Thursday, 29 September 2022

ACCELERATE by Brendan C. Byrne and Tomislav Tikulin


 

Joam was a hot courier in a Los Angeles falling apart, where you lived or died by your reaction time behind the wheel. He was the best, but the best wasn't good enough. Eventually, he knew, he'd just be a splat on the pavement, frying in the 120 degree sun. Electing for experimental vehicle-integration surgery, Joam is merged with his ride. Now Joam's not only the fastest, most feared courier in LA: he's an absolute legend. But the experimental surgery was experimental. Joam's body is falling apart. Pretty soon he'll just be consciousness trapped within a machine.

"Accelerate is a killer read, a hypnotic stumble off the roof of our future. Think Mad Max by James Joyce."—Rudy Rucker, author of the Ware Tetralogy.

Read for free here: https://online.fliphtml5.com/huahm/kwhu/

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

THE COMPELLED (illustrated novella) by Adam Roberts and Fran├žois Schuiten

 


A mysterious change has occurred in humanity. Nobody knows how, why or exactly when this change came about, but disparate, seemingly unconnected people have become afflicted with the uncontrollable desire to take objects and move them to other places, where the objects gather and begin to form increasingly alien, monolithic structures that appear to have vast technological implications. Some of the objects are innocuous everyday things—like a butter knife taken still greasy from a breakfast table or a dented cap popped off a bottle of beer. Others are far more complex—like the turbine of an experimental jet engine or the core of a mysterious weapon left over from the darkest days of WWII.

Where is the Compulsion coming from? And—possibly more importantly—when the machines they’re building finally turn on, what are they going to do?

"Visually gorgeous and highly recommended" —WASHINGTON POST

https://online.fliphtml5.com/huahm/pody/


Sunday, 11 September 2022

One Man's Opinion: THE STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE by GEORGES SIMENON



An odd one this. Not so much a whodunnit as a doesn'treallymatterwhodunnit. What's impressive about that is the lack of a need to know bears little impact upon the amount of pleasure I derived from the book. 

In an impressive, though deteriorating, house in the middle of town, lawyer Hector Loursat has withdrawn from the outer world and also the world within his walls. He drinks and reads and drinks some more until he's unable to soak up any more alcohol and has to try to get himself to bed. He's dirty, unkempt, unfriendly and unpleasant. If it weren't for his wealth and his servants, he'd be drowning in his own filth. 

His daughter, Nicole, is almost unknown to him. They eat together, but that's as far as it goes- there isn't even any conversation as they dine. It's partly because she's a mystery/non-entity to him that he hasn't noticed the life she's been living on the floors above. She's joined a gang of rebellious and anarchistic youths, discovered the thrills of breaking the law, enjoyed the delights of a sexual relationship and managed to hide away a seriously injured man in one of the spare rooms. Said injured man is one night found shot dead causing some alarm for the maid and arousing the curiosity of Loursat. 

When it becomes clear that Nicole's boyfriend is a key suspect in the murder, Loursat slowly opens up, life a flower offering one final bloom. He leaves the house, finds that the world outside is at least as interesting as those existing between the covers of books and eventually takes on the case. 

Each of the gang members has their character dissected. We get to see the misfortune, the opportunities or lack of, the social injustices of the French class system, family problems and the inner workings of humanity as the case is investigated and father and daughter begin to engage with each other in a way that hasn't happened since Nicole's mother upped and left. 

No longer is Loursat intoxicated by booze alone. Instead he gets high on the sights, smells and intrigues of the cafes and bars in the locality. 

Eventually, we're taken to the courthouse where the remainder of the novel is almost entirely set. 

The dissection continues and the interest is maintained, but if the characters on the stand were actors, it would have to be pointed out that they're a little hammy and wooden. 

In the end, without any clear reason, the case is solved when one of the gang melts while giving testimony. It's not expected and doesn't feel entirely plausible. That said, it really doesn't matter. As I mentioned at the start, the book gives a great deal of pleasure and that's almost entirely because of the study of the lawyer. It's fantastic seeing him in decline and thrilling to see him re-engage with life. 

