her and you have a terrific ensemble. 

The key player is, of course, Wallender himself. He's a satisfying mix of traits: a cerebral cop who can play the action hero when required; a liberal who's an old-school conservative deep down; a damaged human being who is frequently a bit of an arse. One particular incident involving the attempted seduction of the young prosecutor shows not only his flaws but his frailty. In spite of several unpleasant characteristics, the veneer of charm is just thick enough to cover the cracks and keep a reader like me on board. 


Bar a few irritations with the self-questioning and over-analysis in the detective's mind, this is a strong novel. Essentially, Faceless Killers (US) a dark canvas where clever use of flashes of light allow contradictions to live together successfully on the page. Unlike with the British television series, I'll definitely be back for more.

Monday, 24 August 2020

One Man's Opinion: THE ANCESTOR by LEE MATTHEW GOLDBERG

 

I was lucky enough to work on the edits for The Ancestor (US). It was a real privilege. Here's the blurb:

A man wakes up in present-day Alaskan wilderness with no idea who he is, nothing on him save an empty journal with the date 1898 and a mirror. He sees another man hunting nearby, astounded that they look exactly alike except for his own beard. After following this other man home, he witnesses a wife and child that brings forth a rush of memories of his own wife and child, except he's certain they do not exist in modern times--but from his life in the late 1800s.

After recalling his name is Wyatt, he worms his way into his doppelganger Travis Barlow's life. Memories become unearthed the more time he spends, making him believe that he'd been frozen after coming to Alaska during the Gold Rush and that Travis is his great-great grandson. Wyatt is certain gold still exists in the area and finding it with Travis will ingratiate himself to the family, especially with Travis's wife Callie, once Wyatt falls in love. This turns into a dangerous obsession affecting the Barlows and everyone in their small town, since Wyatt can't be tamed until he also discovers the meaning of why he was able to be preserved on ice for over a century.

A meditation on love lost and unfulfilled dreams, The Ancestor is a thrilling page-turner in present day Alaska and a historical adventure about the perilous Gold Rush expeditions where prospectors left behind their lives for the promise of hope and a better future.

The question remains whether it was all worth the sacrifice...

My own thought is that this book has an amazing range. It blurs genres and weaves a number of strands together to form a beautiful and brilliant whole. It's a fusion of excellent story telling and great writing and it has the span of an epic. To my mind, this is a novel that will stand the test of time if given the chance. Highly recommended and I'm tipping this to be in many a top-ten list at the end of the year. 

Do yourself a favour and dive in. 


Saturday, 22 August 2020

One Man's Opinion: HOW TO KILL FRIENDS AND IMPLICATE PEOPLE by JAY STRINGER


"He didn't like Glasgow. He didn't like the people, and they didn't like him. He didn't understand the football, or the accents. He didn't like the drivers. They only had two speeds: road rage and stop. And he didn't like the rain. It rained for 360 days a year. On the other five? Baking sunshine. Every skinny ned in town takes his top off and worships the strange ball of fire in the sky."

Blurb:

Fergus Fletcher is a hit man. For five thousand pounds, he’ll kill anyone you want. For seven, he’ll frame someone else. Pretending to kill someone is a first, but Alex Pennan has stolen from the mob and needs to fake his own death.

Fergus is looking for love. So is Sam Ireland, a private investigator and part-time bike messenger. But she’s got her hands on a very important package and is in a world of trouble with the mob. Joe Pepper, pillar of society and corrupt gangland fixer, will stop at nothing—nothing at all—to intercept the package and protect his reputation.

Can Alex stay dead while his widow dances on his grave? Can Joe save himself before his stomach ulcer explodes? Can Fergus and Sam make it to a second date before Joe hires him to kill her?

Welcome to Glasgow. It’s a love story.


I don't often put in the blurb for a book, but in this case it felt right. There's so much in terms of plot development and intricate twist that I felt I might blow the whole thing by trying to offer an outline.


It's been a few years since I read the first of the Sam Ireland books, Ways To Die In Glasgow. It was such a great book that I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to the second. Perhaps it speaks more of my general lack of organisation skills and my the chaos of my reading patterns than anything else. Whatever the reason, I finally made it and I'm so very glad I did.


Though I didn't imagine it would be possible, I think that this book outdoes the previous one. It has the same levels of high drama, similar bursts of action and energy and the ever-present shots of humour, but getting the chance to hang around with Sam Ireland again means we know her just that little bit more. It's hard not to love her drive and determination and it's impossible not to want the best for her. When she meets Fergus, a hitman who is losing any sense of job satisfaction, we know they go together like Hepburn and Tracy while understanding that there's a fair chance their growing feelings will be the end of both of them. Throw in a bunch of criminals who are as interesting a bunch of lawbreakers as you're likely to find and put it against the backdrop of a city that has a heart that beats constantly throughout and you have something very special to entertain you. 


