Monday 20 December 2021

The Blue Danube Waltz (a very dark Christmas story)


The Blue Danube Waltz

Christmas Eve.  Early morning.

Monica and Anna Dubinska amble along the cinder track, the gravel crunching under the worn soles of their boots.

They hold their wicker baskets tightly in a grip that’s turned their knuckles white.  Inside the baskets are home-made cakes, fine pastries that show off the poppy seed at its very best.

It’s not easy to see the beauty of these women underneath their woollen shawls, not in the half-light, but it’s there.  Green eyes and long, red hair.  When the sun comes out they will shine like beacons.  But for now, they are all greys and browns.

They arrive at the gate and read the sign as they always do.

‘Work makes you free.’

It had been funny the first time.  Maybe the second, too. 

Anna turns to Monica.  “It keeps our bellies full is all.  And don’t you forget it.” 

Monica purses her lips together and nods.  These days it seems better if they don’t talk.

The helmet of the soldier on the gate covers his face in shadow.  He looks spectral until he sees them walking over. 

Soon as he catches sight of them, he’s up on his feet and stretching his back.  Doesn’t let go of his rifle all the while.

He says something to them in German.  They understand only a little.  They smile back.  It’s a warm smile.  This guy is one of the gentlemen.  Never lays a hand.

The tip of his rifle lifts the cloth that covers the cakes.  He bends down and takes a sniff and makes the international noise of contentment.

His gloved hand reaches in and when it emerges, there’s a custard cone inside it.  He puts it down in the sentry- box.  Thanks them and opens the gate.

At the fork they stop for a moment and watch the train pull in. 

It’s long and black.  The windows are misted and covered in dirt from the engine’s smoke.  The scene’s almost peaceful, like the night train arriving in Warsaw. 

“The end of the line,” Anna says.   The girls hug.   Anna takes the left path, Monica the right.

A huge hiss escapes from the engine as it stops.  Like an animal exhaling before falling asleep.  It’s the only thing that will be escaping.

For a moment all is quiet.

The silence is smashed by the opening of the carriage doors.

Dogs bark and people scream and shout.  Both of the Dubinska  girls put their fingers in their ears.


Anna sits at a long wooden table, watching. 

                She’s always surprised at how resigned they look.  How thin and wasted.  Like there’s nothing left inside.

                The room is as crowded as the bakery on the days when the shelves are full.

                On the table-top the arrivals place watches and jewellery, money and Stars Of David.

It’s hard watching them part with their precious things, but better this than her sister’s job.  Monica will be sorting through bodies.  Taking gold from teeth.  Removing wooden arms and legs and throwing them onto the pile. 

                In front of Anna a man places a watch and a ring.  His fingers are long and thin and, in spite of the dirt, she can see how soft they must be.   The nails are perfectly manicured.  A doctor, she thinks.  Or a banker.

                The man’s other arm is around a girl.

                The girl has something that she hasn’t seen here in months – fire in her eyes.  Spirit.  Life.  Her skin is like porcelain.  Her features sharp.  Hair dark and long.

                Anna notices the shape of the girl’s hand.  A loose fist.  Can’t blame her for trying.

                Anna bangs the table. 

                A soldier looks over.  Follows Anna’s gaze and pushes the young girl over to the table.

                The fist remains closed.

                Anna reaches over and grabs the girl’s arm.  Holds it tight. 

                The girl tries to pull away.  Leans back and pushes from the floor.  She’s a feisty one, alright.

                With her free hand, Anna pulls at the girl’s fingers.  Takes them one by one until the contents spill onto the table.

                It’s a hand-cranked music box.  Anna hasn’t seen one for years.  Perfect for melting and re-shaping. 

                Her father reaches down to pull his daughter away.  She fights him all the way, crying and screaming. 

                The soldier moves in.  Slaps the girl hard.

                Amidst the commotion, Anna slips the music box into her pocket instead of into the tray of metal behind. 

                The girl keeps screaming.  Until the soldier clamps his hand around her mouth and carries her off.


Monica finishes her shift.  Brushes herself down to get rid of the clippings.  In a matter of hours she has shaved the heads of 100 women.  Collected the hair in a small hill of blond and silver and mouse-brown.