Moody and sensorial, this one will get under your skin, for sure. 

Thursday, 1 September 2022

One Man's Opinion: LIGHT AT THE END by HENRY G M JONES




It's funny, given that one of the best stories I think I've written is Drawn In (a short novel about soul collection), that I often struggle with books and films where things slip into the supernatural. Or at least I think I do. I suppose it's down to the way it's handled by the author or director as to whether I buy into it or not. Perhaps the key is that it's just understood from the off that this is the way it is and that attempts to explain the rules of the realm are kept to a minimum. 

On reflection, I can think immediately of work I've really enjoyed: The Sixth Sense, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Stephen Blackmore's Eric Carter books, A Christmas Carol. 

Another key factor in enjoying such titles is the journey of the central character. If it's exciting enough, packs an emotional punch, holds their feet to the flames and forces them to come to terms with something they struggle to accept, then I'm probably in. 

Light At The End ticks all of the important boxes. 

Gordon's doing his son's dirty work. It's not something he enjoys, but he believes that in following Wyatt's instructions that he might somehow fix things and settle his own conscience. Wyatt, directing his father to avenge terrible acts against children, is driven to make the world a better place and is also dead, something I accepted from the off because it was introduced so quickly and clearly that it just became the way it was. Besides, there was much more going on in the story to keep me from giving the supernatural element a second thought. 

While Gordon is clearing the world of scumbags, the police are chasing down a killer who seems to have an uncanny way of uncovering horrible events that were previously hidden. How is the killer getting their information and how come the police are always a step or two behind?

The relationship between father and son is terrific. The police work is handled with energy and tension. There are action scenes and those that will have you thinking. On top of an excellent plot, already layered with conflict, you have to factor in writing that's tight and effective throughout- words aren't wasted, there's no fluff or fill, and each step accelerates forward to a conclusion that really could go in a number of directions. 

In short, a fantastic story that's brilliantly told. 

Loved it. 


Wednesday, 24 August 2022

One Man's Opinion: THE APRIL DEAD by ALAN PARKS


The first of my summer holiday reads this year was The April Dead by Alan Parks. It's the fourth in the Harry McCoy series and it's another stunner in my humble opinion. 

Things kick off with an explosion in a flat where the dead body of a bomb maker is found and there's evidence of a wounded victim who is nowhere to be seen. Later explosions will put Glasgow on full alert and everything seems to point to a full-scale outbreak of carnage when April finally arrives. Matters become more pressing when links to the Irish paramilitary are suspected and the British secret services decide they're not happy about McCoy sniffing around too closely. 

Steve Cooper, childhood friend of McCoy, is about to come out of prison and something seems off. There's internal wrangling in the underworld and the only certainty is that things are not going to be sorted with handshakes and pats on the back. 

And there's a missing American submariner from the US naval base whose father manages to grab McCoy's attention and has him investigating the case when he senses there may be overlaps between this and his other work. 

The April Dead is thoroughly entertaining. Time and place are created very strongly and it can seem as if Parks has picked you up and placed you directly in the scene so you can see, hear, smell and feel what's going on around you (think virtual reality without any technology). McCoy and Cooper are terrific characters and the way that loyalties and morals are played with when they get together adds a great extra dimension. Plot is also terrific and the pacing is bang on. 

There are places where apparent coincidences are stretched to the point of causing raised eyebrows, but those moments can be easily forgiven on account of the strength of the story and because of the complexity that these elements bring to the plot. 

Seriously good and very entertaining. Cracking Scottish crime. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Dig This Hole: The Complete Flipbook from NeoText




Moundsville State Prison was rotten to the core. The guards were almost as crooked as the cons. Gangs ruled the jail, and Davie Ingram ruled the gangs.