The chemistry between the hitman (who has to rank up there with any other) and the private investigator (also right up there) is so strong that it begs a revisit at some point in the future. They're a great combination and another appearance would be impossible to resist. The only issue might be keeping it real. In How To Kill Friends (US), even though each strand is extreme and unusual, it always comes across as entirely plausible and down to earth. It feels as if this kind of thing could be happening in a city nearby right now. I guess that's a mark of a master story teller.


Jay makes no secret of the fact that he's dyslexic and I admire him for the way he talks with passion about it. Supporting pupils dyslexia is part of what I do. The identification often makes a child feel better about themselves when they come to understand why aspects of learning are so difficult. It always helps when we point to dyslexics who have achieved success in their fields and done wonderful things in the past. From now on, I'm going to add Jay Stringer to that list. I'll tell them that one of the finest crime writers in the UK is Scottish and that when they get older they might enjoy the books, on audio if necessary. I think they'd get a kick out of that. 


Gripping read. Hugely entertaining. Highly recommended.  


I'm not sure what the usual price is, but I think it's on offer just now at around the £1/$1 mark, so what are you waiting for?






Friday, 21 August 2020

THE DEADLIEST THIEF by JUNE TROP

The Roman Empire may be the least of her enemies. 

Miriam bat Isaac, an alchemist and amateur sleuth in first-century CE Alexandria, becomes frantic when her best friend, Phoebe, is kidnapped. At the same time, a brute of a man is stalking Nathaniel ben Ruben, Miriam’s occasional deputy, an itinerant potbellied dwarf. This brute of a man is none other than Pytheus, the last surviving jewel thief from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. His wife has agreed to tell you about him on condition that you promise to keep her story confidential:

 

It’s not safe to give you my name; just know me as the wife of Pytheus. My husband was one of the three men who, during the spring of the seventh year of the Reign of Nero, broke into the Temple of Artemis, made off with a king’s ransom in gems, and escaped on the Thalia to Alexandria.

 

I grew up in Roman-occupied Alexandria in a tenement near the waterfront of the Great Harbor, but my parents were from Tarsus. After my father was injured loading sacks of grain onto a ship bound for Rome, he brought my mother and me back to Tarsus so we could stay with his brother. There I lived until I married Pytheus, whereupon my husband and I moved to the commercial district of Ephesus so he would have a chance to get work in the warehouses lining the quays there.

 

But it’s the day of the Festival of Artemis that I want to tell you about, when the statue of the goddess is carried with great solemnity through the city. Tourists and Ephesians alike take their place either in the procession or along the way until it’s time to follow the priests to the Temple for the sacrifice.

 

Pytheus and I got separated in the crush as the priests were carrying the sacred statue through the city. Wrapped in the clamor of the festival and driven by the throng, I could not, despite my efforts, find him. Once I thought I saw him, but a moment later he disappeared in a plume of dust. So, I assumed I’d meet up with him at the Temple or, if not there, then at home.

 

But of course, I never did.

 

It didn’t take me long to realize he must have been involved in the jewel heist and fled on the ship that left so suddenly for Alexandria. Pytheus was by nature suspicious and secretive, and all he ever dreamed of was having easy money. Instead his life consisted of one intrigue after another and then running from the consequences. Sometimes he’d come home with unexplained cash, but that only honed his greed and fueled even more bitterness for the possessions others acquired. So, I knew what must have happened when he didn’t come home.

 

Fearing my landlord would sic the slavers on me to recover the unpaid rent, I took what little I had and booked passage straight away on the next ship to Alexandria. Setting out to find him, I asked for him first among the sailors, roustabouts, and deckhands and then at the various inns, cook-shops, and saloons. At first, he seemed happy to see me. He told me we were rich, that he’d come by a one-third share of the loot from the Temple of Artemis, which he’d fence when the time was right, and in the meantime, we’d live modestly.

 

Later, he told me about his accomplices in the heist: the captain of the Thalia and another scoundrel who was posing as a scholar of Greek culture to court the daughter of a rabbi. Little did I know my husband’s next scheme would be to seize their shares as well. I cannot explain his devilish plan here, but you will draw in a quick breath when The Deadliest Thief (US) takes you into the underbelly of first-century CE Roman-occupied Alexandria.


A KIRKUS REVIEW of THE DEADLIEST THIEF

“The multifaceted mystery is intriguing, with engaging characters… but the real strength of Trop’s atmospherically rich book lies in her ability to transport her audience to a distant time and place… Vibrant imagery and an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.” — Kirkus Reviews

About the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series

The core characters’ lives advance with each book, but each story stands alone. So, begin with any one of the five in the series and accompany Miriam through the rancid underbelly of Alexandria, the city second only to Rome. You can purchase the books in e-book or paperback on the usual platforms, or at www.JuneTrop.com. And don’t forget to read my weekly blog on my website or Facebook page.



