Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: 'The Cocktail Waitress' by James M. Cain

The Cocktail WaitressCharles Ardai, editor of Hardcase Crime brings to life the lost James M Cain novel 'The Cocktail Waitress' - through a fascinating insight into the novels discovery to eventual publication as written at the end of the hardcover edition, Ardai provides context and a sense of establishment to the novel. I love it when books contain these 'extras'. Ardai's Afterword also contains multiple versions of a single passage, as Cain himself fussed over the correct wording, naming, and direction of the novel. There is also a little something about Hardcase Crime and a glimpse into the creative process used for selecting books for publication. I urge readers to give this Afterword due time, it'll enhance the experience of reading 'The Cocktail Waitress'.
 
I can safely say that this book will feature of my 2012 'best reads' list. Keep an eye out for that list on Jan 1 2013. Now for the review:
 
'The Cocktail Waitress' reaffirms James M Cain as a true master of noir. An intelligent and emotionally satisfying portrayal of a middle class beauty living below the poverty line who only wants the best for her son. A victim of domestic abuse and punished for her curvaceous body and move star looks, Joan Medford faces adversity in every mirror. Public perception immediately ridicules and downgrades her intellect and ambition, yet through a strong reserve and perhaps a muddled sense of justice, she strives to improve her family's quality of life.
 
A widow with little by way of job prospects, Joan lands a job as a cocktail waitress at the Garden Bar. Using her assets to advantage she quickly collects admirers, one a handsome young man with an eye for future wealth, the other, an old man suffering from angina whose wealth is a temptation beyond Joan's will. Both suitors are not without drama and before long Joan's world is once again turned upside down - murder, cash, and her very home all thrown at her or threatened to be taken away.
 
'The Cocktail Waitress' is a fast paced read lead by a linear plot that's as crafty as it is enjoyable. The first person perspective storytelling clouds Joan's intentions and honesty, keeping the reader guessing the whole way through. Viewed through eyes hidden behind a veil to eyes wide open with opportunity and sass, Joan's complexity is a joy to read. The victimised persona wavers just enough to show a sinister side threatening to bubble to the surface. The subtle and obstructed truth haunts each page turn and amounts to a captivating telling of a femme fatale whose unseen actions dominate the readers perception.
 
A little something extra:
 
Acclaimed author of noir Megan Abbott gives 'The Cocktail Waitress' a once over here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-78116-032-9
 
Hardcase Crime have the first chapter available to read here: http://hardcasecrime.com/books_bios.cgi?entry=bk109&type=excerpt

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: 'The Big Sin' by Jack Webb

The Big SinAn act of faith unearths corruption, lies, betrayal, and murder. Father Shanley, a Catholic Priest believes the apparent suicide (or big sin) of showgirl Rosa Alyce is murder. The suicide note looks falsified and the motive unreasonable. To dispel the polices' all too easy verdict, he enlists the services of Sergeant Golden to open the cold case and bring those responsible to justice.
 
'The Big Sin' is very much a cat and mouse thriller accompanied by the hard boiled whodunit style popular in the 1950's. Despite being written over a half a century ago, 'The Big Sin' comes across as a modern story brimming with suspects, violence, and action.
 
All the key components of a well written underworld crime are evident; Nick Sandoe a nightclub owner and Rosa's boss, vengeful siblings - one a boxer, the other a sexy young woman, a private eye who's allegiance isn't unravelled until near conclusion, a mob moll with the mob in Nell - Golden's girl, a hardened dame willing to risk it all for the love of her man, a journalist uncompromised by bribery or the corrupt mayor's influence, and a dangerous and seemingly intelligent gangster type in Jack Farr - a shoot first, ask later kinda guy. With a cast as diverse and well written as this, the plot didn't need to hold up - yet it did, and well.
 
The constant change in direction, speeding bullets, and falling characters kept me guessing as to where 'The Big Sin' was heading. Luckily, it was in the right direction. There wasn't a single moment throughout the 170-odd pages that felt un-warrented or rushed. For such a compact novel, author Jack Webb sure crams a lot in.
 
A big thank you to Prologue Books for brining these novels of yesteryear back via ebooks. 'The Big Sin' is well worth a look. 4 stars (could've easily been 5).
 
Visit Prologue Books here: http://www.prologuebooks.com/

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: Butterfly Potion by Trent Zelazny

Peter awakes not knowing where he is or how he got there. His possessions have been stripped and his last memory is clouded by distorted images; fragments of time and place. He’s suffering from self induced alcoholic amnesia. With little more than a vague recollection of a bar, he stumbles back to reality in search of those missing hours.

Trent Zelazny’s novella is a quick fire noir with all the hallmarks you’d expect of the genre. There is the man with little or nothing to his name, a femme fatale in Talia - a lush and self proclaimed ‘bitch from Muskegon’, dark descriptions and darker moods, a haunting death, and a sense of helplessness that’s counterbalanced by a two of a kind pairing.

There is a little bit of ‘The Moon in the Gutter’ feel to ‘Butterfly Potion’ by way of reference to the runoffs themselves and the correlation between a luckless man and cleansing of the poison that litters the seedy streets. The quote from Oscar Wilde “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” sums it up perfectly.

Not to be outdone, Zelazny adds a great quote or two depicting the darker tone of noir fiction: “It was a comic book style blue-black outside and the arctic wind was in respite, which made the dirt road and then Garcia Street nothing more than odd dark passages of silence.”

As alluded to earlier, the central character, Perry is haunted by the death of a woman named Allison – the foggy details seep into the story as a warm alcoholic blanket envelopes Perry, oddly clearing his head rather than numbing it – a true sign of the experienced drinker. This adds another dimension to the story, layering Perry’s misery upon misery to include past and present conflicts. The single prospect for a better tomorrow is the coupling of a barfly (Perry) with a butterfly (Talia) though I’m not sure it’s going to end up all blue sky and warm sunshine – this is noir after all.  