                She wraps herself back up in her shawl, picks up her empty basket and takes the first steps towards home.

                Through the wire fence she can see the children staring.  They huddle together in groups to keep warm.

                One girl stands out from the others. 

                She’s reaching through, pleading.  Dried blood is crusted at her nostrils.  Her eyes seem to plead.

                Without thinking, Monica steps off the path and goes over.  Takes the hand of the girl and strokes it.  Feels the softness of the skin and the strength of the bones.

                The girl says something over and over.  Monica can’t be sure, but it sounds like “Father.  My father.”

                Monica looks over her shoulder. 

Smoke bellows from the chimney stack.  It fills the air with a stench to which she has become accustomed.  The girl’s pleas remind her that it is the stink of burning flesh. 

                There’s nothing to be done.

                Monica reaches into her basket.  Pulls out a handful sweets from the bag she traded with a German officer in between shavings.  The officer took off his wedding ring before they completed the transaction, as if it made all the difference.

                She puts it into the hands of the girl.  “Happy Christmas.”

                The girl holds on to the sweets and Monica hurries on her way.

                At the fork, where the paths meet, the sisters come together.  Without speaking, they head for home to make the best of the celebrations for their own.  


The two families sit by the fire.

                Rose opens the bag and sees four sweets in the bottom.   She knows she’s luckier than many.  Hugs her mum and settles back to watch her cousin.

George opens his package in front of the burning fire.

                The site of the music box takes his mind from missing his father.

                He turns the handle.  Nothing happens. 

                He thinks again of his father and tears spill onto his cheeks.

                Anna reaches over.  Takes the box from his hand.  Puts it down on the table.

                “Now try,” she tells him.

                As he turns the handle the air fills with music.  ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’.  High pitched notes come faster as he speeds up his winding.  Louder and louder.  Almost cover the whistling of the train arriving at the camp along the road.


Friday 10 December 2021


The Men At The Grand Cafe is the second story in the collection Death Threats (and other stories). It follows on from the excellent opener in that it reveals something more of Maigret's life in retirement. 

He and his wife have settled down in Meung-sur-Loire. 

Before I'd heard of Maigret, I spent a couple of weeks on a French school trip in Meung, camping in moth-eaten tents, balancing precariously over squat toilets and stuffing down baguettes for lunch. I have fond memories of the holiday- unrequited love, chateaus, red wine, outdoor pools, pogo dancing and aniseed drinks are the things that come to mind. 

Maigret didn't have as much fun as I did. He's doubting the move from Paris and is lacking focus. The chance to join a daily card game arrives and he goes along without enthusiasm. Though he dislikes the setup and despises himself for falling into such a mundane lifestyle, the routine suits him and fills some holes in his life. 

And then the butcher meets his end. The case has murder written all over it and the local police get involved. Maigret, in a similar way to story one, refuses to take on the case. Instead, he gets grumpy, listens to the outpourings of those who are in the card-playing circle and who hang around at the bar where the game resides and then attends the butcher's funeral. 

To my mind, this one's very disappointing. 

The case isn't of interest, the tales of the local folk are dull and witnessing the great inspector sink into despair and purposelessness is difficult to do. It's not always clear who is speaking and there are lots of unfinished sentences to jar and irritate.

Not for me.    

Wednesday 17 November 2021



The Improbably Monsieur Owen is the opening story of the collection pictured (US). 

Maigret, enjoying his retirement, is sunning himself down in Cannes, the guest of Monsieur Louis who is the doorman of a swanky Mediterranean hotel. In the middle of his break, Maigret is interrupted by Louis, who is keen to get his old friend involved in a murder case that's just happened on the floor below. 

Louis isn't daft. He knows the ex-inspector isn't in the mood for work and would rather be enjoying the sights and sounds of springtime by the sea. In order to capture his attention, Louis needs to reel him in by dropping points of interest one at a time. It's a great trick, because not only does Maigret become hooked, so does the reader. 

Monsieur Owen is a curious man. He's an ageing Swede who wears grey flannel suits and is never seen without a pair of grey gloves covering his hands. He also employs a nurse, an attractive young lady who is staying in the adjoining room. Monsieur Owen seems to have disappeared and in his place is the marked body of a young morphine addict who has been drowned in the bath. The name of the victim is unknown and there's no easy way to identify him.

