Thursday 23 March 2023

One Man's Opinion: DOLL by ED McBAIN


I'm sure that in one of my more recent 87th Precinct reviews, I mentioned that I was distressed by the increasing bitterness and hard-heartedness of Bert Kling. In Doll, it's got to the point where Lieutenant Byrnes has had enough of Kling's style of policing; he's a bad apple and the mood and performance of the precinct is suffering because of him. 

Steve Carella, being the impressive human being he is, intervenes and persuades his boss to let him take Kling under his wing. One last chance, if you like. 

The case they take on is of the brutal murder of a beautiful model while her daughter was sitting in the next room overhearing it all. The murder is slow and violent, an almost literal death by a thousand cuts and we get to experience every slice through McBain's vivid description. 

When they find the little girl, she's clutching her doll. As typical with an 87th, this may be the doll of the title, but there's another surprising one that will be revealed later on in the plot. 

Kling and Carella go off together and, true to form, Kling makes a hash of it. Not even Carella can maintain a professional approach with Kling in tow, so he cuts him loose. Heated and frank words are exchanged as the two separate, words that will haunt Kling as the story develops. 

Now he's alone and has the space to think, Carella continues the investigation and solves the case. 

Normally, this would be the end of the book, but here it's only a new beginning. 

There's a major twist in this one. A huge turn of events that really did stop me breathing for a few moments. The shock almost had me crying out, but I was on a train to Newcastle, so I supressed it and stopped reading for a while as the development sank in. 

Thankfully, with a little bit of thought and application of my own reader skills, it all fell into place and it was only a few pages later that I knew I could continue without feeling sick, not that the book gets any less exciting. There are still events and sharp corners to turn that keep the pace of the story quick and the intensity of the white-knuckle ride high. 

Doll will stand out as a favourite of the series when I finally get to the end, I'm pretty sure of that. Everything about it works and I was especially pleased to get a sense that maybe Kling is on the way to recovery. 

When I finished, a particular episode of Starsky And Hutch came to mind (one I saw over forty years ago, I imagine). If you read it or have done so, I wonder if it will be/was the same for you. I'd be interested to hear. 

Anyway, this book is tops and I'm going in for more by heading straight for Eighty Million Eyes. 


And for another opinion, check out the HARK podcast.   

Wednesday 22 March 2023



Having recently been blown away by Cosby's Blacktop Wasteland, I was really excited about getting stuck into Razorblade Tears. Perhaps because I was looking forward to this so much, I left it feeling slightly disappointed. That's not to say it wasn't a decent read, it just didn't quite measure up to my expectations. 

The premise is an excellent one. A gay couple have been murdered and their fathers are both struggling to come to terms with the way they handled their sons' sexuality. Their relationships were strained and the damage was significant, which leaves both Buddy Lee and Ike full of guilt and a sense of failure. 

Buddy Lee wants to do something about it, Ike is more concerned about maintaining his business. In the end, Buddy Lee persuades Ike that they need to go after the killers and seek their own kind of justice. It's handy that both have done spells in prison and are used to handling themselves in all kinds of situations. More helpful that Ike is about to release his alter-ego, Riot, on the world. 

In order to track down the killers, they have to get past several stumbling blocks: the LGBTQ+ community is reluctant to pass on information to either the authorities or to any outsiders; there's a biker gang called Rare Breed that is involved in protecting the man behind the murders; their main lead is a lady called Tangerine who has gone into hiding in order to save her own skin; and they don't seem to like each other very much. 

The journey of Ike and Buddy Lee is like many a 'buddy' story. They share one goal and their journey will be tough, but they're going to come to depend upon each other and, somewhere along the line, liking each other will creep in around the edges. They're a good team and bring the best and worst out of each other. Most importantly, they're able to work towards completing their quest by knocking down one of those stumbling blocks at a time. 

All was going well until I began to disengage from around the half-way point. In some ways, this is because the action scenes took over. Much as they were well put together, the older I get, the less I want to read long sections of brutality. There's a sense of inevitability about the outcomes of each set piece and also about the ending. I don't think I was invested enough in the characters or felt they had enough to lose.

I also struggled to a lesser extent with the similes here. Unlike in Blacktop Wasteland, where they're sharp and apt, here they lacked a cutting edge. It's a small point, but an important one. Perhaps it suggests that Cosby's improvement is significant and if that upward curve is maintained, All The Sinners Bleed is going to be an absolute peach. 

Not really for me, then, but if you're a lover of revenge novels or action stories, this may be right up your street. 

Wednesday 15 March 2023


King David Hartley leads a band of Yorkshire menfolk in the dangerous act of clipping (cutting away at legitimate coins and using those clippings to forge new money). It's not something the authorities can allow and men are sent to close down the operation. The Gallows Pole tells us of the history from the point of view of coiner and crown in a way that's gripping from the off.  

