Wednesday, 27 September 2023

One Man's Opinion: JIGSAW by ED McBAIN

This was an interesting one for me. It brought two of my favourite things, the 87th Precinct books and Lt. Columbo, together in a way that I wasn't expecting. The blurb hinted at the connection, but it took me until the first illustration of the piece of a photograph to confirm that they were going to be very similar indeed. It took me a little more reading to realise that they were almost identical, the main difference been the switching of parts so that Columbo was now Detective Arthur Brown (or vice versa).

Essentially, two bodies are found and it's clear that they killed each other. There's not much to go on, the only strange thing being the oddly-shaped piece of a snapshot in the hands on one of the victims. 

In steps insurance investigator,  Irving Krutch (played by Ed Begley Jr in the Undecover episode from Falk's tenth season). He's up to speed on the photograph puzzle, owning a piece himself. When all the pieces are put together, it will lead to the finding of $750K stolen from a bank several years earlier. Krutch wants to find all the pieces to clear his reputation at work and suggests to Brown and Carella that they would make a good team. 

The problem for me is that I couldn't separate the book from the TV episode. My mind was constantly creating clashing images and any tension or attempts at problem-solving were undermined by knowing what was just around the corner. 

To complicate matters, I watched How To Dial A Murder, where I bumped into Ed Begley Jr again, this time in the role of a police officer. 

Trying to unscramble it all became impossible. Let me say that I love the Undercover episode and I also really enjoyed the book. 

There are only a few differences between the adaptation and the book as far as I can tell. 

First of all, the way the criminal is pinned down is totally altered. The TV version comes up with a slightly unlikely piece of detective work as it seemingly was unable to use the actual ending, possibly because of the potential for controversy. 

And second, and a big miss from the adaptation, there are the racist events that Brown encounters while doing his job (including a terrific observation from a prostitute who attempts to dig herself out of trouble by offering Brown oral sex, commenting that the colour of the male appendage makes no difference to her and contradicting her opening lines in the process- go check it out). To me, this tips the win to the novel and I'm sure if I'd read it before watching that this feeling might be even stronger. 

All in all, it was great to be back with the 87th again even if this isn't among the best; I'm already looking forward to the next.  

Saturday, 23 September 2023



'Rico was a simple man. He loved but three things: homself, his hair and his gun. He took excellent care of all three.' 

Takes me back, this, to the days when Saturdays were black and white and to trips to the Scala cinema in Kings Cross where a double or triple bill of gangster movies ranked among my favourite passtimes.

All these years later, I've finally caught up and read the book. 

It's a terrific tale, always growing and moving forward, like Rico himself, written in a simple style that captures description and mood with plainspeak and aparent ease. 

Rico is rising through the ranks. From nothing, he soon takes over his gang based upon his cold menace, violent actions and clever calculations. Needless to say, he makes enemies along the way. He also ignores his orders during a heist and plugs a policeman mid-robbery. It's clear from then on that this is going to haunt him and, indeed, will eventually lead to his downfall. 

There's an interesting cast of characters surrounding our protagonist, most of them with a nickname that gives you everything you need. They're all pretty exaggerated. Characatures if you like. It's not that they're not three-dimensional, more that they're distilled downed to their essences - loyal-to-a-fault, bitter, yellow, hard, straight etc. 

When he gets to meet the big players, Rico realises that his eyes are bigger than his stomach. Perhaps its his drive to rise further that leads him to errors of judgement. Whatever it is, he's soon on the run and the cops are determined to get their man. His demise is tense and offers a great contrast to the opulence of his dreams and past status, as well as showing us where he came from in the first place. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this and it was everything I expected. Not that it was without its challenges. I found some of the dialogue tags (or sometimes the lack of them) difficult to follow and the runs of adjectives could have been cut from three or four to one or two. Even so, it's fast-paced, efficient and a wonderful discription of a disintigrating human mind. I'm sure if I knew my Shakespeare, I might venture to add Shakespearean to pack it into a nutshell. 

Punchy writing, brutal clarity and really enjoyable.

To finish, a Big Boy quote just for fun:

'I got a library too and a lot of other stuff that ain't worth a damn. I was talking to a rich guy the other day and he said I was a damn fool to buy real books because he had a library twice as big as mine and dummy books. What the hell! If a guy's gonna have a library, why, I say do it right. So there you are. I got so damn many books it gives me a headache just to look at 'em.'


Wednesday, 20 September 2023



I've often been tempted by these books, partly because of the great covers, because of the recommendation of Keith Nixon and due to the names of the central characters. Now, I've finally dipped in my toe and I can pass on the verdict: come on in, the water's fine. 

It's been a while since my last book thoughts, which reflects the time this one took to get through. This is often an indicator that I wasn't driven to pick up a book to read in quiet moments and there's an element of that here. It's also because it's a fairly substantial read. 

The opening section took me by surprise, with one of central figures being taken out by an explosion. What followed was an investigation spanning decades, on the one hand looking at Bryant and May's first case together and on the other trying to find the killer of Arthur Bryant and the way it relates to that Second Word War investigation. 

I was taken by the scenes at the Peculiar Crimes Unit where the pair first meet. The pair interact wonderfully, each clearly suited to their posting on account of their curious personalities. The conversations are a treat, often flavoured with comedy and wit, and it was impossible not to fall for them very quickly. 