Monday, 17 August 2020

One Man's Opinion: THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB by RICHARD OSMAN


What a treat this book is. It's a quaint murder mystery set in a retirement village where a group of residents have set themselves up as the Thursday Murder Club of the title. They mull over old cases, but find themselves in the midst of an investigation when the business partner of the complex owner is bludgeoned to death. At the scene of a crime, a photo is left which includes the son of one of the group members and they can't resist getting involved. 

The police are also keen to solve the crime. With some stealthy manipulation by the Murder Club's leader, the constable who delivers security lectures as part of the retirement village's entertainment programme is asked to join the refreshingly straightforward detective who leads the team. 

Plots thicken when a further crime is committed during a protest aimed at saving a convent's cemetery from the expansion of the village and later when a range of skeletons are discovered in various closets (and other places). 

What starts off as an interesting-enough tale soon becomes a compelling mystery rooted in strong traditions. Initial flavours suggesting a cocktail of Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse soon fade as the realisation hits that Richard Osman has a talent and a style of his very own. 

There's a wonderful life-affirming attitude throughout. We are reminded that all people are amazing individuals with unique histories. For that, they are to be respected and all but the most serious of indiscretions can be allowed to fade without close inspection. 

Every character in the cast is delightfully constructed and the interplay between them is a joy to behold. Moments of genuine emotion are created by excellent storytelling, keen observation, neat turns of phrase and a range of comedy moments that inspires everything from a warm smile to laughs out loud. Just as importantly, the solving of the crimes unfolds with perfect timing and there are a few twists at the end to allow it to end with a flourish. 

Once the glow of finishing the novel eventually faded, I found myself hoping that the delights of the read wouldn't be diluted by turning it into a series. Not long after that, I decided I was probably right about that, but that a sequel would be entirely in order (if you please Mr Osman). 

And a final thought. Like a Pixar film where you really should stick around until the end of the credits, you should actually read the acknowledgements at the back. Not only are they entertaining, they include tips for eating out and a warmth of spirit that reflects the loveliness of the novel itself. 

Sunday, 16 August 2020

One Man's Opinion: SLOW DOWN by LEE MATTHEW GOLDBERG


"God, Noah, stop reading too much into everything. I do Fast all the time, and look at me, I'm fine. The world is made up of strong people and weak ones, and if some of those weak people have to go to make more room for the strong, then so be it."


Not long not until Lee Matthew Goldberg's The Ancestor (US) is released. It's a real tour de force and I wholeheartedly recommend that you get yourself a copy and indulge yourself, not matter what your usual genre choice. I thought I'd warm up for the big day by reading Slow Down to get a sense of the author's earlier work. 

Slow Down (US) uses the familiar noir structure of being told in retrospect by the protagonist, in this case one Noah Spaeth. He's struggling to meet a deadline to produce a biography that will form the basis of a book and a film. At the last minute, a ghost writer turns up to rescue him from his inability to settle to work and from that point we step into his past, beginning with the path that introduced him to film director Dominic Bambach. It turns out that the love of Spaeth's life is currently Bambach's mistress and he's soon seduced by the director's desire to find a fresh writer untainted by the industry. As Spaeth sets out to become the next big thing, he finds huge piles of bizarre at every turn.

There's a new drug on the scene. Something called Fast. Not only has it taken off among New York's cool set, it's allowed it's creator, a certain maverick film director, to capture the lives of a number of would-be stars via a yellow sun tattooed containing heavy doses of the drug onto their backs. Though the actors are happy to prostitute themselves to find their big break, it's Spaeth who is prepared to sell his soul. His goal is to become known by everyone. To have his name at the tip of the world's lips. The success might fill the hole left by his absentee parents, to mend his broken heart or to bring energy to the stale and sterile life of his rich family who have nothing to do other than to seek fun. 

In order to achieve his goals, Spaeth feels he has to outdo his mentor. This means he has to shed all inhibitions and must be prepared to steal, exploit, cheat, manipulate and indulge in the cold and extreme ways. Empathy, compassion and concern are all binned. Real life and fiction blur and overlap. Identity becomes fluid and interchangeable. The web of interplay becomes dangerous as Spaeth attempts to work out the motivations of all the other ruthless bastards around him to fathom which side will come out on top. Eventually he chooses the most dangerous of them all as a superbly crafted femme fatale lays out a path before him and paves it with the promise of gold. 

There's a lot going on in this novel. Fact fuels fiction and vice versa. Tension and drama come from all angles, whether it be from Spaeth's relationships, extreme movie-making techniques or the sticky web into which he is lured. As the plot thickened, my favourite setting throughout came in the form of Spaeth's domestic life where he interacts with his brother, sister and maid. This provides a great contrast to the action and as a counterpoint illustrates from what a great height he has fallen. 