Cards on the table, I'm a Lancastreen bastid at my core, those early roots strong and impossible to cut through. In spite of that, Jorvikshyre is a special place for me. I spent many happy days and nights visiting my brother when he lived in Hebden Bridge and my in-laws live in Holmfirth where the hills and vales are something to behold. 

Perhaps that's why the wonderful descriptions of the landscapes in this book struck me immediately, though I suspect anyone who has spent any time soaking up nature will be bowled over by the poetic musings and the vivid pictures painted in these words. I'm also certain that anyone who hasn't been exposed to the landscapes of the county will be desperate to get out there and soak up the wonder that is to be found there. 

The sense of time and place is one of the reasons that this is a stunning novel, but there are many of those and it's difficult to know where to start. Essentially, I don't think I can do it justice and probably don't have the breadth of reading experience or knowledge to offer a coherent review, but I'm going to have a go at picking out some of the things that stood out to me. 

Symmetry, reflection and cycles. They feel important. There's the way the seasons roll by and the endless power of nature. The clippers versus the representatives of the crown. The threads that tie generations together. The contrasts of rich and poor. The blurred lines of right and wrong. The passions of the loyal and the traitorous. The circle of the story that begins and ends seamlessly. And sometimes in the structure itself. Early on, for example, there's a hypnotic section that sees the men of the valley arriving for a meeting called up at the Hartley home. Four pages describe their journeys and characters, four pages that are a joy to behold. Later in the book, we have a similar list at a similar gathering, only this time it's the wealthy and the powerful who are coming together. It's a treat.  

To have symmetry and reflection you need a centre point. Here the fulcrum is a time of change. The industrial revolution is growing and the old ways will never be the same. Land will be owned and torn up to allow for profit and then to more profit whatever the cost. It allows us to sympathise with the coiners, no matter how hardened and raw their lives, not least because their wealth is shared with the people of the area in a way that it never will be by the owners of mills and factories. 

Then there's the poetry of it all. 

King David's reflections are inserted regularly in his own voice. It's an old language and dialect that is direct and raw and echoes the toughness of the protagonist and his way of life. There's a little adjustment required to adapt to the words, but it's worth it because of the impact each of the entries brings. To my mind, there's a similarity here with A Clockwork Orange where the dexterity with sound and syllable is captivating. Here and in the rest of the novel, alliteration, rhyme, cadence and onomatopoeia work together to elevate the content and nail emotions, thoughts, tensions and descriptions. Think bastidly dastidly, to coin a phrase. 

And the alchemy. 

Central to the events, though not often to the fore, is the hooded figure of the forger. A man of mystery who is made up of shadows and visions. I know that the TV adaptation of the book is to come out soon. For me, the perfect casting for the alchemist would be Myers himself. Surely anyone who can string words together to create such a wonderful book as this has magic in his fingertips and in his soul. If any more proof was needed, then creating a work where the outcome of the story is never in doubt from the start, yet manages to conjures up tension that had this reader hanging on every development, is a remarkable achievement in itself.                  

I'm no expert, but if there's any justice (and I'm not sure whether The Gallows Pole shows us that there is or there isn't), this book is one of those that will outlive the author and be talked about for generations to come. A classic, if you will. A classic and an absolute belter.  

Congratulations due to Bluemoose Books for taking this on and for producing one of the finest covers ever. 

ps not a book for the fainthearted

Wednesday 1 March 2023



Blacktop Wasteland, a book I can’t recommend highly enough.

SA Cosby is a magician of sorts. An alchemist. He has taken the elements required to create a wonderful story and smelted them back together into a tale that is even greater than the sum of its parts, in a similar way that Bug is able to strip down a car and fill it with secrets in order to make it durable enough and fast enough for whatever terrain is required.

Bug’s a genius. He drives cars better than anyone, with the possible exception of his estranged father. He’s inherited his father’s car, the Duster, and takes it out every now and again to make money in illegal races in which man and machine fuse into one in a way that brings just the right amount of driving excitement for this reader.

Problem for Bug is that circumstances have lined up to form the perfect storm where he needs more cash than he can get hold of. In order to pay mounting bills, he needs to raise the jeopardy. When a heist team that needs a driver gets in touch, it’s a job he can’t afford to turn down and the consequences of that will shake his life and the lives of those who are close to him like the meanest of earthquakes.

It works so well for a lot of reasons, not least because Bug is such a brilliant character. We want it to go well, but know it can’t. Every victory has a loss and sometimes it’s bits of himself that will be eroded. He’s damned if he does and if he doesn’t and isn’t that the core of a great noir story?

I don’t want to say anything else. Sure, I’m late to the party and you’ve probably already been there. If you haven’t, the advice is simple: get some.