I read ‘Butterfly Potion’ in one sitting. As a novella, it’s lean but not without substance. The story flows quickly and includes enough of the past to provide a well rounded sense of the now.

Visit Trent Zelazny's website for more info on the author and his books: http://trentzelazny.com/

Review: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos

Hard Revolution: A NovelSimilar in style and substance to Pelecanos’ penultimate DC Quartet, ‘Hard Revolution’ is the forth novel to feature Derek Strange. Rather than a follow-up to the last Strange and Quinn PI novel ‘Soul Circus’, ‘Hard Revolution’ takes us back to a younger Derek growing up in the late 50’s and then on to his career as a police officer timed around the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.

The echoes of a revolution are omnipresent, racial vilification bears a similar resemblance to Ed Lacy’s ‘Room to Swing’ but on a slightly different scale (in comparison of each independent protagonist; Derek Strange to Lacy’s PI in Toussaint Moore). Pelecanos’ affinity for music of the era is well documented to establish a sense of time and place to his characters environment while the deeply researched political climate and sportscast like commentary further enhance that yesteryear feel.

The criminal elements comprise of two murders - one a hit and run, the other a horrific murder by knife, both a case of white on black hate with Derek thrust into a key point on both. Added by his poster boy partner and respected hard-man of the force Frank Vaughn, Derek battles not only to protect the streets and bring justice to those responsible for the murders but also to maintain allegiance to the law during the race riots of the late 60’s in Washington D.C.

For added value Nick Stefanos, senior and junior circa 1968 make an appearance – a nice bit of cross pollination of the Strange PI series and the Stefanos novels. I like how Pelecanos is able to bring these worlds together. It doesn’t feel forced or impedes Derek’s story in any way, a smooth and subtle blending of his works and a nice easter egg for fans.

The strength to any Pelecanos novel is the characters. In ‘Hard Revolution’ you’ll grow with Derek, see the world through his brother’s eyes, feel the pain of loss and the joy of love, and rationalise the illegal dispensing of justice by those in blue for the greater good. ‘Hard Revolution’ is a great jumping on point to the world Pelecanos has created. I recommend reading it before ‘Hell to Pay’, ‘Right As Rain’, and ‘Soul Circus’.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: Night Has A Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich

Night Has a Thousand Eyes: A Novel“The night seemed darker than it was; the darkness was on the inside, not the out; I could barely see her face; there before me. Will, volition, was like a flickering candle flame going out in all that darkness, going lower, lower, lower, guttering to an end. Leaving the eternal, rayless night of fatalism, of predestination, to suffocate us, herself and me alike.”

A pitch black perfect noir opening where moonlight and the scattered remnants of a wrong doing haunt the pages, whispering murderous nothings on the chilled night air. Woolrich extends the beautifully poetic scenery and introspection to build tension coiled tight, the words like springs ready to snap, threatening to turn the mood from nervous apprehension to realised horror.

Woolrich does noir as it should be done. The characters of 'Night Has a Thousand Eyes' are depressing, self serving, and in need of misery for company. Despite Jean Reid's care for her father, whose death is foretold, her sense of belonging and personal grief, the 'what-if's' of a life alone, shadow the immediate threat to her father's life. Even the most optimistic of Woolrich's characters fall into a common shade of gray. This works very well for the theme of the novel where death is a but a clocks tick away, each sun up and sun down is one less fore a determined reaper is coming. Jean, and the police, are equally helpless to intervene.

Jerry Tompkins whose gift outweighs his nondescript appearance “just a farm boy, a lifelong misfit, embittered by the burden of something he wasn’t equipped to cope with.” is a mere cameo to the Reid's and adds little despite the prophetic plot bestowed upon him. The agent for Tompkins' vision, Eileen, the Reid's housemaid, who conveyed the vision to Jean is treated in a fashion which is undeserving yet right for the tone of the novel. The do-gooder punished for her open heart.

Woolrich delivers contrasting emotions depicted through light – a shining, sparkling wineglass; the reflected warmth radiating against the owners hand, the rays caressing his face as he extends the glass closer to his lips. Sunlight dancing through netted curtain, a clear blue sky unstained by cloud envelopes the character in a golden mist. The polar opposite drenching Jean in a vale of water streaming through a black night, tears and rain cascading down long gone make-up, the vision is a sad clown with little prospect for smiles. My interpretation of the mood and the delivery by which Woolrich depicts the contrasting and at time conflicting emotions were the highlight of the novel.

Despite best intentions, the novel was always going to head in one direction. Encompasing elements of the police procedural, albeit somewhat unorthodox, Woolrich attempted to diversify the counting clock linear plot only to detract from the awkward relationship and interesting unravel of Mr. Reid as he waited for death.

Into the lions den, death in a literal or figurative sense is to be served by one of the worlds fiercest hunters. Can Jean save her father and change fate? Will the words of a faded man prove true or do little more than to kill Jean's father one minute at a time? Read 'Night Has a Thousand Eyes' to find out.

This edition is published through Open Road Media - find out more on their website: http://www.openroadmedia.com/blog/tag/Pegasus%20Books.aspx

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: 'A Choice of Nightmares' by Lynn Kostoff

A Choice of NightmaresRobert Staples is the classic noir protagonist of sorts, one who is forced into a situation he isn't acclimatised for. The hack actor turned glorified courier turned pawn in a drug cartels takeover plans is often in the deep end struggling to keep his head above water. His loyalties tested and plans for returning to the silver screen come under scrutiny as he does what he can to appease his boss - old and new while dodging bullets, muscle men, and a killer dame.
 