The central case involves a series of murders in London's magnificent Palace Theatre. A dancer loses her feet at the point of death, giving a local street trader a shock when they appear when he returns to work. Members of the cast of the rather provocative show continue to be bumped off, disappear or experience near misses while a ghostly face is often seen at the scene of the crimes. All very Phantom. A little unlikely, perhaps, the show continues while the detectives dig into the lives of those involved in the performance, including the shadowy workings of the theatre's Greek owner. 

I've noted comments in the reviews about some historical inaccuracies, but I sailed through it blissfully unaware, loving the detail of the period and enjoying many of the facts that added to the sense of time and place. 

I also really enjoyed Bryant's leaning towards the spirit world to help him solve crimes. His clairvoyant friend is an asset to the case and certainly added to the enjoyment of this reader. 

There are a few minor issues. The points of view dance around in a way that's not always helpful and the shifts between past and present aren't always clearly marked. The plot is also slightly stretched and a little less of it would have suited me just fine. 

That said, I suspect the strength of this series is likely to be based upon Bryant and May and those in their team and I'll definitely be coming back for more to find out what other peculiar cases they might stumble into. 

Good stuff.  

Friday, 4 August 2023


Lemons Never Lie is a book that just keeps on giving, unless you happen to be the protagonist (Alan Grofied), in which case it keeps on giving and taking and giving and taking and so on. 

Grofield is invited to LA to talk about a job. At the airport, while awaiting his bags, he plays the slot machines. When he draws three lemons it nets him fourteen nickels. This he sees as a sign of bad luck and it's a hex that's going to follow him right until the end of the novel. 

He bumps into an old colleague, Dan, and they attend a meeting of criminals only to discover that the organiser, Andrew Myers, is a flawed human being who has no respect for human life and has a reckless approach to heists. Grofield and Dan leave, but Myers stamps his mark on both of them (literally and figuratively) before they leave town with each of them carries a grudge for Myers that isn't going to leave them be.

There's a little bit of ping pong after that, where the plot works its way through various sections of the story. 

Grofield's main incentive for criminal activity is the running of an old theatre in Mead Grove, Indiana. It's where he lives with his wife, and when they're not putting on shows they are living on stage. They're frugal and motivated and, above all, very happy. It's the kind of idyllic lifestyle many a reader might wish for. Unfortunately, with the Myers job gone and no opportunities on the horizon, Grofield is getting desperate. 

When Dan shows up again and a call comes in for a safe robbery in a superstore, things begin to look up. And then they look down again. Grofield sure was right about those lemons.

After being kicked when he was up a few too many times, Grofield is forced into a position where he needs to take revenge. Myers is no longer just a thorn in his side but a crown of them, with each spike jabbing directly into his heart. By the end of the book, only one of them will still be standing.  

Though there are a few cracks in the plot in terms of it shooting off in many directions and in certain elements that feel on the unlikely side, there's plenty of paper in the form of the quality of the writing and the energy of the action to cover them over. And there's lots to love. The negotiation when buying a vehicle for a job is perfect. The purchasing of guns. The tension of the heist. Grofield's cool determination and dogged pursuit of his nemesis. Best of all, the wonderful set up Grofield has with his wife and the extra dimensions his love of the theatre bring to his character really shine. 

A neat book in a tidy-sized pocket edition that will have you sitting on whatever seat it is you're sitting on wherever you happen to be.  

Sunday, 30 July 2023



I suspect that Cop Killer isn’t typical of the Martin Beck series. Still, it’s the first I’ve read and there’s enough in the novel to make me want to visit again.

A woman is murdered on the edge of a small Swedish town and her body is hidden by the killer.

Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg of the national murder squad are called in to investigate what is initially a missing person case. This takes them for a long stretch in the suburbs where policing is rather different that in the big cities. Beck is looked after by local cop Allwright who defies immediate impressions by proving himself to be a knowledgeable and dedicated officer who knows pretty much everything that there is to know about his patch. The contrast between city and country is significant and takes Beck and Kollberg back to days when their working lives were simpler.

There are two main suspects in the case, the victim’s ex-husband and a local man who has a dark and confused history. After significant digging and interviews, Beck doesn’t fancy them for this crime. Unfortunately, he’s battling against press interest and national politics in his bid to find justice.

The first half of the book is excellent. Beck’s slow adaptation to a quieter life in a gentle community is rather touching, as is his new relationship with Allwright. Each of the characters involved brings something of interest, not least in the way that they help do show different facets of Beck’s character. There may be the occasional odd phrase or translation to cope with, but on the whole it flows extremely well.

What didn’t work quite so easily was the transition of the story into a new overlapping case. Though it’s essential to the solving of the original murder, it appears from nowhere and feels slightly disjointed. It’s not that I mind multiple cases in one book; in fact, I think I often prefer it that way. However, there’s much more opinion thrown in here with extra detail and reference to facts that slow things down. It brings to light the conflict between Kollberg’s ways and those of his new boss and that is handled more heavily than I would have liked. I much preferred the earlier pace and situation.  

In the end, the cases converge. Our murderer is caught. The personal journeys of the police are rounded off nicely. The friendship between Allwright and Beck are fused and Allwright invites Beck to come and stay at any time- I hope Beck took him up on his offer.

Tuesday, 25 July 2023


Mr Paradise is a bit of an old pervert. To get his kicks, he watches recordings of games where Michigan win with live, scantily-clad cheerleaders strutting their stuff in front of the TV. When the game is over, the party starts.