Writing about the avant-garde cinema and its creators contains the inherent danger that the fictitious pretensions may taint a story, but Lee Matthew Goldberg manages to avoid such potential pitfalls with some skill while still managing to point out the shallow and hollow desperations of those striving for success for its own sake. 

Slow Down is a tense and thought-provoking read and it's one that's well worth getting hold of. If, however, you're pennies are few and you need something to satisfy whatever reading needs you have right now, I'll point you in the direction of The Ancestor instead. Both books are original, well-written and compelling, it's just that the upcoming release reaches deeper and further and has a set of characters that inspire a wider range of emotional response. Ideally, of course, you should treat yourself to a copy of both. In that way you'll be royally entertained and supporting both the author and one of the best independent publishers around.   


Friday, 14 August 2020

One Man's Opinion: EVERYBODY HURTS by IAN AYRIS



'I'm nearly finished the book. Lennie's just killed this puppy. He didn't mean to, just he's so strong, you know. And it's like I don't wanna read no more cos I know it's gonna end bad.'

A brief mention before I start, that Southsiders: That's All Right (US), originally published by Blasted Heath, is free today if you fancy a look. It's the first book in a series of four, but I think it works just as well as a standalone as it does as a spring board. 

There are some similarities between the John Sissons and the Jesse Garon books. They both follow the growth and development of characters for whom the world is stacked against them and they both have had different homes at some point. The first two Sissons books, Abide With Me (US) and April Skies (US) were originally published by Caffeine Nights and that they lost their original publisher made no sense at all to me. Fortunately, the wonderful Fahrenheit Press, took on both novels and put out the third to ice a very wonderful cake, an image I'll come back to in a moment. 

When Abide With Me came out, I think it was just about my favourite book of the year. The follow up was equally compelling and ripped my emotions into shreds and Everybody Hurts had a lot to live up to. 

We find John Sissons struggling with life once again. He's lost both his parents and his best friends are either dead, in institutions or hanging desperately onto their sanity and ability to function. The only things he really has going for him are a house and a loyal partner, Trace. 

The problem is that he's unravelling like an old jumper where a strand of wool is being pulled at by an annoyed Doberman puppy. Slowly his world is falling apart. Even the good things begin to weigh upon him. He doesn't feel worthy and lashes out blindly in the hope it might all collapse on top of him. 
He's drawn to a homeless man in Romford. John provides him with coffee and burgers while reading him Of Mice And Men to fill the gaps where conversation might normally be. The pair become linked and it's not long before John is hanging out with the dispossessed, basking in the unchallenging warmth of their concern and able to function in a group who have nothing more to lose and who have become invisible. 

As his relationship with Trace crumbles to dust, he finds out that his old mate Keith is at the end of his tether. While in prison, Keith murdered Ronnie Swordfish in order to protect John. It seems that someone has evidence of the killing and is blackmailing Keith who is slowly being drained of his livelihood. John owes it to try and help out, but even old friendships fall foul of John's growing depression. 

This is the perfect addition to the series. The voice and delivery is maintained without missing a beat. Returning to the character and situation was a real treat and I was involved right from the off. It's great to spend time with the protagonist again, not that he's easy company. Mental fragmentation and struggle is wonderfully expressed as Ayris shines a light into a darkness in a way that so few can manage. He takes you on a journey that is difficult and unsettling to stick with, but is all the more rewarding for doing so. It's tense and troubling throughout, in part due to the plot development, but more so because it's impossible not to root for the guy. It's like the quote I opened with - it's compelling and yet it's hard to keep going just in case things don't end well.   

I did love this one in its own right, but would really urge you to take on the trilogy from the start. To me it's like a delicious wedding cake that stands in three tiers. The foundation is the biggest and strongest, but the upper layer is made from the same ingredients and is just as tasty. You can get it all in one collection SHINING LIKE RAINBOWS for the bargain price of £2.99 directly from the publishers. You really won't regret it. 

 

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Remembered America



At the beginning of my summer holiday, I drove down to Preston to try and sort out my dad's house ready for sale. It's been the family home for over fifty years and Dad was never one to throw things away. It was an emotional and a very physical experience and one I don't want to have to repeat. It helped that he's still with us, in a care home that is looks after him well, though is quickly draining the coffers (hence the sale). It was also made better because I was doing it with my brother Geoff. Apart from being good company, he's also put forward a programme idea for Radio 4 that's working its way through the commissioning rounds and has one hurdle to climb before being made. The idea is simple and effective - imagine what roads are travelled when a house is being cleared for sale. To collect material, he recorded things at various points and this gave us time to reflect on memories spanning a spectrum of feelings. 

Geoff's a very successful radio producer and podcast maker. Not only that, he helps his wife to run a family festival, a film festival and a forest festival among other things. He get to work with an befriend an amazing host of talented and creative folk and I can be proud that he's part of my family. Hopefully the mention of this will become clear later. 