Maigret paces and smokes and decides to help Louis solve the case as long as neither the press nor the police become aware of what is going on. 

There are some nice touches from the experienced master of deduction, as well as a few mis-steps, but eventually he gets to the nub of things and all is revealed. 

Hats of to Simenon for this one. Within the space of 50 short pages, a whole murder mystery is built-up, investigated and solved in a way that's engaging and has pace. It's interesting that we get the points of view of the doorman as well as the policeman and the insight in Maigret's retirement is something of a treat. 

A cracking start to this collection and I'm looking forward to reading more.   

Saturday 13 November 2021



Out Now

At last it's here, the explosive follow up to Let It Snow and My Funny Valentine, available at half price until the end of November. 

“Nigel Bird knows his characters inside and out—what they want, how they think, how they grow and how they fail. Ain’t that a Kick in the Head might be his best work yet. A convincing, engrossing portrayal of what life is like for cops and criminals alike.” —Chris Rhatigan, All Due Respect Books publisher

“One of my favourite contemporary crime fiction series.” —Colman Keane, Col’s Criminal Library

This year, the fireworks will be red hot…

Skates Farrington is a changed man. Gone are the smart suits, the dull meetings and the extra pounds. Nowadays, he gets his thrills at the skate park and from whatever substances his dealers send his way. The only thing missing from his life is his ex-wife. She’s shacked up with a respectable partner in an isolated farm and striving to create the perfect life. Skates is convinced that she will come back to him when she sees his new self, but when attempts to win her heart all over again are thrown back in his face, he decides a little gentle persuasion is in order. Now he can include murder and abduction among his new-found skills.

DI Oliver Wilson, leading the investigation, has more than a few things on his mind. The case and imminent arrival of his third child should be at the forefront of his thoughts, but the arrival of a sequence of unusual gifts is making him nervous. The packages are sending him a message, he just can’t work out what they’re trying to say.

Hope you love it.

Available here as well as from all the usual suspects

Wednesday 10 November 2021


"Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he'd like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young - but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?"

It can't be easy being a successful author. I suppose it should make me count my lucky stars that in terms of sales and world reputation, not many people are going to notice what I write and, of those that do, mind what my next book is about or what style I've chosen. 

In the case of Sally Rooney, I'm sure the pressure to produce an outstanding novel was significant and much-felt. Conversations With Friends and Normal People have been among my favourite reads of the last decade. While reading each story, I was struck by my emotional involvement as well as by the stunning beauty and occasional brutality of the prose. And I certainly wasn't the only one who felt that way. Apart from the other millions of fans, my teenage daughters also loved them and would discuss them at great length. 

The latest arrival, Beautiful World, Where Are You? was much anticipated in our household and my daughters and I have all read it now. Though we're not entirely in agreement, two of us really enjoyed it but not as much as either Conversations With Friends and Normal People and one was as delighted by it as she'd hoped. 

This time we get to join the relationships of four people who are linked in different ways to form a cat's cradle of connections between each other. On the whole, these relationships are not simple. Some are rooted in childhood and others in teenage years. As with all histories, there are complications, confusions and huge loyalties to deal with. These are histories that entirely influence the present, even to newcomers to their lives. The consequences of them can be positive and negative and, because of this, create a turbulence at every move. Each action has a reaction, each word and nuance a ripple in the world. 

The structure sees alternate chapters from the point of view of Alice and Eileen, while sandwiched between are email communications between the two. This works well in the beginning, but as the story progressed became somewhat obstructive the flow. The email sections, while incorporating plenty of character revelations and showing some of the strengths and flaws of the friendship, also take on a philosophical and political debate that I may well not be intelligent enough to have fully understood. It's interesting and is likely to be very important to the thrust and meaning of the novel, but it was generally an aspect that knocked me from my stride. It may be that I could search for other reviews to help me get a foothold into it's purpose (for purpose there must surely be), and a such a grasp may knock up my opinion a notch, but I would have been happier if this had been cut back a little. It's a small gripe, because I still loved the read, so I hope it doesn't put anyone off having a go. 