On one particular night, Mr Paradise’s paid companion, Chloe, persuades her model friend, Kelly, to help her out. Kelly’s only there for the dancing, but is forced to go upstairs
with Mr Paradise’s helping hand, Montez Taylor.

Montez seems surprisingly unhappy to be accompanying an incredibly beautiful woman to his bedroom, so it’s almost a relief for him and for Kelly when two gunmen burst in and shoot Mr Paradise and his lady friend.

Before the police turn up, Montez makes an odd request of Kelly. She may be a famous underwear model but he’s hoping that for a while, at least until he can get some financial arrangements sorted, she’ll play the part of her dead friend.

Enter Frank Delsa. He’s the detective assigned to the case. He has the smooth good looks of, say, a Steve Carella, and a temperament that many find attractive. Not only that, his instincts about people are spot on and he’s able to read a case like it’s the printed word. When he sees Kelly, now pretending to be Chloe, it’s love at first sight. And it’s mutual.

The ins and outs of the case are seamlessly woven. We move through different points of view and different periods of time as the puzzle is constructed. As the plot fits together, the quality of the story becomes clear.

It moves through the gears like a high class automatic car; it picks up pace smoothly and quickly in a way that means you’re deeply involved and turning your way through those pages while barely noticing time passing.

Delsa is a real winner. As far as I can tell, this is the only novel he appears in and I hope I’m wrong on that as I’d love to read more. The book is packed with tremendous characters who feel very real in all respects, especially when in dialogue (a real strength of the book).

My only issue with the read is the ending. Things have been so smooth and well-handled, that when the conclusion is being laid out and there are a few gear crunches and bumps in the road to contend with, it’s something of a shock. It’s not that it’s not a fitting way to close, it just didn’t click at the point when my expectation had reached its peak.

Very sleek crime fiction and I recommend it to the house.

Saturday, 22 July 2023

Work In Progress


Four months now since I finished my current work in progress.

Though I was happy with my original draft, I had a strong sense that something wasn’t working. Unusually for me, I sent the manuscript to a couple of trusted friends to gather their opinions. The hope was that they would highlight the issues I felt were there, confirming my suspicions, and I’d have an easy sail through the next attempt.

The feedback was excellent. And I was right about my reservations.

I was also wrong about several other points and they were revelations.  

The process of using the perspective of others has been interesting.

First of all, in spite of knowing that every comment was valid and was exactly what I was after, it still stung. The ‘lots to like’ and ‘really enjoyed’ were small comfort and the salient points were sharp.

The stinging moved on to another feeling. The crushing sense that I can’t write anything anymore. That maybe I’ve lost whatever skills I possessed and would just have to accept the passing of a major aspect of my life.

Thankfully, that lasted for only a short while.

Next step, the question of how to make the changes.

In order to solve some of the problems, key aspects of the story needed altering. Relationships weren’t right. The work was too shallow. Several events seemed unlikely given the situation. There were even questions about the whole premise.

Being lazy, I wanted to find the simplest fix. A band aid might do it. A few extra sentences here or there, a dialogue change or two, a twisting of a key moment to slightly alter the shape. And then the realisation that if I wanted the story to be as good as I can make it, the lazy approach wasn’t going to cut it.

I chatted this all through with another good writer friend. He’s always there and has the understanding of stories that most humans don’t possess. Even without giving him much detail, a couple of cups of coffee later there were a few suggestions that I could hold on to in case they might be useful.

Then came the waiting. The suggestions needed to swirl around in my unconscious for a while until they emerged from the clouds. When they were almost in focus, I began again. The first chapter was cut and I made a fresh attempt at chapter one. That’s almost in the bag now. And, of course, a new opening means there are new possibilities about the ways ahead.

More waiting.

Two nights ago, just before drifting into sleep, I found myself thinking about the book. An almost fully formed suggestion appeared that manages to link the loose threads of new thinking to the core of the original plot. It was a wonderful moment. One of those Eurekas. I could wake up and write it down or I could drift back into sleep (surely I’d remember it in the morning); falling asleep proved far more attractive. Morning came and I did remember, which is when I forgot. Thankfully, my daughter Kitty asked me about my writing in the evening. It all came back to me. I still didn’t write it down, but it’s pretty fixed in my mind as a way to proceed and I’m sure I can make it.

Now all I have to do is sit at the laptop and type.

The good news is that I have a week to myself coming very soon. My family will be returning from holiday at the end of the month, while I have ring-fenced another seven days as a retreat of sorts. If I don’t make significant progress in that time, then I’ll only have myself to blame.

I think I can pull it off. I’m still lazy and want to keep as much of the original draft as I can, but that’s acceptable. After all, the original idea is still the one I want to put across to future readers.

All being well, if I work hard and pull it off, maybe I’ll be putting out something half decent in a few months. If it’s not up to scratch, at least I’ll know that I did the best I could with the germ of the idea.

Here’s hoping.  

Friday, 21 July 2023


I'm on holiday and I have my kindle packed with books I've chosen in the past, yet the lure of the small English library proved too much and I borrowed a paperback. My kindle has a role when traveling, but I don't always to have to feel responsible for it when I go for a swim in the sea, river, lake or pool and a physical book is so much less likely to be taken or broken when I do. 