But this time Davie's crew picked the wrong man to shake down. He's a man who won't take kindly to seeing a video of his brother being stomped by half a dozen vicious goons. A man who's a professional in the art of making people pay. Not with money, but with blood.

A man named...HOLE.


Normally, an appetizer like this one would have you clicking links and finding out where you can get hold of this gem.

Not this time. 

The NeoText Flipbook below allows you to read the whole thing. Not only that, you get to delight in the illustrations as put together by Eduardo Risso.  All you need to do is grab yourself a coffee, fasten your seatbelt and click on the image below. The book will expand to fill your screen before your very eyes. 

 

 If you're interested, there's also a kindle version available via Amazon in the UK and in the US
Let me know what you think in the comments. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

One Man's Opinion: THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT by WALTER TEVIS



 'Sometimes, her head reeling, she would feel in the depth of her stomach an anger as intense as the pain of a burst abscess in the jaw- a toothache so potent that nothing but drink could alleviate it. Sometimes the drink had to be forced against a rejection of it by her body, but she did it. She would get it down and wait and the feelings would subside a bit. It was like turning down the volume.'

Like many, I watched The Queen's Gambit on Netflix and delighted in the production. Captivated by the opening, it also was something of a slow-burner for me as I was unsure the substance would prevail over the style. I should have had no doubts and in the end I was totally satisfied. 

Which led me to the book. 

I had a similar experience of watching a Walter Tevis story before seeing it on the page almost forty years ago. I went to see The Hustler at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill. Part of the attraction was the promise of a free book, something I couldn't wait to read after watching the film again and the experience was totally rewarding. It was the same all over again with this one. 

The first thing I realised was that the adaptation of The Queen's Gambit is loyal to the original story. Not only does the sequence work, the characters may well have emerged straight from the pages.  

We open at the orphanage where Beth Harmon is to live out her early years. It's a cold place in the main and she has to squirrel away the grains of comfort where she can. These grains come in the form of an older girl, Jolene, the little green pills given out every day and the visits to the basement to learn about chess from the janitor there. 

Chess is the perfect world for Beth to occupy. Everything is in black and white, which is pretty much the way she understands most of the people she encounters. It soon becomes her preoccupation and, along with the medication, keeps her going. She visualises boards and games with a stunning understanding of the rules and memory for what she has learned from books and it's not long before she comes to the attention of a local chess club organiser. Being allowed to leave the orphanage for a tournament is no small thing and the experience is totally alien to her, as is a chess world that isn't ready to accept a newcomer of any kind, let alone one coming in the form of a young girl. 

Suffice to say, she's an amazing player and is required to overcome a series of issues in order to maximise her potential. 

Given that my chess knowledge is limited, the descriptions of the games make them hugely exciting; they're so good that I had to stifle cheers and tears when reading on the train. The characters are all sharply defined and even those who occupy little space are distinctive and interesting, particularly when seeing them through Beth's filter. Best of all, the notions of compulsion and addiction are plainly explored in a matter-of-fact way that really rang true to this particular reformed reader. 

The Queen's Gambit is truly a wonderful thing. Perhaps the images and the Technicolor merged into the words from the TV series, but I was too engrossed to give that much thought. Highly recommended whether you've watched or you haven't. 

Now back to searching out that old copy of The Hustler. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

One Man's Opinion: HE WHO HESITATES by ED McBAIN



Something of a novelty in 87th Precinct terms, the police are merely part of the backdrop rather than driving cases forward. 

Roger Broome's a big man. His visit to the city has been successful and he's sold all of the bowls and furniture he brought in from home. His mother's pleased with the result and he's ready to return, but something's not quite right. 

He chats to his landlady for a while and meets a beautiful woman working in a nearby drugstore. He buys the former a Valentine's Day card and the asks the latter to take the day off work in order to go out with him on a date. 

All the while, there's something in the back of his mind that won't let him rest. It's pricking his conscience and sees him hanging out outside the police station trying to work out whether he's ready to go in an report whatever passed the night before, the story of which is slowly revealed during reflective and/or obsessive moments throughout his day. 