I suppose the reason I found that structure difficult is that when the characters are living their lives it's engrossing and compelling. The flashes of the poetic and the ebb and flow of their lives, the extreme lifestyles and the examination of the change into early adulthood, the examination of madness and self-doubt and of deviation from perceived norms all simmer away and over-boil nicely. The email sections gently put the brakes on this eventually had an impact.  

Overall, I recommend it to all. The pleasures (and pains) outweigh the issues (my issues) and even with an ending that I wanted more from, it's still top notch. 

Not that it matters, my favourite character was Felix. Just saying. 

And where is the beautiful world? I'm not sure if it's always out of reach or it's the place we spend every day. I reckon it's both. What do you say? 

Saturday 6 November 2021

One Man's (second) Opinion: THE BASTARD HAND by HEATH LOWRANCE

Here's a blast from the not-too-distant past. It's just been re-released by Shotgun Honey and has a wonderful cover that I hope will draw readers in. I reviewed this one way back when, and here's what I said:

The Bastard Hand. It's one hell of a title and one hell of a book. 

It’s not that long ago that here in the UK there were lots of fires,                       burning up moorland and woods, challenging the fire-services to

their limits. The countryside had been turned into smouldering
fields, so nobody knew where the next flames were going to sprout

That’s how I see this book. It’s a smoulderer which catches flame
regularly as the author expertly blows upon the embers.

Take the opening. It’s beautifully described. We meet Charlie,
escapee of an institution, free of his therapies and his medication,
wandering as his spirit takes him. Being in a town he doesn’t know,
he finds himself in a dodgy area and is soon battered to bits by a
small-time gang headed by a beautiful woman. He’s stabbed and
left for dead. And he was being nice, too. There’s certainly no
justice in his world.

He’s not one to go to hospital – it doesn’t seem to occur to him that
it might be a good idea. Instead, he does it his own way and lets his
body recover in its own good time.

Soon enough, he ambles over to the laundrette. Puts in his clothes
and discovers a bible with a hole through the ‘O’ of holy. He reads
Genesis until he’s interrupted by a preacher man, the Reverend
Childe, who could talk the Ten Commandments from Moses. Even
though Charlie knows the man’s no good, partly because he was in
a laundrette without any laundry, he sticks with him.

They visit a brothel, for the Reverend likes his drink and his
women and, from that point on, Charlie’s life is intertwined with
Childe’s like a swimmer might get tangled in pond weed.

From then on the book smoulders away, bursting into flame without

The series of events that follows unfolds beautifully. Not once
during the read did I feel any of the situations were forced, it was
simply the way it needed to be.

Missing preachers, small Southern town life, a crazy (though not
stupid) mayor, a number of women who all have their own allure,
gang battles, illicit stills and a series of plots and counter-plots like
you wouldn’t believe, fan those flames all the way through as does
Charlie’s madness.

Yes, Charlie is crazy, or at least he would seem so if the folk around
him weren’t so unusual. Lowrance is clever with his characters. I
felt blindfolded from the beginning so that I couldn’t tell the good
from the bad or the wicked from the saint. It’s one hell of a thing to
pull off, yet he did it with the subtlety of a close magician.

So Charlie’s crazy and he’s also our story-teller. It gives the whole
piece a curious foundation that’s part cement, part quicksand.

I loved this book. Really loved it.

It’s place in a contemporary setting, yet for me there are echoes of
older works and older times. The images I conjured for myself
were all in black and white and there’s something of the classic-noir
movie in this work.

Though full of dark events and madness, it’s written with a light
touch I hadn’t expected. Smooth as a ride on new tyres in a
freshly serviced car along a flat tarmac road when the living is easy.

His characterisations are so three-dimensional they’ll poke a reader
in the eye if they’re not careful. The people who inhabit the
book I liked, mistrusted, hated and loved in turn, every last one of

The weaving through of the preacher and the bible offers a powerful
medicine of its own. Not an expert on the bible, I have to play it
through the filters of Nick Cave and Night Of The Hunter, but I felt
the weight of the Old Testament burdening the skies in the novel
and my own.

Lowrance plays with Charlie like God played
with Job. He takes advantage of Charlie’s misplaced senses of
loyalty and obligation, lets things go well then turns them all to
shit when he’s least expecting it.