Anyway, the choice of books in the library doesn't offer books that I'd usually go for. Hence, my first attempt (as far as I can remember, that is) at a Michael Crichton. I felt pretty confident. I was a big fan of the films Coma and of Westworld, so I felt I would be in safe hands.

The closest I've got to this one before is probably the ripping Down Deep by Mike Croft, an exciting under-sea adventure with a strong message. 

Sphere starts off well. After the first fifty pages, I tried explaining to my daughter that even if the plot sounded bonkers it was well-written and gripping. I was hooked. Was I going to become a new Crichton convert? It very much looked that way. 

Basically, a psychologist (Norman Johnson) who had previously worked for the government on a paper relating to possible human reactions to meeting extra-terrestrial beings is called in to a situation by the US navy. There's been a discovery at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. There's an unidentified craft down there that appears to have been involved in space travel and has also been there for some three hundred years. 

In his paper, Johnson recommended a team of experts and the team has finally been assembled to go down and take a look at the craft. 

Turns out it's likely to be a time-travelling craft that set off from earth to explore a black hole. As things progress, the team discover that it has picked up something in its travels- the sphere of the title. It's likely to be an alien ship, though they have no idea how to open it or what might be inside. 

When the action starts, the pace slips a little. There's much more explanation of theories and scientific speculation, though it was still interesting and thought provoking at this point.

After the mathematician of the group enters the sphere, everything changes. The alien finds a way to communicate with the humans, but it's still unclear whether this entity is malevolent or benevolent. ,

Things begin to go horribly wrong, though this could be down to cultural differences between the different life forms. Variations of sea creatures appear in vast numbers. There are attacks. People die. It's a race against time and against the force that has been unleashed. Of course it is. 

I'm not sure when I started to disengage. About half way through is my guess. The theories become more unlikely. Events lose their interest. Another crisis is just about averted, but there's another looming. The stuff of many a sci-fi thriller movie. 

By the end, I just wanted to find out what the conclusion would be. And it turned out to be disappointing. 

On the back it says that this is Michael Crichton at the top of his form. I very much doubt it. 

Not for me. I much preferred Down Deep. Maybe I'm more of a Crichton movie kind of human. 

Wednesday, 19 July 2023


I put down my thoughts on Manchette's Fatale a few weeks ago, basically saying that I didn't really enjoy it. A little browsing among other reviewers suggested that Fatale wasn't one of his best and I sensed that he deserved another shot, so I jumped into Three To Kill.  

There are many elements to this one that should have made me enjoy it more than I did. 

A man is thrown out of his usual life pattern following an incident on the road where he saves a man from a car accident and drives him to hospital. It turns out that the victim of the accident had, in fact, been shot and that by attempting a rescue the protagonist (Georges Gerfaut when we meet him) has interfered with an assassination attempt. This triggers an attempt on his own life by the pair of hit men and causes a series of events that he may never have expected. 

Truth be told, Gerfaut wasn't enamoured by his existence in the first place (job, wife and kids all rather humdrum) and his love of jazz was never going to be enough to save him. When he is plunged into responding only to what is around him and driven to act in order to survive, he finds a new vigour as he casts off the restraints of the norm. 

The two hit men are a great creation- they're like bickering brothers or an overly-familiar married couple. The lists of jazz musicians hit the spot. Gerfaut's response to his new life is interesting and his new encounters are interesting and imaginative. Manchette has the skill of summing up a huge amount in a very short phrase. The plot works well and there's enough to maintain interest even though it's difficult to predict which direction lies ahead. All to the good. 

Where I struggled again is with the matter-of-factness. It's brutally cold. Emotions are practically stripped from the work to an extreme, reducing people in a way to something less than human. While this may be a bonus for many, I think that's my main issue with the style. There's also something about the point of view that is a bit off- occasionally the author will raise a question or suggest a not-quite omnipotent understanding of the characters that intruded on my involvement.  

This is likely to appeal to those who like straightforward prose, crystal clear noir, existential sensibilities and uncluttered action (which, in theory should include me). Don't let this put you off and find out for yourself, but two shots and two hits of the woodwork mean I'm unlikely to be back. 


Tuesday, 4 July 2023


Whilst browsing in a second-hand bookstore recently, I came across a couple of titles by Jean-Patrick Manchette. They're both thin, have enticing covers, cool titles and have excellent recommendations. Fatale even has a foreword and afterword, so I couldn't resist. 

While I didn't enjoy this one, I'm glad I decided to buy it. 

We meet the protagonist on the cover. She's walking upstairs, a short skirt, high heels and a red filter suggestive of darkness and brooding sexiness. When we find her on the page, she's shooting a hunter at close range and scarpers with a load of cash. Before long, she's altered her appearance and arrived in a small town called Bleville, which the translator kindly points out that could mean Wheatville or, in slang, Doughville. 

She sets about mingling with the local bourgeoisie, a group of clearly flawed individuals who are as transparent as men with glass skin. We become aware that this is part of some kind of modus operandi for Aimee (as we are to get to know her) and that there is going to be suffering among their ranks for sure. We know she's going to do something soon as she spends part of her time training in ways to hurt people. 

Enter an eccentric baron who hates the wealthy self-important oafs of the town as much as Aimee does. He's waiting to bring the whole thing down. With the help of a rather simple and overly convenient plot device, Aimee is going to help him do it. 

Plans are hatched. The town is on the brink. 