I returned from Preston with several boxes of things I'd like to keep. Some are sentimental, some practical and some I have no idea why I couldn't find it in me to just chuck during the first purge. My own house is already full of life and stuff and there's not much room for more, so I took a trip into the attic to have a bit of a clear out myself. 

While I was up there, I came across a couple of boxes of books and magazines Geoff and I produced between 1998 and 2004. There are some wonderful collections in there, ranging from the up-and-coming to the well established poet. I believe were were the first to publish work by one Ben Myers, which gives me a buzz - it may have only been a small thing, but I do believe that collecting small things together is the way to make bigger things. 

The fact that I still have boxes full of the old copies says something about my vision at the time. I guess, as is often the case with me, it was slightly blurred with hope and enthusiasm and seen through a lens of OCD. We did a good job and the magazine grew in terms of reputation bigger than we could have imagined. Like many others before, however, we were to be reminded that poetry doesn't sell and being involved in it has to be a labour of love before it is anything else. 

By 2003, things were changing for us. As I recall, Geoff was cutting his teeth in journalism and radio production. He had also become a father and had many fish to fry. His pockets were getting smaller and the balance of funding tipped even more heavily to my side until the amount of time and money involved to keep it going stretched my enthusiasm beyond breaking point.

Looking back, there are many ifs and buts. If we'd been more savvy, perhaps we might still be going today. 

Only we're not. 

Remembered America was our last hurrah. Dick McBride had done the rounds. He'd worked in City Lights and been at the hub of the Beat poetry movement from its birth. Like the Rue Bella itself, he wasn't one of the biggest fish, but he did have teeth and heart. 

As much as it was our final effort, it was also destined to be his. I think he had a desperate urge to publish one more grand work and we were the people who were able to grant him that. 

When initially released Remembered America, we had a quote to use:

'I'm glad to see you're still going strong, there's hardly any of us left!...Ciao baby.' Lawrence Ferlinghetti 

We can't use that anymore as Dick sadly died a few years ago. 

Back to the point. I was up in my attic with these books and realised (I'm slow at many things) that I could put this out as an ebook. Unlike the paperback, which we went to the trouble of having designed for once and which has very high quality production values, it would cost nothing to do bar a day's typing and a bit of work around the edges. 

And so I can introduce you to it once more. Remembered America by Dick McBride in it's Kindle reincarnation. 

Should you feel like a shot of poetry to brighten your days, it's free today (Saturday, 18th July) at Amazon and is already the #1 freebie in love poetry, American poetry and a few other categories. Mr McBride would have liked that.

Here's what it says in the blurb in case you need any more persuasion:

Grass

 

As grass grows

So ceases sorrow

Madness welcomes sanity

Anger burns out

Hearts open again

Like roses rising in

The ashes of memory

So ceases sorrow

As the rubber of the sun

Erases the blackboard fog

Of desperate blindness

So ceases sorrow

Iron hands

Ties knots of

Bound joy

Released as

The grass grows again

After the noise

Of hungry blades

Swift clocks brightening

Smiles of daisies in

Recently mown lawns

Softening the claws

In soft paws

Of sleep

Wounds heal

So ceases the

Sorrow of muddy rain

Erupting like glue

On palm-tree sands

And yet the grass grows again

Still the sun shines

As tall green blades

Surgically remove doors

Of halls and

Cupboards hiding old taboos

As the grass grows

So ceases sorrow

And the grass grows again


About the poet

Dick McBride was born in 1928 in Washington, Indiana. After years of travelling around Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois and Nebraska working in radio, Dick hit San Francisco and City Lights, where he worked for sixteen years and lived at the centre of the Beat movement. He moved to England in 1969 and more ears in the book trade, selling American independents to Europe. Then on to Australia in the eighties, and back to England once again.

Dick died in 2012 and Remembered America (US) was to be his final collection.

“I have long admired his energy and his stubbornly hopeful vision against all the odds…I am especially taken with ‘Grass’, its haunting refrain running through what is both an elegy and a rhapsody. In general, I am gladden by writing that can be wild like Ginsberg and is never far from ecstasy.”  Phillip Callow



The Rue Bella

The Rue Bella magazine was considered to be at the cutting edge of poetry during its production years between 1998 and 1993. Not only did it have some of the biggest names around (Benjamin Myers, Benjamin Zephaniah, Brian Patten, Ruth Padel, Michael Horovitz, John Kinsella, Alan Brownjohn, Peter Knaggs, Ed Mycue, Jan Oskar Hansen and Virgil Suarez, all included here) but offered a stage for the most exciting up-and-coming talent of the period.

'Keep up the good work. Literature needs more people like you.' John Martin, Black Sparrow Press

'The best presented publication on the small press market by far.' John Allan Hirst

'A maverick minded enterprise.' City Life

'May I, apropos of nothing, recommend the Rue Bella.' Roger McGough

'I do look forward to reading the Rue Bella.' Nicholas Royle, Time Out

'Some really good work.' Brian Patten

'This is happening now.' Martin Carr, 'The Boo Radleys'


A compilation of some of the finest poems they published can be found on kindle in the collection Where The Wild Things Were.
  