I’ve mentioned a few of the echoes I felt as I read. Here are a few
other ghosts I felt were hanging around – Harper Lee, John
Steinbeck, Guthrie’s Slammer and the movie Inherit The Wind;
maybe it’s way off beam to cite those, but you’ll have to read it for
yourself make up your own mind.

A brilliant book by a writer of real talent.


I stand by everything I said. What are you waiting for?

Sunday 31 October 2021

One Man's Opinion: TEN PLUS ONE by ED MCBAIN

'Forget it. There's no protection against a sniper. I used to be one.'

Time for another McBain, Ten Plus One (US). 

We have a sniper on our hands. Whoever it is, they appear to be striking at random and with unnerving accuracy. 

The book opens wonderfully with the death of the first victim. It's something McBain uses quite often, a description of what a human being is doing just before they die. The sense of the everyday and the knowledge that they have friends, family, hopes and dreams, brings an extra power to their loss and makes the need to find the killer all the more pressing. 

This one's down to Carella and Myer. As further killings take place, the pair disagree about whether the killer is the same person, given that there are no obvious links between those on the slab. They go through the usual legwork and procedures to glean what they can from witnesses and those close to the dead. 

Taking a break from the action, McBain throws in something of a cameo for ex-con Frankie Pierce. Two bulls, unrelated to the 87th Precinct, stick their noses and their fists into the case. They pick Frankie up and, ignoring protestations that he's going straight and has a date lined up with a lovely woman who is prepared to overlook his past, proceed in trying to get to the truth in the only way they know. It's a brutal chapter and memorable enough in itself to warrant mention and it could stand up as a short story in any top crime anthology.

There is a link between the victims and when it's discovered the case maintains it's quality and pace until close to the end. 

I really enjoyed this one, all the more so because of the feel of the 1967 Penguin edition in my hands. The sniper theme is effective and exciting and the interviews and case work is as entertaining as ever. My only grip comes with the ending and I'm not sure why. It makes sense of everything that has come before and brings its own tension, yet I felt that it all happened a little too easily. Perhaps it's because the outcome means it would have been impossible for the reader to deduce from what has come before. It doesn't fall flat, but it doesn't quite add the quality of icing that such a delicious story of a cake deserves. It's high quality, nonetheless, and it's definitely one for the to be read pile if you haven't had a visit already. 

For another take, check out the Hark podcast

Friday 17 September 2021



I'm a big fan of this man's work and know that you're really going to love this one:

"Collecting stories originally published in Shotgun Honey, Needle Magazine, Crime Factory, and other magazines and anthologies, I WAS BORN A LOST CAUSE brings together the best of Heath Lowrance’s previously uncollected work— disturbing tales of crime, psychological horror, satire, and dark comedy— as well as two brand new forays into darkness."

I Was Born A Lost Cause came out this week, featuring Heath's short stories. 

Wednesday 8 September 2021


With her new book (released yesterday) on the way, I decided I'd revisit Sally Rooney's first two novels to get me in the mood. Without doubt, they have left me wanting more and I'm sure that Beautiful World Where Are You will be another terrific read to delight in. 

Conversations With Friends essentially follows the affair of a young writer and a handsome actor in Dublin. It's a perfectly simple idea, yet the twists and turns of their interactions bring levels of tension and engagement that make the story feel very real.

Frances is our lens and through her we explore the difficulties and wonders of being in love. I found the level of exploration of her emotions and thoughts to be so involving that Rooney's writing became more than words, as if Frances's consciousness had somehow become intertwined with my own. I have no real understanding of how that was achieved and can only hope that however Rooney created the depth and strength of the characters, some of those skills will filter by osmosis into my own work. At times, it's as if we can see through an skin and into her inner workings and at others like we're wearing that skin on top of (or perhaps instead of) our own. 

Perhaps what allowed the bond between Frances and my reader self to grow was the sense of common experience. It's so easy to identify with elements of the frailty and lack of confidence that we surely must all feel or have felt when growing up. It's magnified because the imagery and choice of phrase is so skillfully handled. There are poetic lines as well as cold and abrupt jolts that maximise the resonance and turbulence of the tale; she'd be a wonderful writer of noir should she ever want to reach a little further in that direction, which may not take such as big a step as you might think.   