The main police action takes place when his landlady reports a stolen fridge and Broome is interviewed as a possible suspect, but there's also a meeting with Parker who's in a bad mood and a little bit of stalking of Steve Carella. Their presence is so light that it's barely an 87th novel at all. Instead, it stands strongly by itself and adds a great new dimension to the series. 

Essentially, we're inside the mind of the criminal here. It's a position that has worked very successfully in a number of books and does so again during this one. The structure and balance between past and present creates significant engagement and the final outcome is expected and unexpected in equal measure. 

I imagine this isn't for everyone, but I really enjoyed it on the whole. The only reservations I have relate to the language of race, though there is balance between the couple in their burgeoning inter-racial relationship. 

Definitely one worth taking the time for and great to see McBain mixing things up a little, no doubt to stretch himself and prevent things becoming stale. 

 

 

Friday, 18 March 2022

One Man's Opinion: HOLE by GERRY BROWN (illustrated by EDUARDO RISSO)



Here's a turn up for the books, me reading a one-man-fighting-machine-against-the-odds thriller, something I've tended to avoid for quite a few years now. Without understanding quite why, it's a genre I avoid as it doesn't really engage me beyond the page-turning energy of trying to find out what's going to happen next (the edge of that energy slightly dulled by the knowledge that the protagonist is indestructible and will be able to use their black-ops skills to kick ass and summarise all defensive and attacking positions in the blink of an eye). In a nutshell, I read a Jack Reacher book once and really enjoyed it, but didn't (and won't) go back for more. 

The blurb for Hole reads:

It was the perfect shakedown.

Moundsville State Prison was rotten to the core. The guards were almost as crooked as the cons. Gangs ruled the jail, and Davie Ingram ruled the gangs.

The way it worked was Davie and his boys would isolate an inmate with no one to back him up. Hurt him, hurt him bad, on camera. Then send the video to the inmate's loved ones.

They wouldn't ask for much. Five, maybe ten thousand.

The first time.

Because if you didn't want your son, your nephew, your brother to play punching bag for the meanest motherfuckers in Moundsville, you had to pay again and again and again.

But this time Davie's crew picked the wrong man to shake down.

He's a man who won't take kindly to seeing a video of his brother being stomped by half a dozen vicious goons. A man who's a professional in the art of making people pay. Not with money, but with blood.

A man named...HOLE.

Hole has an interesting concept at its core. The idea that a prison gang can extort money by torturing an inmate is pretty cool. It works really well as a hook and, because Vint Hole is the man outside trying to save his brother, there's menacing energy in spades. 

Vint Hole is actually very engaging. He keeps himself to himself and anyone with any sense is going to him allow him to do that; the Warlords might have been wise to do their research first so they could have found this out. While trying to save his incarcerated brother, he needs to take on a mean and well-organised crew. The journey will take him back to his roots as well as into the middle of a nightmare.

It's a fast-paced read, is written well and has a couple of unexpected and inventive twists to add to the pleasure. Illustrations by Eduardo Risso bring an extra and pleasing dimension to the whole thing.

As with Reacher, I really enjoyed this but won't be dipping in for more. That said, if Reacher and his many offshoots/imitations are what you dig, you should get your spade out now as I suspect Hole is a treat you'll devour.   

Saturday, 5 March 2022

One Man's Opinion: AX by ED McBAIN



'Uptown, in a slum basement, one cop missed death by four inches and another cop missed staying alive by four inches.'

When there's a reading slump here in the Bird house, I can usually rely on Ed McBain and the fighting 87th to shake me out of it. Ax certainly helped in that respect, watering barren landscapes to produce a brief flowering of enthusiasm for books. I'm hoping the plants will last all year, but am equally ready for the bloom to disappear as if it's a momentary oasis in a desert. 