Friday, 17 July 2020

One Man's Opinion: CUTTHROAT by PAUL HEATLEY




John lives in a small house that has nothing in it, bar the absolute essentials and his boss's wife, Mary. She likes to get under the covers with her lover, a Geordie who has appeared on the scene from nowhere like some mythical beast, whenever she can. He's big and hard and scared of nobody.

There’s a job on soon and the tensions are mounting. Mary’s husband gathers his crew and warns them to keep a low profile. John isn’t one who finds that easy to do. He goes out with his mate and ends up in a bar brawl that gets terribly out of hand (no pun intended). A quick visit to the local underworld doctor and things are back to normal. Well, almost normal. The driver for the heist is now incapacitated and Jock is brought into the team by Mary’s father who oversees everything.  Jock and John are cut from the same kilt and their testosterone and pride ensure that there’s an edge between them that could only be settled in a fight to work out who is the top dog.

The ripples caused by the tensions within the group soon turn into waves when not everyone is happy with the outcome of the job. To complicate things further, we soon realise that the main motivation for the whole thing has been something else entirely. Revenge becomes the new thrust of the story and we know that there’s going to be nowhere to hide. For some of those involved, the world is about to come crashing down with fists of thunder and not all of them are going to be able to survive the pounding.

I really enjoyed this read. The prose is stripped bare just like John’s flat. The characters feel very genuine and their motivations are rooted in their histories as much as in their circumstances. There’s an edge of menace throughout and when action is called for, it’s as strong and powerful as those involved. The Newcastle setting really works and there’s a terrific seventies feel which is all the more authentic because the detail is kept to a minimum. I also liked the way the dialect comes through in the conversation – it might take a while for some to get used to, but the meaning is always clear.

My only reservation comes in relation to the structure. We begin in 1978, shift back to a couple of years earlier and then back to 1978 to where the opening left off. The first difficulty I had with this is one relating to my memory (mine isn’t great) and I found myself rushing back to the start to remind myself when it was set (sure, it was clear, but I don’t think I registered it at the time and just placed it in the seventies). The second is that it was so well put together that a lot of the middle section adds a layer of back-story that I don’t feel was entirely necessary. I’d like to read it again and simply go with the opening and final parts to see if that would work alone – I reckon it would stand up nicely and.

The ending here is as satisfying as it was unexpected. Its a perfect fit and somewhere lurking amidst the surprise and the elements of disappointment was a pleasing burst of triumph.

Cutthroat(US)is top quality noir fiction of the Brit Grit variety. Sparse, dark, tense and action-packed, there are no heroes, no frills and no dull moments. Another belter from All Due Respect - put it to the top of your list.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

One Man's Opinion: The EMPTY HOURS by ED McBAIN



The Empty Hours consists of three stories featuring the usual cast from the 87th Precinct. As the development of plot and character are important within the series, a part of me was concerned that the shorter works might not grab me in the usual way. I can say with total conviction that I needn't have worried. Each morsel is more a substantial meal than a snack. In many ways this is because the characters are so well-formed from their other outings that they don't need to be expanded, so the cases become more central to the enjoyment. Having said that, if this was your first encounter with either Carella or Myer or Hawes, I think you'd still feel totally satisfied by this collection. 

The Empty Hours tells of a wealthy loner who turns up dead in her apartment. The case leads the detectives to a boating accident and a safe-deposit box and there's plenty of gratification to be found if you like to work things out just before the detectives because of  McBain's excellent navigation. 

J involves the murder of a Rabbi spattered in paint and left to die below the graffiti of the letter in the title. It takes the detectives into the word of anti-Semites and racist thugs and has Meyer thinking about his own Jewishness.

Storm sees our loveable giant, Cotton Hawes, the man who had a Mallen streak long before Catherine Cookson got there taking a beautiful dancer up the mountains for the weekend and winding up becoming involved in a murder when a young instructor is stabbed with a ski pole. This one's a particularly atmospheric piece and the conflict between the big city detective and the local sheriff is a treat. 

I loved each of these. They're long enough to give a lot of satisfaction and short enough to get through them at a pace. Having finished them, I'm hoping that I'll come across more of a similar length in due course. The first story is strong, the second better still and the best is saved till last.

Terrific stuff and a great reminder that small really can be very beautiful indeed.   

More information and fun can be found at the excellent Hark podcast here

Monday, 13 July 2020

One Man's Opinion: LADY, LADY, I DID IT by ED McBAIN


This one opens with some horseplay at the station. The detectives are pulling Kling’s leg about receiving a call at the station from his fiancĂ©e. Though it’s no crime to be in love, they make him feel as though it might be. Regardless, he manages to arrange their date for later on and he’s particularly excited because of the revelation about her new bra, teasingly named Abundance.