The ending was wonderful and I was totally conflicted by what happened. It's a cracker that had me shouting at the pages and pulling faces at walls while I came to terms with it. 

It's a great read and I was really pleased to have Normal People as my next in line so that I could step back into a similar world as quickly as possible. 


Saturday 21 August 2021



Jennifer Egan is a writer whose work I've come to admire. Though I seem to have read her books in reverse order, that feels rather fitting for this title.

Good Squad is a difficult piece to describe. In my mind, it's like a collage of tissue-paper circles that appear to have been placed at random onto a canvas so that they overlap and interlink to form a captivating image of swirls and colours. Upon closer examination, it transpires that they've all been carefully positioned in such a way that the visual effect is maximised and the emotional responses compounded.

There are thirteen stories, each superbly rounded and with an intensity that would grace any anthology were they to be included as individual tales. They are linked together in clever ways, using characters and time periods to make them one powerful whole. 

I'm sure each reader will highlight their own particular interest as being core to proceedings. For me, it helped, initially, that the theme of the music industry was key, more so that it featured the trials and tribulations of moving on from the punk era into a world where those early rebellious cries became inevitably entangled with the world of commercialism. There are two characters who are at the heart of the collection and maintain the pulse, but there's a fantastically varied supporting cast who bring the pair to life.

The variety of stories is quite something and demonstrate that the mind of the author is vivid, inventive and unusual. Things that appear to appear simple on the surface emerge through the story-telling to be deep, moving and sometimes bizarre. 

In essence, for me this is all about journeys through life and the way tangents, relationships, failures and successes form the way people develop. As time goes on, older experiences become paler and less powerful, yet they continue to hold onto personality and decision making and are ever-influential in the present and future. Tragedies, mishaps, moments of madness, insight and good fortune are all in the melting pot and there isn't anyone out there who doesn't have a web of interaction and memory to explore.

Breaking down the stories to give a sense of what they're about would be a fruitless task. Perhaps it would be better to mention that I was fascinated by it all and there were moments in there where the kicks were hard, whether they be of joy, humour, pain or sadness.

Such a work should have been challenging for me given that my memory is poor and that names and places are problematic for me. The issue was removed for me relatively painlessly by gentle nudges and reminders that allowed me to find my place in a way that few could pull off. These hooks were never clumsy or obvious and I was grateful for that.  

It's not a novel (or at least, I don't think it is), yet it still needed an ending to leave me feeling totally satisfied. I've no idea how she pulled it off, but she did. Loose ends weren't exactly tied up, but everything fell into place. 

I loved the variety and the depth and imagine you will, too. I read this a couple of months ago and still hear the echoes every now and then. 



Wednesday 18 August 2021

Crediting the Editing

I've just finished working through the edits for my next novel, the third in the Rat Pack series which will be published by Down&Out Books later this year. The edit was by Chris Rhatigan and if you know his work, you'll also know that he made the process as painless as it could be. In tune with the style, fine attention to detail, can spot an error at a million paces, knows when the train has slipped off the track and when it's steaming ahead, picks up on character and point of view and even offers possible alternatives to those especially clunky sentences. What else could an author want? If you're looking for someone to work on your draft, you could do a lot worse and probably not much better. Highly recommended.

Thursday 12 August 2021



It doesn't seem like that long ago that I was reading and reviewing The Thursday Murder Club. In a nutshell, I found that to be refreshing, fun and intriguing in equal measure. I think I was also aware that the situation and the characters involved would make a follow-on difficult to pull off.

In many ways, I think The Man Who Died Twice is a pretty good sequel and does manage to create a highly-engaging tale that suits the murder club. 

Appearing from the past is Elizabeth's ex-husband, a man who has already died once and, given the title, may find his number's about to come up. He has the charm of Bond as well as the smugness born of being talented and good looking. While working on a secret-service case, he's fallen foul of dangerous gangsters over in the US. Thankfully, he has a personal guard to protect him and a place to hide out (the very same home where the Thursday Murder Club wait for their live's to fizzle out, where else?).   