Aimee's mystery is suddenly taken away with a backstory that I didn't need and then there's a bloody denouement. Et voila. 

I'm not expert, but I suspect that having a female killer in this mould was something out of the ordinary back in 1977 when this was first published and that strikes me as a plus mark for the book. Other than that, I'm not convinced. 

To my mind, this touches on Simenon territory in lots of ways. There's the undercurrent of sex, the examination of class, the dark noir tones of his roman durs. What it lacks is the heart, the sensitivity, the sense of slow unravelling or the steady build up of the plot. Fatale is cold to the touch and matter-of-fact. 

There are enough stylish strokes to make it worth the time taken to read it and its brevity is certainly in its favour, but it didn't live up to the promise of the jacket.

I'll still read the other Manchette at some time. I won't be rushing to take it from the shelf, but I'll get there.    

Liked it more than me? Tell me why- I'm curious. 

Friday, 30 June 2023


It took me a few chapters to get into Five Decembers and I'm not sure why, but from the moment it first hooked me until the end, I was gripped. What an absolute gem of a book. 

Joe McGrady is the police detective who takes on a case involving a young couple who have been butchered in a shack in Hawaii. And that's pretty much all I want to tell you in order to make sure I don't spoil anything for when it's your turn. 

McGrady's journey is told in a real hard-boiled noir detective style that's woven through a tapestry that has genuine scope. He's surrounded by a cast of characters who are brilliantly formed and situations that are utterly compelling. There's romance, war, history and culture to appreciate in a tale that's constantly driving forward. Every loose end is bound tightly into the whole as ghosts are exorcised and shadows illuminated. The detail is perfect and the world of the nineteen forties is so well described that it feels like you're actually there.       

There's a brutal hardness to aspects of the tale. There's also a poetic softness underneath. Imagine a Rottweiler that likes to have his tummy tickled. 

A couple of things occurred to me when I finished the read. 

The first thing I thought of once I was able to settle down was From Here To Eternity (I love  From Here To Eternity). Five Decembers has that epic feel to it. 

And if it were to be made into a movie, the perfect lead would be a resurrected Bogart on his very best form. 

400 pages of total engagement, tension and pleasure. The perfect summer read, no matter what your taste in fiction. 

Utterly brilliant. Add it to your must read pile. Also buy the paperback rather than the e-book version (it's that kind of book). 

Thursday, 8 June 2023

One Man's Opinion: SHOTGUN by ED McBAIN

Carella and Kling take the lead on this one. A married couple are found in their apartment, heads and faces half removed by the shotgun of the title with no eye-witnesses to the crime. Kling doesn't really have the stomach for it and nor does the milkman who called it in. 

There's nothing particularly spectacular about the plot, even when the attention is diverted by the murder of a nice lady in the neighbourhood and the resolution of an old storyline. 

We get some insight into Kling's relationship with Cindy which makes her all the more alluring, though  Kling doesn't seem to be on the same page because he gets distracted for a while by a beautiful young woman who is a tenuous witness. 

As usual, there are the usual vignettes to appreciate as new characters are interviewed or investigated. McBain does this so wonderfully well, entire paintings created with a few simple brushstrokes. They flow together like streams feeding a river and keep the story ticking along at exactly the right pace. 

I'm not sure it's entirely relevant, but for the last few books in the series I've had a sense of how things would play out before the ending. Whether this is because I'm more tuned in or Mr McBain has skilfully laid out just the right amount of breadcrumbs in the trail to allow me to get there, I have no idea. 

Another terrific distraction from the more mundane things of life. Just what I wanted. 

Saturday, 20 May 2023

One Man's Opinion: CUDDY by BENJAMIN MYERS

Just over twenty years ago, my wife and I took on St Cuthbert's Way. Though time fades the memories, they're still there. I left my book of short stories in Melrose Youth Hostel where we kicked things off with a short bus ride. We got lost on the way to Wooler Youth Hostel and added quite a few miles onto the journey. When we arrived at Lindisfarne the tide was in and the walk was over. Our legs were so done that we struggled to get to our accommodation, a lovely pub run by an ex-miner and Sunderland fan (hence the establishment name, The Black Cat- now defunct). The marrow competition was over. We watched some crap on the TV. Slept the deep sleep of the exhausted. It was a good trip. 

Since then we've been back to the island many times. Never as pilgrims, I hasten to add, but as lovers of the space and beauty of the surroundings. My favourites have been when walking along the Pilgrim's Way marked out by poles in the sand, accompanied by the wind, the birds and the barks of the seals. If you haven't been and you're in the area, try it out.  

My fondness for the area was part of the reason for me wanting to read Cuddy. Other reasons? He was born in Dunbar which has been my home town for twenty years. And the author, Benjamin Myers, is a wonderful story teller and poet who deserves every bit of his recent success.

I didn't always find Cuddy straightforward and do think it's the kind of novel that requires the reader to make an effort. 

It's like a sandwich. On second thoughts, it's more like a layer cake with it's several tales and sections stacked up and sometimes interweaving. In some ways, I'd have preferred the sandwich as my favourite sections were the beginning and end. 

Books 2 and 3 weren't my cup of tea. I don't know why, exactly. I simply got stuck in the prose and drifted away. 

Which leaves Books 1 and 4. 