As the title suggests, there's an axe (I'm adding the e out of habit, not to be obtuse) in this one. And there's a corpse that has been savaged by said axe. It's that of a janitor found in a dingy basement and it's not a pretty sight.

The discovery of the body leads Carella through a series of encounters with mothers and their children. There's the wood-chopping Sam and Mrs Whitson, the agoraphobic son of the janitor who stays at home to look after the vulnerable new widow, the curious boy and the nosey neighbour Mrs Moscowitz and the wonderful Mrs Teddy Carella and their own kids. This series of meeting provides the background to the story as interesting vignettes, but the investigation doesn't really kick in until these foundations have been laid. 

In the course of this novel we meet a great cast: ex cons, an informer, a bunch of veterans from the Spanish-American war, a psychiatrist and a bent cop. Each set piece is well handled, all the more so because Carella and Hawes take the lead, and allows us to circle the case without nailing anything down.

As the number of pages diminishes and a solution seems as far away as ever, there's a bolt from the blue. My initial feeling was one of being cheated- all the legwork and the stories and the answer falls into their lap (something that happens from time-to-time with the 87th). Only it doesn't and the false conclusion is yet another satisfying twist in the tale. 

Thanks go out to Ed McBain for bringing another dose of sanity into a crazy world. Well worth the read.   

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

BLOOD SENTENCE

 

BLOOD SENTENCE 

"Accomplished writing from one of the best authors in the UK." M.W. Craven, Sunday Times Bestselling author of the CWA Gold Dagger Washington Poe series

Three bodies, one suspect. That suspect is you…

When the unidentified corpse of an apparent suicide victim is found hanging above a complex pattern of forty photographs of children, Detective Inspector Jonah Pennance of the Met’s specialist Sapphire Unit is brought in to investigate.

A post-mortem reveals the suicide was murder, and Pennance realises he knows the man. But as the body count rises, all the signs point to a care home in Kent – a place that Pennance is all too familiar with.

The problem is the only person connecting the victims is Pennance – and he has a solid motive for wanting them dead… Can Pennance prove his innocence?

Perfect for fans of Ian RankinStuart MacBride, and Peter James Blood Sentence is the first book in the explosive series featuring Detective Inspector Jonah Pennance.

What Others Say

"A compelling murder mystery with a multilayered and engaging new hero. A great read."
Mason Cross, author of the Carter Blake thriller series

"Keith Nixon is a sparkling crime fiction talent."
Howard Linskey, author of the Detective Ian Bradshaw crime series

"Takes the police procedural elements and gives them new life."
Luca Veste, author of the Murphy and Rossi crime series

"One hell of a writer."

Ken Bruen, author of the Jack Taylor novels


Available here

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Snuff Racket by Tom Leins Free This Valentine's Day

 


A missing video. A dismembered girl. A deranged ex-con. And a disgraced private investigator. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it...


SNUFF RACKET is the pulse-pounding new thriller from the author of SKULL MEAT.
Still recuperating from his previous case, Paignton private eye Joe Rey is hired by a mysterious stranger to track down one of the few remaining copies of a notorious 1970s Giallo movie - only to find himself embroiled in an increasingly vicious running battle with a demented ex-convict.


(Author's note: this book contains scenes and language that readers of a sensitive disposition may find disturbing.)


SNUFF RACKET is also available as part of the collection MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (published June 2018).



Monday, 3 January 2022

One Man's Opinion: MR SALARY by SALLY ROONEY

 


A nice surprise at Christmas this, Sally Rooney's short story Mr Salary

It's great to see short fiction sold like this and it's a fine way to explore the work of writers you love or those you might want to check out in the future. 

Mr Salary is a wealthy Irishman who picks up Sukie upon her return from Boston. Sukie's motives for coming home are mixed. Her father is dying of leukemia, she isn't making significant relationships in the States, it's Christmas and the man she loves is in Dublin. 