Lynn Kostoff writes some awe inspiring scenes, particularly where Denice, Rob's love interest is concerned. Her every appearance is preceded by a poetic-like description which creates an almost mythical aura as witnessed through Rob's lustful eyes.
 
Certain aspects of 'A Choice of Nightmares' are reminiscent of the great noir authors in Goodis and Thompson - with dialogue such as:
 
"Problems and opportunities...There's not much difference between them if you look closely enough."
 
and great throwaway lines:
 
"He'd known many days when he could hear mortality in the whine of a mosquito and each passing second drew blood."
 
The overall theme and feel of 'A Choice of Nightmares' oozes desperation and a sense of longing which envelopes the reader in a grey cloud of despair parallel to that of the damaged drug riddled main character, Rob.
 
Despite the authors obvious talent at capturing the noir essence, at times I felt 'A Choice of Nightmares' suffered from an identity crisis often switching between the traditional noir and drug running cartel. Beginning with Rob's unfortunate demise from movie star to ignorant delivery man and following through with a multi-layered cross continent drug ring, Kostoff lost me at times (both to the complement and detriment of the novel). I can't help but think if Kostoff focused on either the drug ring OR Robert and his femme fatale, that 'A Choice of Nightmares' would've been up there with the greats.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: 'Gutted' by Tony Black

Gutted (Gus Dury, #2)After a rather lengthy wait in my TBR, I finally got around to reading the second Gus Dury novel by Tony Black. 'Gutted' definitely shows some character growth and pushes the series in the right direction. My review is as follows:
 
Gus Dury, the unfashionable PI of sorts returns for a second go-round in 'Gutted' - an apt title if ever there was on. Since taking on Col's bar, things have gone down hill - living life through the bottom of a pint glass has not only deteriorated Gus' health but also his cash flow. Unfortunately for Gus, life is about to go a whole lot more complicated when he discovers a grisly murder while trying to rescue a dog from a bunch of hoods pent up on animal cruelty.
 
The body turns out to be that of a gangster who trains pit bulls for dog fighting - one of his pit pulls had earlier been responsible for the death of a three year old girl - a judges daughter. Immediately the murder looks to be a clear cut case of vengeance served until the cops finger Gus for it.
 
There is a lot to like about 'Gutted'; the free flowing dialogue really puts you in the thick of the environment, the characters are all tainted (those on both sides of the law), there is a splattering of reader references through Gus' past-time, and a likeness to the damaged protagonist not too dissimilar to Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor. The ex-wife returns with a bombshell and the cops are ever persistent in making Gus' life hell - no wonder he seeks solace in the bottom of a bottle.
 
Not only is 'Gutted' a well plotted whodunit murder mystery, it also portrays the growth (err, perhaps I mean slow demise?) of Gus and meets his addition head on. This is by far the best book I've read by Tony Black to date - 4 stars.
 
My review of the previous Gus Dury novel, 'Paying For It' can be found here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/122469437

Monday, September 17, 2012

Every Day Is A Blast #7 - 'The Killing of Emma Gross'

Each day for seven days I'll be looking back at one of the Blasted Heath books I've read and reviewed. The last in this series of blog posts is 'The Killing of Emma Gross' by Damien Seaman.

The Killing of Emma GrossThis was a real eye opener for me. 'The Killing of Emma Gross' is at once an interesting look at early 1900's European crime and the stumbling police in charge of investigating the real life crime. From the outset it's apparent that this is going to be one bloody and memorable tale. The opening scene still leaves me cringing despite reading the book in December 2011. I sure hope to see more books by Damien Seaman on the horizon - particularly historical crime fiction, he's got a real penchant for writing the good stuff. My review, originally posted on Amazon and Goodreads is below:

The Killing of Emma Gross chronicles the reign of notorious serial killer Peter Kürten in which late 1920's/early 1930's saw Düsseldorf's own Jack the Ripper terrorise residents and taunt police in a spree which can be compared to modern day horrors typically more macabre and heinous than those of the bygone era.

Damien Seaman invokes the provocative and nurtures the killers' prerogative through blood red lenses as he depicts a period piece where artistic licence and fact bleed a more damning form of truth. Capturing the essence of the tainted and honest alike, Seaman's early introduction of key players Thomas Klein (aka Doubtful Thomas) and Peter Kürten pits a well mannered killer against a police force in need of redemption following a string of grotesque murders. From Klein's distinct under dog persona - having fallen victim to segregation courtesy of a fellow officers' personal vendetta which threatens to impedes an investigation surrounding the disappearance of a young girl, to the evolution of a lone wolf complex not unlike the PI's of the hard boiled tradition - the story grows with the protagonist with each dimension delivering further depth and humility.

Adding complexity with conviction, Damien Seaman, weaves the certifiable Stausberg's murders into the equation raising doubt over the initial sentence handed down and subsequent competency of the police to shed new light on the decaying bodies – notably that of Emma Gross.

The Killing of Emma Gross’ is a unique and captivating historical police procedural that delivers on premise from the opening blood soaked stanza to the twisted conclusion. An essential guide to the darker side of 1930's Europe.

Side note: As much as ‘The Killing of Emma Gross’ was a joy in itself to read, the timeline material at the end provides a sense of context to the murders and showcases the struggles the police had in bringing those responsible to justice. History buffs and crime enthusiasts will love this.

View more on the Blasted Heath website: http://blastedheath.com/?p=2958

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Every Day Is A Blast #6 - 'Fireproof'

Each day for seven days I'll be looking back at one of the Blasted Heath books I've read and reviewed. The sixth in this series of blog posts is 'Fireproof' by Gerard Brennan.

