The last thing I expected to happen when I had lots of time on my hands is that my concentration would fragment so much that focussing on stories would be difficult to manage. And it hasn’t just been the concentration either - the will to pick up a book also faded during the early days of lockdown. I’ve had a similar experience with writing, but at least over the Easter holiday I managed to find the self-discipline to sit and type and my next novel is beginning to take shape.
My problem with reading made choice of book quite tricky. Anything too dark was out of the question – there’s enough bleakness out there (and in here) already – and I wasn’t in the mood for anything too light and entertaining.
In the end, I think I made a wise choice when I plumped for Russel D McLean’s Ed’s Dead (US).
I first came across this one at a Noir At The Bar in Edinburgh (more on this later) when he read an early chapter that had me looking forward to buying a copy on publication. I did just that, but because it was on my kindle, it became camouflaged in that virtual bookshelf as so many titles do. When struggling something to find a lockdown-friendly read, this seemed ideal.
Jen Carter, our protagonist, hasn’t lived up to any of her ideas about herself. She’s prone to settling for the easy option. Instead of writing her novel, she’s selling the books of others; instead of having a loving and responsible boyfriend, she’s got Ed; and instead of dumping him for good, she kills him.
True, the murder isn’t premeditated, but that’s beside the point. She has a body on her hands and has no idea what to do with it.
Enter Ed’s flatmate. He knows exactly how to handle the situation. Not just with the corpse, but the bag of cash and the huge stash of drugs. He enters like an overweight, less attractive Harvey Keitel, ready to clean up the mess and improve his own life in the process.
Neither Jen nor Ed’s flatmate have heard of the adage if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The drugs and money haven’t dropped from heaven. Ed had siphoned them off from the last of the city’s old-school gangsters. Needless to say, he wants to get his hands on what’s his and will stop at nothing to accomplish his goal.
The only positive that’s going to come from what unfolds before us is that Jen finally finds something she’s really good at: murder.
From the outset, this one’s lots of fun. Ed’s death sets of a chain reaction that blows Jen’s ordinary life to smithereens. She’s being chased by the police and some seriously twisted lowlifes and finds herself stuck between a rock, a hard place and psychopath. She finds inner strength she never knew she had and has to be quick witted and ready for anything just to survive.
The escapade is tense, exciting and underpinned with a dark humour that adds texture and shade to the developments. The characters feel very real as does the build-up of the nightmare. McLean does a great job of creating cliff-hanger endings for each chapter which accelerates the pace at every step, and the gripping action and ever-rising stakes keep this enjoyable throughout.
Perfect for the current situation and likely perfect for a future date when things settle down for us all.
It's not a book that will have you asking lots of questions about your life or the meaning of it all, which is absolutely fine by me. Sometimes you've just got to sit back and enjoy the ride and you know you can relax when RDM's in the driving seat.
And I mentioned Noir At The Bar earlier on. They’re planning some quality events to help you keep your spirits up and you can sign in for updates here.