There are dead bodies and tricks with smoke and mirrors and, for a while, there's that satisfying buzz of wondering what the hell's going on, which is accompanied by the joy of trying to puzzle it out before reality is revealed. Essentially, that makes it a winning cosy mystery; if that's your bag, this is one for the top of your list. 

While meeting up with our gang again is a welcome experience, The Man Who Died Twice doesn't quite match the excellence of book one. In the main, I think that's due to the situation of the setting and having to stretch to create a new and believable situation. The observation are just that bit less sharp, the diary entries of Joyce are less powerful as a way of moving on plot, the police are less involved and more stable in a way that reduces the impact of their story-lines, and there's a tad less chemistry between the group (and so not as much character development as I might have liked). 

TTMC was always going to be a tough act to follow. The second in the series has proved to be a solid and enjoyable follow-on. I'd still read a third, but do worry that a further contortion to find a suitable plot and another dilution due to familiarity may make it a step too far for me. 

Richard Osman is a fine writer who brings his own twist to the genre. His humour is particularly noteworthy and his timing is excellent. Overall, I'm recommending this to anyone who enjoyed the last one and to the cosy mystery fan. It would work as a standalone, but reading in order would be much more satisfying. I worry for book three (for surely there will be one), but there will be many who will lap up each and every title with zeal in a way that may even make this a series that will be viewed as a classic when the world has warmed to the point where paper self-combusts- get it while you can.    

Saturday 29 May 2021

News From Fahrenheit Press


Here's what they're saying, and they're worth listening to...


Hola Fahrenhistas,

We’ve celebrating public holidays on both sides of the Atlantic this weekend (May Bank Holiday in the UK - Memorial Day in the USA) so we decided to help all your weekends go with a bookish swing…

First off, we’re running one of our EPIC AMAZON PROMOTIONS - we published debuts novels in December 2020 and frankly they got swept away by the Christmas rush. These 4 books are some of the best debuts we’ve ever read and we’ve decided to circle around again and promote them as if they’re brand new books - so for a starter ALL FOUR OF THEM ARE FREE ON AMAZON this weekend."

The whole of their message is here

Friday 14 May 2021




Here's one for fans of the hard-boiled hero who like their protagonist to be caught up in something big. This one will tick all your boxes and then some. 

Told in the first person by a reaper, Ramsay Cames, we know the setup and the energy force that will drive the story from the first few pages. 

This one has snappy everything: dialogue, set-pieces, one-liners, character descriptions and action. It's sharp as hell and grips like it's hanging on for dear life. Fine brushes are used where many a writer would choose the broader option and that has the effect of ramping up the energy and pace to make it speed by. For a fairly short piece of work, it feels like you've been on one hell of a journey by the end and, should you be hooked at that point, book two is waiting for you from wherever you picked up book one.

Spot on.  

The Blurb:

“You got 24 hours to live.”

That’s all he knows. Doesn’t know the how or the why— just the when.

Ram’s a process server, a reaper, for the Death Notification Agency—the DNA—which is now the biggest government organization in the world thanks to a mysterious and highly-guarded technology that can determine the time of anyone's demise, right down to the minute.

That’s where Ram comes in. It’s his job as a reaper to deliver death notices to soon-to-be-deceased citizens 24 hours before they give up the ghost. That’s it. Nothing complex about it. He’s assigned to District 598.4A. Hollywood. Not that one. The other one, in Florida—his own sunny armpit of the world.

And life ain’t that bad for Ram. Besides a wrecked marriage and kids that barely talk to him, Ram floats through his days letting people know when their life’s about to go belly up, then heads to Nasty Nate’s Tavern in his aloha shirt for a drink. As he sees it, at least he’s giving people a chance to put their affairs in order and say goodbye to their loved ones.

It’s definitely not the most glamorous job, but hey, it’s a job. And since the DNA’s never been wrong in predicting a death, he works with the confidence of knowing he’s doing his part to help people in their final hours.

But Ram’s simple life is about to get a lot more complicated when one night…

He receives his own death notice.

The Reaper  (UK) is the first volume of six in the Death Notification Agency series.

Wednesday 12 May 2021



The Man With The Getaway Face? 

It's a peach, and a perfectly ripe and juicy one at that. 

Short and pithy, laden with tension within a story that's cut to the bare bones:

New face, new heist, new partners, unwelcome developments and a series of unfortunate events. 