The author of 'Wee Rockets' hits it out of park yet again. After enjoying 'Wee Rockets' so much I was hoping for more of the same. Well 'Fireproof' is vastly different, not only from 'Wee Rockets' but from anything I've read (perhaps 'I, Lucifer' by Glen Duncan sorta comes close...sorta) yet it's also of a high quality. The characters are immensely enjoyable and the story entertaining from start to finish. Blasted Heath are on to a winner in Gerard Brennan - with two solid novels, the next sure has a lot to live up to (I'm confident Brennan will again deliver). This is the latest Blasted Heath novel I've read. My review is as follows:

Similar yet distant enough to be a unique take on the occult brand of Satanism. Switching up the fallen angel angle to have a more human feel, Brennan's 'Fireproof' is more than a story of Hell and it's dark angels. Underlying the plot and character focus is a love story, albeit misguided and partially built on a common interest in murdering people. The allure of the un-natural combined with a fatal attraction of sorts (fatal by means of the mortal bodies Mike occupies) adds another element to the reincarnated hit man.
 
I love the way Brennan regenerates Mike by pulling the reader in through the bowels of hell, to ashy mist, to present day Earth. The hazy fog like realisation of reincarnation Mike feels is conveyed to the reader in startling realistic fashion - it doesn't read as over-to-top, yet unnervingly believable.
 
The opening stanza is like nothing I've read before. Funny, horrifying, disgusting, overly violent and graphic yet down right entertaining. It really sets the tone for the novel.
 
The characters are vivid, unique and well rounded. From the hell-ish residents of the Price of Darkness' abode in Lucifer himself, the Imp, and Cerberus, to Mike Rocks "the charismatic, reincarnate rebel", Cathy (a murderous vixen intent on exercising her blood lust), Cadbury (a mysterious homeless man), to the band of Hoods and Goths that make up the religious followers, each bring a new perspective and dynamic to the story.
 
Adding to the core plot elements which consist of the formation of a new religion to worship His Darkness, hit man vengeance, and a romantic coupling, is a pressing message stating the divide between right and wrong and the resulting consequences, 'Fireproof' is a true multi-layered story. Readers will also be treated to the familiar, in that Brennan institutes the same feel to his brand of hoods in 'Fireproof' as he does those in 'Wee Rockets'.
 
I really enjoyed 'Fireproof' - it's humours, dark, violent and something a little left of centre. Highly recommend.
 
View more on the Blasted Heath website: http://blastedheath.com/?p=6877

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Books To Get Excited About: Upcoming Releases

A couple of weeks ago the Rap Sheet blog took a look at whats to come from some of the finest authors going around. I thought I'd give the list a once over and post those books which I'm most looking forward to.

Rap Sheets original post (dated 7 Sept 2012) can be found here: http://therapsheet.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/seasonal-forecast-daring-dramas-with.html

I tend to lean towards noir, hardboiled, urban-fantasy and neo-noir, which is reflected in the list below. No doubt I've missed some but this is a decent list of some sure-to-be good reads:

Big MariaBig Maria, by Johnny Shaw (Thomas & Mercer) - Author of 'Dove Season'. I loved Shaw's writting style and well defined characters in 'Dove Season' and have been looking forward to more of his full length work.

The Cocktail WaitressThe Cocktail Waitress, by James M. Cain (Hard Case Crime) - I pre-ordered this as soon as it was available. Like the other Harcase Crime releases this year, 'The Coctail Waitress looks to be another great read. Harcase Crime has made a sample chapter available to read on their website.


Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow) - A prohibition era crime romp. It's one of my favourite era's of historical fiction. Sure to be a winner.

The Warlord of Willow Ridge, by Gary Phillips (Dafina) - I've enjoyed the two books by Gary Phillips I've read in 'The Jook' and 'Bangers'. Hoping to make it three for three when I read this one.

Target Lancer (Nathan Heller, #16)Target Lancer, by Max Allan Collins (Forge) - I'm right into the Nate Heller series thanks to the re-releases on kindle. 'Target Lancer' is the latest in the recently re-established historical crime series.

Dead of Winter, by Lee Weeks (Simon & Schuster) - Lee Weeks writes fast paced crime thrillers that cover a multitude of underworld topics from gangs, human trafficking, to police corruption. Her previous books include 'The Trophy Taker', 'Trafficed', 'Death Trip', and 'Kiss and Die'. I've read the first three and gave them all 4.5 - 5 stars. My expectations for 'Dead of Winter' are very high.

All The Wild Children, by Josh Stallings (Snubnose Press) - author of 'Beautiful Naked and Dead' returns with a full throttle non-fiction piece about his hard life. Sure to be entertaining and raw.

The Knights of Breton CourtThe Knights of Breton Court, by Maurice Broaddus (Angry Robot) - I was fortunate enough to get an arc of this book and am enjoying it. It's a long book (clocking in at just under 900pgs) but so far the pacing is right on the money. Dubbed as The Wire meets Excalibur, the appeal for me was always going to high. In fact, I like it so much that I've pre-ordered a print copy in addition to the galley arc I'm reading.
The Wrong Goodbye

The Wrong Goodbye, by Chris F Holm (Angry Robot) - The sequel to 'Dead Harvest'. Can't wait to get my hands on this. Urban-fantasy at its best.

Every Day Is A Blast #5 - 'The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson'

Each day for seven days I'll be looking back at one of the Blasted Heath books I've read and reviewed. The fifth in this series of blog posts is 'The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson' by Douglas Lindsay.
 