Book 1 tells the story of the holy men carrying around Cuddy's coffin to keep him safe from invading marauders. The style is meandering, introspective and beautiful and has the pace of the wandering monks. They're searching for the place to bury the bones and are waiting for a sign. The observations are lovely. The monks themselves are as frail as any group of humans stuck together. There are conversations between the dead Cuddy and the monks' cook and herbalist, Ediva, who also chats freely with the mysterious and delicate Owl Eyes. I found this hypnotic, moving and a joy. 

Even in Book 1, however, there are sections I didn't care for. There are breaks that offer snippets of research in quote form. They show contradictions and curious slices of information, but I could have done without it. Perhaps this is what the publishers mean when they say it's experimental (given the wealth of writing out there, that's some claim, though this certainly doesn't conform to contemporary publishing norms within the mainstream). There are also sections that become increasingly diminutive to the point where my aging eyes could no longer read the text and I wasn't interested enough to get my magnifying glass (perhaps this is the experimental approach). I'm sure there was a point, I just didn't get it. 

Book 4 is terrific, with no caveats. A frail youngster, living with his dying mother and with a personality that makes people want to take him under his wing, owl-eyed and with a particular intelligence, deals with growing up while taking on work in Durham cathedral. I'd have read it by itself as a stand-alone, though what has gone before adds further richness. It also adds the icing the that layer cake I mentioned. 

A game of more than two halves that opens with brilliance and ends with power. 

I loved

quite a lot of it

i really did

Saturday, 13 May 2023

MR SUIT Running Free

Mr Suit gets an outing today. Free for two days over at Amazon if you have access to Kindle. 

Liza is at the end of her tether. The only way she can see out of her situation is to turn to her husband's ex-boss, the gangster Mr Suit.

In doing so, she sets in motion a chain of events that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat from beginning to end.

The latest in the series of tremendous work from the author of DIRTY OLD TOWN (AND OTHER STORIES); IN LOCO PARENTIS; and SMOKE who is also the co-editor of volumes 1 and 2 of PULP INK.

'The prose is tight rope taut and the plotting first class. The central character of Liza is well drawn and the drip feed of her commentary about Archie’s feelings is brilliantly done. Mr Suit is suitably odious without straying in to cliché...‘Mr Suit’ is a tense and thrilling novella which deserves a place on your bookshelf.'

'I can whole-heartedly recommend this one.' Heath Lowrance (City Of Heretics)

'At the risk of setting expectations too high let me say that it's something along the lines of Elmore Leonard meets James M. Cain by way of a Guy Ritchie movie.' Devil Monkey (Amazon review)

Friday, 12 May 2023



For me, the title is reminiscent of one of my old favourites, Nag Nag Nag by Caberet Voltaire. If that means something to you, you should definitely be checking out Blah Blah Blah, the new tunes from Long Hat Pins. If it doesn't, you should also definitely be checking out Blah Blah Blah, the new tunes for Long Hat Pins. 

It's available for a free listen over at Band Camp here

Not all books can make the best seller lists. Not all books that make the best seller lists are good books. Not all books that don't make the best seller lists are bad books. Some of the books that aren't on the best seller lists are excellent books. Some of the music you've never heard is excellent music. And who the hell defines good or bad, anyway? The beholder, methinks. You might love this or hate it, the only way to find out is to check it out. 

Friday, 5 May 2023

Meanwhile, Down In the Shallows...


The Shallows is free today and this weekend if you fancy a distraction from the coronation. 

Here's what Ian Ayris said:

The Shallows is equally, an excellent piece. It displays Bird's usual quality of prose - tight, yet always poetic - a very hard trick to pull off. I read the whole book in less than two days. In those two gripping days, I was thrust into the fast disintegrating world of Brad and Molly Heap, and their son, Shem, as they, a normal family, do everything they can to stay one step ahead of their pursuers - the Navy, the Police, a gang of drug and people smugglers, and most pernicious of all, their own conscience. These are normal people in a tough situation, through no real fault of their own, fleeing for their lives. And I was with them every step of the way.

3.9 out of 5
3.9 out of 5
245 global ratings
5 star 
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And if you need more than one book to keep you busy, how about this box set from the talented Eric Beetner. The complete Lars and Shane box set is available today for only 99p/99c, which is very cool indeed. 

Saturday, 29 April 2023


It's been a while since I've read anything by Lawrence Block. Long enough to forget just how brilliant he is as a writer. 

The Girl With The Long Green Heart (US) is a grifter novel that is perfectly pitched. One of those reads when you carry a terrible feeling that everything is going to go wrong. You worry that you might be right about that and then you worry that you might be wrong. No matter which way you see it playing out, it doesn't seem like anyone's going to come out of it undamaged and, because you're rooting for the protagonist, a lot of nervous energy is generated. 

Johnny is that protagonist. He's pulled jobs alone and in teams and has served hard time as a consequence. He's decided to go straight, managing a bowling alley while he saves his pennies to buy a nearby hotel and takes classes to ensure that when he does buy it he knows how to make it work. 

Doug Rance has created the perfect scam. It will give him a wedge to return to the tables at Vegas. If he can persuade Johnny to get on board, then Johnny can own that hotel without all the years of squirreling away nickels and dimes. 

Doug plays Johnny. Johnny feels the strings being pulled, but he's all too happy to be drawn in. The pair then carry on with the con, each holding back from the other while setting up the deal. 

Their target is Wallace Gunderman. He's a rich landowner who has been stung before. That sting still hurts and it makes him the perfect mark- not only does he want to make money, he's also doing it for pride. 