The size of the piece is small, but the scope is fairly large. Those who've read the novels will feel they're in familiar territory in terms of the glances of the poetic language, the abrupt and direct approaches of the protagonist, the sexual tension, submission and purpose. 

It works as a one off and as it is, but I'd be more than happy to read on and find out what might lay ahead for the trio involved; there are certainly great riches to be mined and explored here and if it were an opening chapter, it would be a great springboard into a novel.

An inspired gift, Nancy (such a treat and the words in your card meant a huge amount), one that I can recommend for the Christmas stockings of 2022. 


Sunday, 2 January 2022

One Man's Opinion: THE NIGHT ALWAYS COMES by WILLY VLAUTIN


 '"You know that easy thing he had? You know the way he was?"
"Yeah," Lynette said.
"He doesn't have that any more."

Happy New Year to you all and thanks for popping by.

I caught myself reflecting on 2021 and being glad to see the back of it. There were some tough things to deal with, the death of my father being the biggest of all. I began to attribute the worst of it all to the year itself, then realised that among the struggles were moments of joy and big success for those around me, which helped me to smile. On reflection, years are just blocks of time and if you look at a big enough block there’s bound to be more than one rough patch in there. Bad things happen to us all. Life, no matter how smoothly things are going, is problematic- health, death, working or not working, money, time pressures, stress, repairs, fitness, our own batches of flaws- it’s going to be hard. All is sorrow, as they say, and the sooner we grasp that the sooner we can embrace the whole package.  

Which is why I love Willy Vlautin’s books so much. He deals with the struggles head on, balances the problems with the pleasures of simple things and constructs stories that are powerful, involving and engaging. He takes the ordinary, holds up a mirror to it and lets us know that there’s no such thing.

I’d been saving The Night Always Comes (US) for a rainy day, or rather a day when the storms had sufficiently calmed. I finally picked it up during the Christmas holiday and finished it within twenty-four hours; given my issues with concentration of late, that’s really quite something. As expected, it grabbed my attention, had my emotions rising to the surface and absorbed my thinking for the duration.

The novel follows Lynette, a young woman who is trying desperately to put troubled times behind her and to build something for herself, her mother and her brother. Her mother, however, has other ideas and finally admits that Lynette’s vision isn’t going to suit.

Lynette’s world is turned upside down. She has to fight to keep her past instabilities from taking over, while having to reach into the extremes of that past to find the passion she needs to survive what lies ahead.

In a bid to collect all the money she needs for a mortgage, she calls in markers from the men who have paid for her services and from anyone she’s lent money to in the past. Some are ready to cough up, others are determined not to help. After stealing a safe of one of her friends in order to get what is rightfully hers, she is forced to connect with characters who are woven into her history and characters she has never met before who occupy shady worlds where the need to survive comes before anything else.

It’s a beast of a book with a lot of power and passion. I was entirely wrapped up in it when I had it in my hand and just as wrapped up when I didn’t.

That said, it’s probably my least favourite of Vlautin's novels. There were a few things that didn’t feel quite right. First off, a lot of the conversations reach into Lynette’s history and always land on the buttons that need to be pressed to give us back story or to up the empathy levels. We spend a lot of time gazing backwards when the story has a natural forward momentum of its own. Secondly, Lynette’s role as carer to her brother didn’t appear to have solid foundation or genuine feel, contrasting significantly with Pauline, the nurse in The Free. Finally Lynette also already has a substantial amount of money to draw upon. To save so much, she’s had to endure torture and cope with things that no human being should have to, but some of the sting of her predicament is taken out because of her financial situation (most of the rest of the cast have crap lives with no safety net of any description).

Overall, this is a winner. A reading journey that I’d urge you to take. It’s a great novel and has certainly blown away many of the cobwebs of my mind. If you’ve read Willy Vlautin before, I wonder where you would rate it among his other books. If you haven’t, this is a great starting point from which I’m pretty sure you’ll want to set off to explore more- believe me you’re in for treat.

Like Lynette herself, something of a flawed gem.