The pitch black humour of Douglas Linsday and accidental murderer in protagonist Barney Thomson is a combination not to be missed. As my first introduction to the Glasgow barber I wasn't sure what to expect - I certainly wasn't thinking 5 star book. Oh how soon that all changed. Within a few pages I was hooked. Barney Thomson kills yet the reader can't help but feel for him. Sure his methods are rather indirect and he can't actually be held fully accountable for the loss of life yet is tagged as a serial killer. Douglas Lindsay is lone hell of a writer. Let it be said, Barney Thomson is the funniest piece of fiction I've ever read while still catering to my darker fiction tastes. My review originally posted in November 2011 on Goodreads and Amazon is below:
 
The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson' oozes black humour just as much as it does sticky red blood. By day Barney Thomson is a slave to his trade as a Glasgow barber, an accidental serial killer in the evenings, and one hell of a laugh 24/7. Making light of his dark intentions, Lindsay crafts a protagonist more suited to sitcom than death row. From subtle taunts and a general lack of recognition of his skill in the workplace spawns murderous thoughts, acted upon in a dream state, then played out in reality through acts of fate.

Interestingly enough, for a serial killer, Barney doesn't actually kill anyone - intentionally. He's just an average Joe trying to have a go and make the best of his meagre life. Unfortunately for Wullie and Chris (co-workers), the tools of their trade are a tad too conveniently located when the accidental assassin strikes, the result - pure genius and laugh out loud hilarity.

Douglas Lindsay manages to do it all - create suspense as the long, rather disenfranchised arm of the law reaches out for a killer, blacker than black humour, captivating characters (Cemolina - Barney's mother is a hard one to forget), and punchy dialogue in delivering a light hearted look at a man destined for a cult following. Enjoyable from start to finish.

Read more on the Blasted Heath website: http://blastedheath.com/?p=1416

Friday, September 14, 2012

Every Day Is A Blast #4 - 'Dead Money'

Each day for seven days I'll be looking back at one of the Blasted Heath books I've read and reviewed. The fourth in this series of blog posts is 'Dead Money' by Ray Banks.
 
Dead MoneyI have fond memories of reading ‘Dead Money’ as it will forever be my first Blasted Heath title. Having read the Cal Innes series and notably, ‘Beast of Burden’ prior to picking up ‘Dead Money’ I knew I was in for a treat with the new book published through Blasted Heath. Pitch black humour, an endearing protagonist, and a toxic friend who is nothing but trouble kept me thoroughly entertained from start to finish. I read this in October 2011, my review is posted below:
 
Imagine a man who has it all; successful career, loving trophy wife, mates worth their weight in gold, and a healthy stress-free lifestyle. Now, perish the thought and be introduced to Alan, a double glaze salesman who’s the polar opposite of the ‘man who has it all’. On a rung slightly above telemarketer, the home salesman is depicted as little more than an unfaithful husband, yes-man, and borderline alcoholic whose only saving grace is that he’s not Les Beale – toxic friend extraordinaire. That being said, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the bloke as he meanders through life fielding drama from all directions.
 
In ‘Dead Money’, Ray Banks dons a persona bearing resemblance to a dirty Jason Starr as he crafts a white-collar noir at home with Starr’s corporate New York 9-to-5ers. Lead character Alan, for his faults, assumes the classic ‘wrong man’ role, thrown into a world of chaos courtesy of best mate Beale and his penchant for unprovoked violence. Intensely atmospheric, ‘Dead Money’ embodies the more traditional elements of a hard knock life with each scene adding perspective to the flawed yet endearing characters that populate the rain sodden streets of Banks’ latest foray into the accidental underworld.
 
Top notch story telling from start to finish, Ray Banks writes in a voice that will grip you by the throat and squeeze until you’ve read every last word – only then will you take a breath and appreciate the craftsmanship before wanting to do it all over again.
 
View more on the Blasted Health website: http://blastedheath.com/?p=1243

Review & News: Charlie Huston 'Caught Stealing'

Caught Stealing (Hank Thompson, #1)Hank Thompson is haunted by his failed attempts at being somebody. From horrific accident, to horrific accident, he's lost pieces of himself (figuratively and literally) as well as friends. His dreams are constant reminders of why his lives life out of a bottom of a whisky glass. That is, until reality catches up with him and the glass smashes into his face. A bar brawl leaves him a kidney light, remedying his unhealthy outlet and unearthing a whole new world of pain. With a busted leg, bleeding wound, ghosts of friends haunting his dream-scape, and busted feat, his job prospects low after the doc tells him he needs to give up the bouncing gig - life is pretty low. It's just the beginning.
 
With a corrupt cop named Roman, Russian gangsters and professional madmen all wanting a piece him, Hank slowly evolves into an accidental hardman handing out beatings like they're cheap advice. Who knew looking after a cat would cause so much trouble?
 
'Caught Stealing' is a hard hitting New York bar room brawl of a novel. From it's blood stained opening, murderous intense plotting to bare knuckle ending, the first installment in the Hank Thompson trilogy is a homage to pulp noir.
 
This was a re-read for me in light of the recent news of it being adapted to he big screen. Having read it for a second time, I cant wait to see how it turns out. Alec Baldwin has been cast as Roman, and during 'Caught Steeling' I thought his look went well with the hard, greedy and vicious cop. Patrick Wilson will play Hank and I think he has the right look. Wilson very similar to how I pictured Hank so this works well for me. News on the movie can be found here: http://www.wordandfilm.com/2012/09/alec-baldwin-and-patrick-wilson-caught-stealing-in-charlie-huston-adaptation/

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Every Day Is A Blast #3 - 'Hot Wire'

Each day for seven days I'll be looking back at one of the Blasted Heath books I've read and reviewed. The third in this series of blog posts is 'Hot Wire' by Cary Carson.
 