His secretary is key to the deal. Evvie's the one who gave Rance the idea in the first place. As well as being central to the trickery, she's also got it all. She also just happens to be the girl with the long green heart. She's beautiful, clever and a natural when it comes to acting out her role, and she smoulders like any of the best on-screen femme-fatales. It's not long before you start wondering if she's not too good to be true. Perhaps she is, perhaps she isn't. And maybe she's somewhere in between. She's the reason for the queasy feeling and for any scorch marks you might find in your copy. 

It's a great story because in so many ways the reader is the mark. Block is twisting our minds all the time. He's manipulating our emotions and our logic and it's such a page turner that we don't have the time to sit back and try to make sense of it. 

Having ramped things up from the start, the novel does take a breather just before the denouement. It's a time to pause for breath and to revisit the theories that have been hatching all over the place. There is important information here, but if I have a slight criticism of the book this would be it. When I'm hurtling towards and ending, I really don't want the brakes to go on, I want to fly through that windshield with my eyes open. 

The ending itself was as unexpected as it was expected. Enough pieces have been collected along the way to get it half right. The rest of them come flying at you all at once and it's Johnny who takes over to lay them into position with fantastic skill and ease.

This one has a real hard-boiled flavour. The voice is perfect. The descriptions are minimal but nailed. The quips are sharp and the similes original and full of an acerbic humour that I really enjoyed. 

I may have felt like a mark from the off, but I certainly didn't feel short changed. Just the opposite. Another Hard Case Crime cracker to add to my list and my thirst for Lawrence Block is back.    

Very good indeed.        

Sunday, 16 April 2023


A hurricane hits Florida. While there's tragedy everywhere, there are pockets of unusual thinking and strange behaviour. A one-eyed man of the wild is hoping the storm will be the biggest on record. A man on honeymoon would rather take film of the victims than spend time with his new wife. A skull-juggler feels the need to search for the exotic animals he's recently inherited. Another couple come together to exploit the devastation for financial gain. 

It does feel a bit like Hiaasen has created these sets of characters, thrown them into a blended and poured out the resulting cocktail onto the page, yet the various plots converge in a way that suggests there's been a lot more planning than that. 

Essentially this is bonkers. Crazy things happen everywhere. There's kidnapping, fraud, crucifixion, death by lion, swamp sex, an electric collar, a dart gun and a deranged monkey camera thief to name a but a few.  

There are lots of quotes on the sleeve about how hilarious the end result is. 'Howlingly funny', for example. 'Violently pleasurable'. 'Perhaps the funniest important writer in America'. For me, not really big on satire, it was none of the above though I smiled quite a bit and enjoyed quite a number of the situations and lines. No out loud laughs, just the odd warm moment. 

Among my favourite moments, the mention in the plot of Paradise Palms. This happens to be a most excellent place to visit for anyone travelling to Edinburgh (food, music, vibe et al). It has a record label and shop, so you can find some cool tunes while you eat, drink and be merry. 

Stormy Weather? Fair company for a journey, entertaining if you can find the right head space and a surprisingly pacey read for a big book.  

Thursday, 13 April 2023

One Man's Opinion: FOR KICKS by DICK FRANCIS

It's my own fault, really. A week in France and I had my Ed McBain for the flight over, followed by a substantial looking Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue) for which I had high hopes (The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay being a big favourite of mine). 

It turned out that I developed an aversion for the Chabon very quickly. I'm not sure what it was, but I was disorientated early on and couldn't recover. My younger self would have ploughed on regardless, but my old mind wouldn't let me (not enough years left and too many books). 

When it came to finding an alternative, the amount of reading material in English that I could lay my hands on was extremely limited. The only book that caught my eye was For Kicks by Dick Francis. 

An alternative was to give Hemingway's Le Vieil Homme Et La Mer a go. The problem with that is my lack of proficiency in French (something of an understatement). Though Hemingway's use of language is so clean and lean that I can gain the gist of what's going on much of the time, to do it properly would take far too much use of a dictionary or Google Translate to make it satisfying.    

For Kicks won out on account of the simplicity of the process of reading and it gave me plenty to think about. 

It's an older novel. Published in January 1965 just after I was born, like me it's pretty dated stuff. Not that it's without charm. 

The Earl of October drives into the life of Australian Daniel Roke with a slightly implausible offer. October is seeking out someone who understands horses to investigate curious goings on in the English National Hunt scene. Eleven horses with little hope have finished first and none have shown any signs of being doped. It's a scandal that could ruin the sport and October is too big a fan to let that happen. He's tried before, hiring a journalist who died in a car accident at the point where he may have been gaining headway with his investigation. Now he's desperate enough to pay Roke a huge sum of money on account of a chance conversation in a nearby town. It's all rather quaint and comforting. 

Roke, bored by a life where he is responsible for the upbringing of his younger siblings, jumps at the chance. So what if he'll have to slum it with some rough types around the training yards of the UK? He can fit in by growing an pair of sideburns, donning a leather jacket and twisting his Aussie twang into a cockney patter. 

There's lots of over explanation and the characters are like a bunch of hammy actors trying to make their way in am-dram. Occasionally there are hints of sex and glimpses of naked women or their undergarments that seem to be aimed at appealing to the 1960s male and helping to shift a few extra copies. The observations of class structure are stereotyped, the action is slow and the dialogue overlong. There are twists and turns along the way and as the story comes to a close the danger hinted at in the opening chapter is finally realised. 