‘Abundance’ is the final word he hears her say, for the next time he gets to see Claire, she’ll be the victim of a shooting in a local bookstore. Steve Carella and Kling take the call. There are three dead and two wounded. Kling walks into the back of the shop to see a lady sprawled before him. It slowly dawns on him that she’s the lady he was having a conversation with in the squad room, the lady who just happened to be the love of his life.

It’s a hugely charged and emotional moment for the reader. There’s been an uneasy sense that something is about to go wrong from the off. For those of us who’ve been reading in order, there’s the double whammy of a shared history. When we met Kling, we also met Claire. It wasn’t an easy start for them as a couple, but I was willing them along back then. As Kling falls apart, he takes us back to those early days and reminds us of their beginnings. The lump in my throat was big as an ostrich egg.

To balance the sadness, there’s the beauty of the 87th. The whole squad come together. The file in the office is labelled the Kling case. Patrolmen and detectives alike rally round, keeping ears open and focussing on the bookshop murders while everything else takes a back seat. It’s moving to observe and, because these are old friends rather than just fictional characters, it’s wonderful to behold.

Carella and Meyer lead this one, but Kling insists on doing the work. He pulled the call, after all, and has every right to do so. Problem is, the way the investigation is carried out there’s an assumption that the killer was after one of the victims. In order to pursue the case, each of them needs to be investigated in turn and it might be that any guilty secrets in Claire's life will be exposed in the process. 

The layers are peeled away with great craft. Each becomes a story in its own right, though not all of them add anything to the investigation.  

I loved it for many different reasons. It felt personal. The cops deserve a break. Whatever Claire has been hiding, we know she did it for the best of reasons. Each set piece is a treat (take Claire's father's reaction as a prime example). By the time we come to the end of the story, the killer has almost been forgotten, but when the threads are taken up for one last push, the knots re tied perfectly.

A top-notch crime story that I reckon will have any fan of fiction hooked.

 This one was published in 1961. Some of the language and terminology reflects that and I find it easy to get along with it because of the sentiments at its core. I was struck in this one by a passage about Detective Brown.  Remember that it was almost sixty years ago and then consider what’s changed.

“He turned on the radio very softly and listened to the news broadcast as he shaved. Race riots in the Congo. Sit-in demonstrations in the South. Apartheid in South Africa.

He wondered why he was black.

He often wondered this. He wondered it idly, and with no real conviction that he was black. That was the strange part of it. When Arthur Brown looked in the mirror, he saw only himself. Now he knew he was a Negro, yes. But he was also a Democrat, and a detective, and a husband, and a father and he read The New York Times – he was a lot of things, and so he wondered why he was black. He wondered why, being this variety of things besides being black, people would look at him and see Arthur Brown, Negro – and not Arthur Brown, detective, or Arthur Brown, husband, or any of the other Arthur Browns who had nothing to do with the fact that he was black. This was not a simple concept, and Brown did not equate it in simple Shakespearean-Shylock terms, which the world had long outgrown.

When Brown looked into the mirror, he saw a person.

It was the world who had decided that this man was a black man. 

Being this person was an extremely difficult thing, because it meant living a life the world had decided upon, and not the life he – Arthur Brown – would particularly have chosen. He, Arthur Brown, did not see a black man or a white man or a yellow man or a chartreuse man when he looked into the mirror.

He saw Arthur Brown.

He saw himself.

But superimposed upon this image of himself was the external concept of black man-white man, a concept which existed and which Brown was forced to accept. He became a person playing a complicated role. He looked at himself and saw Arthur Brown, Man. That’s all he wanted to be. He had no desire to be white. In fact, he rather liked the warm, burnished colour of his own skin. He had no desire to go to bed with a creamy-skinned blonde. He had heard coloured friends of his state that white men had bigger sex organs than Negroes, but he didn’t believe it, and he felt no envy. He had encountered prejudice in a hundred and one subtle and unsubtle ways from the moment he was old enough to understand what was being said and done around him, but the intolerance never left him feeling angry, it only confused him.

You see, he thought, I am me, Arthur Brown. Now what is all this white man-black man crap? I don’t understand what you want me to be. You are saying I’m a Negro, you are telling me this is so, but I don’t know what Negro means. I don’t know that this whole discussion is all about. What do you want from me exactly? If I say, why yes, that’s right, I’m a Negro, well then what? What the hell is it you want? That’s what I’d like to know. Arthur Brown finished shaving, rinsed his face, and looked into the mirror.

As usual, he saw himself.”

Sixty years ago. My word.

Lady, Lady, I Did It.

Mr McBain, you certainly did.  

And if you need another opinion, why not check out Hark the 87th Precinct Podcast here? 