Car books are cool – ‘Drive’ by James Sallis, ‘The Wheelman’ by Duane Swierczynski and now ‘Hot Wire’ by Gary Carson. One of the newer titles by Blasted Heath, ‘Hot Wire’ reads like a script in its cinematic creativity and beautiful rendered characters and environment. It tests the boundaries of genre fiction only to barrel over them like inconvenient speed humps. 'Hot Wire' is many things, but most of all, it's good. See my review below:
 
True to the blurb – ‘Hot Wire’ is a“fast and furious hardboiled action thriller”; a cool car book that goes much deeper than high speed chases and flying bullets. For Emma Martin, a girl who grew up surrounded by criminal activity, jacking cars is as natural as buying groceries. So when she attempts to break away from her crew and steal a Lexus to herself, the job should be quick, simple and a faceless crime. Wrong.

The drivers of the Lexus are in the midst of hit when Emma jacks it, setting off a turn of events which threatens to level a city and rock the foundations of Emma's very core. Sounds far fetched - read the book.

Accompanying Emma is a small band of acquaintances, all with hidden agendas. A journalist, and a fellow crew member whose demeanour and surface tension is justified. Trust is a commodity Emma can ill afford yet her deductive reasoning and street smarts manage to keep her alive event after event while leaning on her comrades in arms for support.

'Hot Wire' was a lot of fun to read. What started out as a semi fast and furious gun running tale turned serious thriller then a prefect blend of the two as the plot came full circle. I sure hope Carson keeps writing stuff like this.
 
Read more about 'Hot Wire' on the Blasted Heath website: http://blastedheath.com/?p=6940

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Every Day Is A Blast #2: 'The Vanity Game'

Each day for seven days I'll be looking back at one of the Blasted Heath books I've read and reviewed. The second in this series of blog posts is 'The Vanity Game' by H.J. Hampson.


With her debut receiving accolades from the likes of Megan Abbott and Spinetingler magazine – ‘The Vanity Game’ had much to live up to. Lucky H.J. Hampson delivered in spades. When 2012 is all said and done, ‘The Vanity Game’ will be on my ‘best-of’ list and a few others too. My review originally posted in May 2012 on Goodreads and Amazon is below:


‘The Vanity Game’ combines the easy murder of Jason Starr with the black humour of Douglas Lindsay. Fusing the glitz and glamour of high fame A-List celebrity with the gore and grime of the violent underworld, Hampson’s debut novel spotlights the darker side of the entertainment industry. For soccer star Beaumont Alexander, life as he knows it is about to spiral out of control following a brutish encounter at a celebrity party. That one incident leads to a chain of events which ultimately sees Beaumont loose his grip on reality and perception of truth.

In this pulse pounding thought provoking look at fame and its perils, Hampson creates a world where false reality is an all too believable concept. The Substitutors read like the brain child of Duane Swierczynski in their sleek and evocative chameleon-like nature and would be right at home within works such as ‘Expiration Date’ and ‘Fun & Games’. Each rendition and interaction dilutes the illusion as Beaumont comes to terms with his predicament while seeking solace through the comfort of sharp objects and blunt force trauma to rid his too real demons.

The evolution of the lead character cannot be underestimated; Hampson draws inspiration from a well known real-world mould then constructs a profile loaded with a God complex, insular outlook, and destructive nature. Beaumont goes from being abusive, rude, and obnoxious, to accidental murderer, then victim until the metamorphous is complete rendering him a far different being to the one who first appeared at that fateful celebrity party.

The ever changing girlfriend, Krystal McQueen is a joy to read and comes across as an Alice in Wonderland thrown into a life vastly different from her upbringings. Hampson did a great job at reflecting the correlation between the popular story and her female lead (the decorative pieces within the Love Palace were a nice touch). Like Beaumont, the reader’s reactions and feeling towards her will vary as the story progresses.

'The Vanity Game' is a damn fine read through and through. I sure hope we see more from H.J. Hampson in the near future - she is a talent not to be missed.

More info on 'The Vanity Game' can be found on the Blasted Heath website: http://blastedheath.com/?p=5720

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: Hive and Hive 2 by Griffin Hayes

Griffin Hayes has created a new and invigorating look at the done-to-death zombie sub genre. 'Hive' will be a trilogy of novellas and as a complete package will be a solid and must have addtion to any serious zombie fan's book collection. The action is intense, the gore extra meaty and the ideals fresh yet similar enough as to not reinvent the wheel. Below are my reviews of 'Hive' and 'Hive 2'
 
Hive'Hive' is a post apocalyptic zombie novella set a couple of hundred years post the extension level event which almost wiped out mankind - well the mankind we know it as today. A small band of survivors led by Azina is sent on a mission into the outer cities to bring back a lost group of people called The Keepers of Knowledge, a new world brand of scholars/historians. Azina's band of mercenaries naturally stumbles across a hive of Zee's (zombies) during their search and soon the horror kicks in.

This is a full throttle survival horror which borrows many good bits from other zombie romps while adding its own outbreak theory and zombie particulars (of note, the telepathic like ability and lengthy lifespan of the Zee). Author Griffin Hayes is a master of suspense with each zombie/mercenary encounter delivered in hold-your-breath fashion and edge-of-your-seat tension accompanied by blood thirsty action and cringe inducing gore brawls. Good stuff indeed.

'Hive' reads much like a taste of whats to come with the Zee's themselves coming across as deeper than the typical rancid meat bags of other zombie tales. A mysterious figure will appear which will have you begging for more. Easily consumed in one read, I cant help but think the ending (cliffhanger that it is) is served only to wet the readers appetite (which it certainly did) while also leaving a taste of the unfinished in my mouth. That said, the story is highly entertaining and a very quick read. Zombie fans will eat this up in a single helping.
 
Hive II'Hive 2' picks up where 'Hive left off. The gore is just as plentiful, the Zee's just as grotesque and the characters as enjoyable as ever. Azina, bitten but not turned, introduces a delicate balance of humanity and flesh craving numbness as she battles with the will to survive and the hive mentality.
 