Which doesn't sound like a great set of ingredients and makes me wonder why I was willing to carry on with this when Telegraph Avenue was added so quickly to the DNF pile. 

I think that has to be because of the plot. Underneath all the faults, the intrigue is sown early on. The world of horse racing and gambling is perfect for a crooked tale. And Roke himself, though he may go on a bit, carries himself with dignity and charm throughout.

If it were a horse, For Kicks would be a bit of a plodder. It might win a couple of long races on soft ground when stamina was of a premium, especially if the handicapper shaved off ten thousand words or thereabouts. Even so, it was fun to read on account of its subject matter and the underlying concept of the mystery. 

Worth the effort and passed the time.    

Monday, 10 April 2023

One Man's Opinion: FUZZ by ED McBAIN

Following a series is an interesting thing. I think you build a sense of loyalty to an author and a set of characters that softens the critical eye. That's particularly the case when a series has a lot of entries. The 87th Precinct books were published between 1956 and 2005 and there aren't many that can claim such a span of time. The run is almost as long as that of Coronation Street and they're able to change writing teams when necessary. 

Fuzz was published in 1968 and at only 12 years into the process, it could be seen as a fairly early addition. 

This one interested me as it answered a question that raised itself after reading Doll. Doll is definitely one of my favourites and I wondered if that was because the quality of the writing and storytelling was simply getting better as McBain polished his craft and further understood those occupying his creations. Having read Fuzz, I think the answer has to be no. 

Here we have the return of the Deaf Man. Having read several of the Deaf Man books (because of my early random approach to the series) I was delighted to see him back on the scene. No doubt deep deeds, merriment and drama were to follow. Sadly, and perhaps because of the anticipation his presence spawned, I was slightly disappointed by this one. 

Things start strongly. The Deaf Man promises to kill a member of the city council if $5000 isn't left in a lunch pail on a park bench in a freezing cold Isola. The money is left and, true to his word, the assassination is carried out. 

A second request is made. This time, the council official is higher in the food chain and the demand is now ten times bigger than the first time round. 

 As things play out, a couple of decorators are painting the whole of the department a shade of apple green. As well as the walls, they're spraying phones, files and suits as they work and this is adding to the tension at the station. To make things worse, Byrnes is getting it in the neck and he's giving it back to anyone who fails in any aspect of the case they're following. 

Steve Carella isn't working the extortion case. He's dressed as a homeless man and is hoping to catch the perpetrators of burnings of homeless fold in the district. Things don't go well. 

While Carella sleeps in frozen doorways, the rest of the squad are following their only lead to the assassinations. They focus a lot on this and it's entertaining enough. The issue for me is that this line of investigation is clearly so removed from the Deaf Man that its momentum soon begins to fizzle. It's also a line that is crucial to the denouement of the story and becomes tangled up with the ending in such a way as to make it unsatisfactory. It's all too complicated and indirect. 

Not that Fuzz fails to entertain. There are plenty of excellent set-pieces, Meyer's visit to a sleazy pool hall for one. Some fun then, but for me it dragged its feet (the Miranda references tiring, aspects of the investigation heavy, a need to suspend some belief and perhaps too many of the squad being involved at once). Distinctly below par, a fractured plot, necessary reading for maintaining the streak and still worth checking out.  

Hear more from Hark  episode 22, Chewing A Donkey, where they're a lot more positive than me. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2023


It was so good to be back with the 87th that after reading Doll, I couldn't resist Eighty Million Eyes. Now I'm done with Eighty Million Eyes, I couldn't resist and so I'm reading Fuzz. After that, I'll need a break- I don't want to get through all the books any time soon, so I'll be changing direction for a while. 

The Eighty Million Eyes of the story are those watching TV comic Stan Gifford as he takes to the screen for another of his weekly shows. Two of those belong to a big fan of his, Steve Carella. It's because he's tuned in that Carella gets to see his favourite comedian collapse and die as it happens. 

In the madness that follows, Gifford's doctor anounces that his patient had a strong heart and that a heart attack should be ruled out. He also suggests that poison may have been involved. The autopsy confirms this, but doesn't rule out suicide as a possible cause of death. 

That's our main plot and, just for good measure, there are some throwaway jokes to maintain the comedy spirit. 

Our sideline here, and my prefered strand, is delivered as the opening in the form of six pages of perfection. A hard man is waiting in an office for a woman named Cindy. The boss wants him to leave, but he's not budging. A cop is called. He's a rookie who things he can handle the situation. He can't. Hard man demands Cindy is called. When she finally arrives, it turns out she has no idea who it is that wants to see her so badly. The heat is turned up, the cop intervenes, the cop takes a battering, the hard man exits. It's a brilliant set up and the plotline is hugely satisfying, not least because it confirms the sense from Doll that the real Kling is back with us. 

I took this with me on the train down to Newcastle to see the Magpies thrash Man Utd 2-0. What with the result, the read and the grin on my son's face, it was just about the perfect day.

Not quite the tension and excitement of Doll, but well worth a visit. 

There's more on this one over at Hark if you fancy the podcast. You might also enjoy Criminolly over at Youtube, who has a piece where he holds up every book of the series that he can with a few treats besidse. His recommendations on 'Pulp, Crime, Horror, That Kind Of Thing' are well worth checking out.