Wednesday 28 April 2021



Grief's a funny thing. It seeps into your being whatever measures you put in place to try and stop it penetrating. The way I picture it, it's taken hold of my insides like ivy might consume a house. Among the centres starved of energy and choked of oxygen have been my my reading and writing parts, which has meant that two of the things I would normally turn to for solace and comfort have been cut off, thus adding to the problem. 

I've been reminded once again that it's often people who make the most difference. Friendship and compassion in all of their forms- smiles, gestures, gifts, warm words, offers of support and the like- really do make a difference. 

One such gesture that has helped me along came in the form of the arrival of a book in the post. It came from Colman Keane who is behind the excellent review site for all things crime here at Col's Criminal Library. It's a great place to find new material, in no small part due to his voracious appetite for books, TV and films, and you should check it out if you've not been there before. I trust and respect his opinions and happened across his thoughts on Edgar Mint. I mentioned that it was the kind of book that might help me out of this ditch I've been in and he sent it along.  

What I think caught my attention in that review was the mention of resilience and stoicism, both of which I felt I might benefit from at the time (and still could). And he was right about the need for those qualities. For Edgar Mint, the passage through life is not a smooth one. He's born into a world that doesn't really want him, so much so that the running over of his head by a mail truck could be construed as a blessing of sorts. 

He's taken to hospital in order to recover and there begins a pattern where he finds a way through the most adverse situations with the help of people who are drawn to him and decide to take him under their wings. 

There's no soft-soaping his journey through life. It's about as tough as anyone could cope with. Particularly brutal is his time in an institution for children who are able to inflict cruelty and pain in ways that I wouldn't have begun to imagine and hope I can forget before too long. 

It's a kind of patchwork of a novel where you move between time period and situation in a way that isn't always linear. Each strand is absorbing and the meandering always take you to a point of interest. Much of the tragedy is related in a matter-of-fact style, but there's a gentle warmth through it all and always a hope that things will get better somehow. 

The conclusion is one that took me by surprise with a twist that offers a new filter for what has gone before, but that's not for me to mention here. 

I'm glad that I stumbled into the review and I'm grateful for kindness that allowed me to read it. The slow burn was exactly what the doctor ordered. Thanks Col.

And it gets better. Having managed to build up periods of concentration spanning more than a couple of minutes, I set off reading The Man With The Getaway Face. It's the opposite of Mint- direct, pacy, tense, totally stripped back and gripping from the off- and I couldn't be more grateful to be able to focus on books once again. 

Now all I need is to find the equivalent medicine for the writing. Though I'm not sure in what form it might come, I'm going to take a leaf out of Edgar's book and just get on with it until things change.   


Sunday 31 January 2021



My previous encounters with Spokane have been limited, as far as I can remember, to episodes of Frasier where it is used as the butt of many a joke.

This time, I arrived at a very different kind of place. 

Charlie 316 opens with a car chase that escalates into an ambush and a shootout where the only casualty is created by the gun of SWAT officer Tyler Garrett. The outcome is complex and tricky for a number of reasons. The victim has been shot in the back and doesn't appear to have a weapon. The officer doing the shooting is black while the dead man is white. There have been recent cases of racial tension due to a similar incident in Chicago, so everyone's on tenterhooks and worse, Garrett is something of a poster boy for the department.  

As the investigation and the public relations machine get into action, the whole of Garrett's life is put under the microscope and soon begins to unravel. Those in positions of power are mainly loyal only to their positions and genuine friendship and honest police work are not easy to find. 

The news becomes a focus of the national press and Garrett's home address is leaked to the public via social media. Before long, everything is spiraling out of control and it looks as if an innocent man is likely to be thrown to the dogs. 

There's a huge amount in this one. The knowledge of police work is, not surprisingly given the authors, brought to life in terms of its detail and authenticity. The politics of race is sliced up for examination in a number of ways. There are enough twists to take you where you weren't expecting and the action is fast and furious when required. Add to that really strong characters and a real desire to find some kind of justice and you have a substantial crime novel that will pass a good few days of your lockdown. 

If you read it and want more, fear not: this is the opening novel in a series that you can track down via Down & Out Books here