The game changes, secrets are brought to light and allegiance questioned. Sotercity leader Skuld, dabbles with genetic enhancements to conquer the desolate and dire post apocalyptic world. The change in direction from Sotercity's safe haven to monster inhabited death trap adds a more human dynamic. Greed and power corrupt and take precedent over survival and public good.
 
Hive 2, much like its predecessor finishes with another open-ended cliff hanger, not so much from a pure thriller perspective, more so in a ‘what will happen next’ observatory capacity. I want to give this (and Hive) 5 stars but the incomplete story and missing ending round this out to a solid 4. I will go back and re-read the Hive trilogy once the third novella is released and apply a rating in accordance with the entire story.
 

Every Day Is A Blast #1 - 'All The Young Warriors'

Each day for seven days I'll be looking back at one of the Blasted Heath titles I've read and reviewed. The first in this series of blog posts is 'All The Young Warriors' by Anthony Neil Smith.

I read 161 books in 2011 and sitting atop the heap was this gem by Anthony Neil Smith (of Laffite series fame). ATYW was an instant hit for me. A cross continent violent showcase that encapsulated all that terrors while delivering a message about fanatics, the darker side of war, and the easy taking of life. I can’t begin to praise this book enough. I originally read this in November 2011 and plan on re-reading prior to the release of the sequel, below is my review.

All The Young Warriors is by far the most accomplished and ambitious novel yet by Anthony Neil Smith. In ATYW, Smith touches on religious fanaticism and the impressionable American inner city youth misguided by recruitment vultures who feed their delusions by selling broken dreams and false prosperity as a result of a skewed and violent view of faith. At the thrillers' heart lies a breaking man whose second lease on life is taken away at the hands of a merciless thug turned terrorist-in-training; Jilbriil. Having his partner and unborn child gunned down sets a turn of events in motion which sees the streets of Minnesota and the desert landscape of Somalia run red with vengeance and unjustified blood lust.

Bleeker (the namesake definition 'bleak' is not lost on the casual observer) mourns his partner's passing by fuelling his rage across continents leaving no stone unturned in his quest to rid the world of his personal demon. Accompanied by an unlikely alliance in the form of a local gangster whose son, Adem, has been caught up in the terrorist plight - Bleeker's investigation leads him down a path populated by extremists, pirates, killers, and government officials alike.

All The Young Warriors, for its graphic depiction of murder and retribution, retains a sense of realism delivered through heart thumping emotion and pulse pounding clarity. The aspects of a world ravaged to ruin and ruled by violence yet softened by a few kind souls is thought provoking and awe inspiring. Smith has delivered on one of the best books of 2011 with each chapter providing further evidence of his ability to demand a reader's attention and hold it until the very end. Captivating and utterly essential.

View more on Blasted Heath's website: http://blastedheath.com/?p=1251

Monday, September 10, 2012

Blasted Heath: Every Day Is A Blast

Fascinating characters / Gripping Stories / Deadly writing

Blasted Heath - a digital publisher, launched in 2011 already has an impressive catalogue of distinct works from well known and up and coming authors. An initial roster including the likes of Ray Banks, Anthony Neil Smith and Douglas Lindsay coupled with relative newcomers Gary Carson and Brian Pendreigh set a high standard which has been maintained with each book published under the imprint.

This series of blog posts will feature one Blasted Heath title (in no particular order of release/review rating) that I’ve read over the next seven days. While there are many more books than the seven I’ve chosen, I think my selection provides a good mix of genres and authors from the digital publisher. I’ve also made sure to include two newer releases in ‘Hot Wire’ by Gary Carson and ‘Fireproof’ by Gerard Brennan as a means of keeping up to date with the publishers release schedule.

The reviews for the books, new and circa 2011 can also be found on Goodreads.com, Amazon.com, and Amazon.uk.

I should also say a big THANK YOU to Allan Guthrie who was kind enough to provide me with review copies of the books.

The reviews, social commentary and any misinterpretations are mine alone.

Picking the magnificent seven wasn’t easy, and with so many good books in the stable I’ll likely revisit this series later in the year/early new year on the blog. For now, here’s the list of upcoming blog posts for my Every Day Is A Blast series:

Day 1: Anthony Neil Smith – All The Young Warriors
Day 2: H.J. Hampson – The Vanity Game
Day 3: Gary Carson – Hot Wire
Day 4: Ray Banks – Dead Money
Day 5: Douglas Lindsay – The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson
Day 6: Gerald Brennan – Fireproof
Day 7: Damien Seaman - The Killing of Emma Gross

View more on Blasted Heaths website: http://blastedheath.com/

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: Ariel S. Winter's 'The Twenty Year Death'

 THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH comprises three novels, the first of which, 'Malniveau Prison' is a police procedural with a hint of the hardboiled. The second, 'Falling Star' is a formulaic, by-the-numbers hardboiled PI set amongst the glitz and glamour of the movie biz tainted with blood and lies. Rounding out the trio is 'Police At A Funeral' - an ode to noir which highlights the struggle of a fractured man with everything to gain and nothing to loose. The concept is refreshing and the execution exemplary. Ariel S. Winter does a great job at paying homage to multiple genres while creating something new and easily re-readable.

Below are reviews for each of the three complete novels in 'The Twenty Year Death':

MALNIVEAU PRISON
On a stormy night, water flows frequent bringing chill and the depressing discovery of the departed into a French bakers life. A body found in the gutter not only floods his basement but also drowns his perception of reality in a watery mist of the unreal. The small town (with a distinct country, almost rural feel) is rocked by the disguised murder. Little did the inhabitants (and police force) know, that Meranger's death, would lead to a far darker and disturbing truth, one that unveils serial murder and deceit in an unlikely form.