Sunday, 21 June 2020

One Man's Opinion: SEVERANCE PACKAGE by DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI



Severance Package (US) is bonkers. Seriously. I can’t recall
reading anything that’s taken its premise to such extremes.

So bonkers is good, right?

Absolutely. Somehow, by the skin of his teeth, Duane Swierczynski
pulls this one off to leave an exciting read that entertains and satisfies.

How to describe it? Imagine a Formula One driver who only
needs one more victory to snatch the title from an old rival. There’s one more bend to get round and the driver’s lagging in second. All they can do is floor it, take the curve, hope nature is on their side and pray. The force is immense, the driver nearly flies off the track, but manages with a final turn of the wheel to keep control and take the chequered flag to become the new champion of the world.

Told you it was bonkers.

I could put it another way.

Molly Lewis is called in to work for a meeting on a Saturday
morning. She gets up and dressed, then kills her husband with a bowl of potato salad.

The meeting, called by boss David, is on the thirty-sixth
floor of a Philadelphia office block.

When everyone who’s going to make it is in the room, David
explains that everyone is going to die. It’s in the national interest and is just one of those things that happens when you’re working for the secret service. The best way to do it is to take the easy way out- mix a glass of Champagne and orange juice, each containing a poison that would work in combination to offer a pain-free death.

For those not willing to choose their options, there’s no
way of escape. All doors have been booby-trapped with Sarin and there are explosive devices everywhere.

The six employees all react to the situation in different
ways. They’re all highly-skilled operatives in one form or another and giving in isn’t an option. If they could work as a team, things might be easy, only one of them is not who they seem and the personalities clash like titans.

Basically, this if office politics at its highest pitch.

While the employees battle it out for survival, two agents
watch from afar. An American and a Scot watch the Philadelphia antics unfold, backing their favourites and watching them crossed off the list through the grizzly action before them.

I guess the reason it almost spins too far is that it’s difficult to see the people you’re rooting for being bumped off one by one. As
each is sent to their wonderfully creative ending, the emotional investment lessens by a degree. Not that it should really matter. This is high rise, high octane, high adrenaline drama for the action junkie.

Apart from being a terrific read, it’s also a beautiful object. There are some books that feel great in your hands and this is one of
them. Silky smooth, malleable and illustrated at regular intervals with art work I’d happily hang on my wall. What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

NOIR FROM THE BAR (a charity antholgy)


UK      US
This anthology, consisting of 30 stories by crime and mystery writers from all over the world has been conceived, created, and published in a month.
All stories have been donated free-of-charge by the authors, with the vast majority of them written specifically for this very special book. Originating from Virtual Noir at the Bar, a weekly online gathering where authors — best sellers, award winners and up-and-coming — join together to read sections live from their works to the public, the organisers of that event put the word out to writers who had appeared to submit a story to help raise funds for NHS charities. The result is this book. Inside you’ll find short pieces that have nothing in common other than their quality and a general tale-from-the-bar theme.
So whatever sort of crime and mystery fiction you enjoy, you’ll find something to appeal:
  • Locked room mysteries
  • Gritty noir
  • Cozy capers
  • Psychological thrillers
  • Twist-in-the-tales
  • Revenge dramas
  • Shocking shorts
  • Longer dramas to savour

With combined sales of more than three million books and awards galore, you’ll find familiar names and new finds within.

Support NHS charities and treat yourself by reading this exceptional collection. 

Full list of authors included in this anthology:
Suzy Aspley, Alison Belsham (The Tattoo Thief (Sullivan and Mullins)), Simon Bewick (You Could Make a Killing), Sharon Bolton (the Lacey Flint series), Neil Broadfoot (the Connor Fraser series), Philippa East (Little White Lies), Ashley Erwin (A Ballad Concerning Black Betty or the Retelling of a Man Killer and her Machete), Derek Farrell (The Danny Bird Mysteries), Margaret Kirk (the DI Lukas Mahler series), Neil Lancaster (The Tom Novak series), Louise Mangos (Strangers on a Bridge), Danny Marshall, Chris McDonald (A Wash of Black), Kirsten McKenzie (The Old Curiosity Shop series), Effie Merryl, Phoebe Morgan (The Doll House), KC Murdarasi (Office Life (and Death)), Rob Parker (The Ben Bracken series), Robert Scragg (The Porter & Styles series), Zoe Sharp (the Charlie Fox series), Sara Sheridan (the Mirabelle Bevan series), Dave Sivers (the DI Nathan Quarrel and Archer & Baines series), Graham Smith (the Jake Boulder series), DC Smith, Eve Smith (The Waiting Rooms), Martyn Taylor (The Price of Everything), David Turton (The Malaise), Fiona Veitch Smith (The Poppy Denby Investigates series), Roz Watkins (The DI Meg Dalton series) and Olga Wojtas (The Miss Blaine’s Prefect series).

More details of how you can join, free of charge, future Virtual Noir at the Bar events are included in the book.

Paperback available here.