While led by two senior police officers, there is a lone wolf aspect to 'Malniveau Prison' with Pelleter often acting on instinct and keeping local law informed when it suits him. This direction enabled the story to become semi detached from the typical police procedural while still maintaining the core elements. Accompanying the lead mystery are a number of other cases that present the police with added headaches, from neighbourhood disputes over pets, missing children, and a rather grisly discovery with all adding realism and providing depth to the day-to-day work undertaken by the undermanned outfit trying to keep the peace and contain the townsfolk hysteria.

There are some really interesting characters in this book with Mahossier (a child abductor currently serving his sentence at Malniveau and sometime police informant), Fournier (stand in warden and type cast Government official), Letreau (in change of the local police who always seems one step behind Pelleter), and Clotilde Rosenkrantz (a 19yr old wife to an American writer who finds herself in the thick of the murder investigation). Author Ariel S. Winter gives each of his characters enough backstory to maintain the illusion of depth and humanity against the crime driven plot and investigation.

'Malniveau Prision' was a very enjoyable opening to 'The Twenty Year Death'.

THE FALLING STAR
The second book, 'The Falling Star' is a hardboiled PI novel that oozes pulp and was a refreshing turn of events for 'The Twenty Year Death' following the police procedural driven 'Malniveau Prison'. I see a little of Megan Abbott's noir Hollywood in this with an investigative angle baring likeness to James Ellory. 'Falling Star' is just that - a popular Americanised French starlet, Chloe Rose, is given protection by the studio who fear for her safety and sanity. Enlisting Dennis Foster as shadow and body guard yields far different results than designed when co-stars and lovers of co-stars start turning up dead. This was a true-to-era whodunit with a likable protagonist and simplistic linear plot. I had hoped for some connection with 'Malniveau Prison' but wasn't disappointed by the strength of Winter's delivery and effortless free flowing storytelling.

POLICE AT A FUNERAL
The final installment in 'The Twenty Year Death' tells the story of Shem Rosencrantz, a has-been author turned accidental murder and the women who consume his thoughts and provoke his actions. His wife, the broken starlet Chloe Rose is living in an institution, his former wife is dead, his mistress Victoria - the hard boiled whore sleeps with anything who's likely to improve her cash flow, and his soon to be daughter in law who's grief is an outlet for taking advantage of - providing his will power falters. All these women play a key role in Shem's glorious fall from glitter to gutter.

Shem, broke, walked over by a pretty face, ignored by publishers, and lacking in friends, sees his family reduce by actions he cant be accounted for - wholeheartedly that is, is the epicentre for misery. After the will of his deceased wife is read, a window of possibility opens which stands to earn a big pay day providing his son and inheritor is out of the picture. Victoria plants the seed, Shem does the rest. Accidental murder soon leads to intent as the loose ends pile up matching a growing body count.

What starts in death ends in death. Ariel S. Winter has crafted an obliquely dynamic noir that's an ode to the greats and a testament of what's to come. I liked the flawed, fractured man that Shem was - a man who has risen, fallen, and comes to realise the only way out if facing those bright lights head on. The shortcomings aren't hidden, his central character isn't a thing of beauty but that's the allure. Coupled with a whore whose trick turning leads to unearthed facts distinctly similar to the current predicament and police on the hunt and you've got a melting pot of steaming backstory and smouldering murderous lust.

'Police At A Funeral' is just as good at the other books in the 'Twenty Year Death' - perhaps its the style, or the fact that it rounds out a characters' story so well that left such an impression that's sure to be lasting - either way, this was a hell of a read. The ending is one that cant be missed; true to the genre and one that exemplifies the dire situation Shem finds himself in. Beautifully written.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: Michael Robotham's 'Say You're Sorry'


Robotham's unique approach separates it from other long standing crime series. The perception of events as told by varying series protagonists maintains a level of continuity whilst separating each book from one another to form complete works of independence. Essentially any one of Michael Robotham’s books serve as a ‘jumping on point’.

The most recent books include 'Bleed for Me' which features Joe O'Loughlin, 'The Wreckage' features retired cop Vincent Ruiz, and the recently released 'Say You're Sorry' sees Joe back as the central character.

The latest book by Michael Robotham, ‘Say You’re Sorry’ is a stark contrast in style and substance being more subdued and criminally contained than its predecessor, the grandiose action thriller ‘The Wreckage’. Clinical Psychologist, Joe O'Loughlin returns (last prominent role in 'Bleed for Me') to aid the police in profiling the person responsible for murdering two people during a blizzard. The investigation isn't what it seams and soon Joe is looking into a past incident involving two missing teenagers to solve a present day crime, little did he know that the two would overlap and rekindle a long doused fire in the pit of the towns stomach.

This is a race against the clock crime where the victims life hang in the balance, relying upon Joe and the police to place the clues before it's too late. Reading the novel you can't escape the urgency and dire circumstances missing duo Natasha McBain and Piper Hadley find themselves in. Switching the POV from the investigation to the journal like sequences portrayed through Piper exemplified the ever building urgency and didn't relent all the way through to the confronting conclusion.

'Say You're Sorry' is one of Robotham's strongest and emotionally gripping novels to date. Partially due to the nature of the crime and in part due to Joe's debilitating Parkinson's disease and off centre domestic life. Retired cop Vincent Ruiz makes a cameo but its Joe and the missing girls who steal the show. I also liked the return of Victoria Naparstek as a semi love interest with a secret whose relationship with Joe tiptoes on the side of professional.

Overall, this was a very easy book to read coupled with a crime that's both unpredictable and unsettling. Highly recommend for fans and those new to the author.


Reviews for the two latest books in the series can be found below on Goodreads: