Sunday, 21 January 2018

LAWRENCE BLOCK - KELLER'S ADJUSTMENT (2005)


Synopsis/blurb......

Keller, an introspective fellow, is your basic Urban Lonely Guy. He collects stamps. He used to have a dog, until the dog walker walked off with him. Now he soldiers on alone. 

It's his profession that sets him apart. He's a hit man. He kills strangers for a living.

And he's a Guilty Pleasure for an ever-increasing number of readers. "I don't think I ought to like Keller," readers tell me. "But I can't help myself..."

Keller’s Adjustment was written in the early months of 2003, in a small ship cruising the South Pacific from Tahiti to Guam. That was far indeed from New York City, Keller’s home base. (And mine.)

I wrote the novella for Transgressions, a prestigious anthology of lengthy stories by prominent writers, commissioned and edited by my friend Evan Hunter/Ed McBain. It subsequently appeared as a key episode of Hit Parade, my third book about Keller—so if you own Hit Parade, you’ve already read Keller’s Adjustment.

If not, or if you’re ready renew your acquaintance, I’m pleased to recommend the novella to your attention. It was written in the wake of 9/11, and shows Keller’s reaction to the assault on his city. And, as its title implies, it’s about adjusting to a new reality. Perhaps it echoes the story Sam Spade recounts in Hammett’s Maltese Falcon, about a man who has a narrow escape from accidental death on his way to work one morning. He responds by disappearing, and by the time Spade finds him he has recreated his original life halfway across the country. He adjusted to a world in which beams fell, Spade tells us, and then no more beams fell, and he adjusted to that.

Another episode in Keller's life and this time he's prone to as much musing and philosophising as he is actual killing, but I don't have a problem with that as he's still great company. You do wonder though if talking to a stuffed toy in the passenger seat of his hire car, may be a symptom of some deep inner turmoil.

What happened before traffic lights? Is he a sociopath? (He wasn't a bed-wetter or torturer of small animals as a boy, and he never set fires, apart from leaf-burning duties.) Driverless cars?

We have the aftermath of 9/11 and Keller's reaction to the terrible events in his home city - the volunteering with meal service for the guys working the site at Ground Zero. And the effects the event has on his profession with the enhanced security at airports and the hassle of flying especially when trying to stay under the radar.

We execute a couple of contracts and get to blag a bit with the golfing fraternity, while never getting within a country mile of swinging a club. Keller also has his obligatory roll in the hay.

Impressive as ever, enjoyable, entertaining, a sense of deja-vous - Block and Keller - love it!

4 from 5

Read in January, 2018
Published - 2005
Page count - 72
Source - Kindle Unlimited
Format - Kindle

CHRISTOPHER DAVIS - WALKING TO BABYLON (2017)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Walking to Babylon is a dark, gritty tale of two transplanted New Jersey boys who grow up together in the desert city of Las Vegas, busting balls for the old man. Sammy Soriano tells us the story as he walks away from a burning car where the body of his lifelong pal, Tommy Two-Guns Viglierchio had been left, along with those of three Mexican nationals that had tried to muscle in on the action. Viglierchio has been losing his battle with cancer for some time and Soriano knew it. There was nothing that he could do to help his friend other than be there for him.

My first time reading Christopher Davis, but hopefully not the last - his novel Crossfire sits on the pile. Here we have an enjoyable tale of the friendship between two boys, Sammy and Tommy. Childhood pals, the pair grow up to work as heavies in the shady world of Vegas casinos.

Plenty of drinking, partying, girls and errand running for the boss, and a gradual moving up the ladder in the organisation, with the odd drive out to the desert for a bit of garbage disposal. Given the nature of some of their tasks, you feel like you shouldn't enjoy their company but you do.

The narrative has an easy cadence to it, which just keeps you turning the pages. Plenty of family in the story; Sammy's girlfriend, becoming his wife, becoming a parent, becoming his ex-wife, remaining friends. Plus there's a fair bit about Sammy's own mother; the aftermath of his father's death and their rapid transplanting to Vegas, the money problems, the jobs she worked to keep a roof over their heads and as Sammy finds his feet in the organisation the role reversal - how Sammy takes care of her. Along the way Sammy also finds out about his deceased father, the manner of his death and the regard he was held in.

Gangsters, friendship and family and casino life - lots to like.

4 from 5

Christopher Davis has his website here.

Read in January, 2018
Published - 2017
Page count - 186
Source - Kindle Unlimited
Format - Kindle








Saturday, 20 January 2018

LAWRENCE BLOCK - KELLER ON THE SPOT (1998)


Synopsis/blurb....

Keller on the Spot is the eighth story about Keller, your basic Urban Lonely Guy and wistful assassin for hire. Like most of the its predecessors, it made its first appearance in Playboy, and in due course won the MWA Edgar Allan Poe award as best short story of the year. 

The life of a hired killer has its rewards, but the opportunity to be a hero is rarely one of them. Here Keller is unquestionably heroic, at least early on...

Keller on the Spot is one of ten adventures that comprise the episodic novel, Hit Man.

My third time reading this little episode from my favourite hit man's life and it never gets old.

Keller gets to play a hero here remembering the life saving skills he was taught as a boy. Our hitman is out scouting a target at a party when he strips to his whites and rescues a young swimmer who cramped unnoticed while the party was in full swing. Not the best cover for a hitman, making yourself the centre of attention.

We get to ponder whatever happened to that life-saving certificate and why the best brandy gives you heartburn, all the while considering whether to fulfill our contract or not.

Entertaining, enjoyable, engaging, never a dull word. 

4.5 from 5

Read in January, 2018
Published - 1998 (as part of Hit Man)
Page count - 30
Source - owned copy
Format - kindle

Friday, 19 January 2018

SOME IRISH TBR





Half a dozen Irish books from the collection, waiting for me to pull my finger out.....

Manning O'Brine, Declan Hughes, Ken Bruen, Neville Thompson, Hugo Hamilton and John Trolan


Spies, PIs, crims, drugs, psychopaths, cops and robbers - what's not to like?


Manning O'Brine - Mills (1969)
 "... With this novel, the pomp and circumstance of Superspy are exploded to reveal the reality of international espionage. Manning O'Brine allows agents to be what they are: people who just want to live and let live--even if they have to kill to do it."--Dust Jacket.


John Trolan - Any Other Time (2000)
1986, Dublin. 21 year-old heroin addict Davy Byrne has just been released from Mountjoy and is tired of the petty thieving and high-risk robberies that he has to pull off in order to feed his addiction. Davy drives himself, and his reluctant pal Mickey, head-first into the drug underworld of Dublin, as they attempt to establish their own turf and gang by buying large quantities of heroin and dealing it themselves.
Declan Hughes - The Colour of Blood (2007)

Still adjusting to being back on Irish soil, PI Ed Loy finds himself caught up in a deadly web of lies, betrayals and shrouded histories. Shane Howard, a respected dentist from the venerable Howard medical family of Dublin, asks Loy to search for his missing daughter. The only information available is a set of pictures portraying nineteen-year-old Emily in a series of very compromising positions.

Seems like a pretty easy case to Loy . . . until people start dying. The very same day that Loy meets Howard, Emily's mother and ex-boyfriend are brutally stabbed to death. But that's only the beginning.

Loy discovers that the Howard family is not all that it seems. For years their name has stood for progress and improvement within Dublin's medical community, but that is only what's on the surface. The true legacy of the Howards is one of scandalous secrets, the type that are best left unearthed. Against his better judgment, Loy is drawn into the very center of the Howards' sordid family history, and what he finds could ruin more than reputations.

In The Color of Blood, Declan Hughes once again brings the city of Dublin to life in all its gritty glory. The dark realities of the streets converge with the lethal secrets of the past in a sinister and graphic thriller that will have readers on edge right up to its shocking conclusion.

Ken Bruen - American Skin (2006)
Stephen Blake is a good man blown in bad directions. He and girlfriend Siobhan, best friend Tommy, IRA terrorist Stapleton, and a particularly American sort of psychopath named Dade, are all on a collision course somewhere on the road between the dive bars of New York, and the pitiless desert of the Southwest. American Skin is the long-awaited American novel by Ken Bruen, the hardboiled master of Irish Noir.

Neville Thompson - Mama's Boys (2006)
The new novel from bestselling author Neville Thompson brings us back to the not-so-nice side of the tracks. Mama's boys tells the story of two childhood friends, Dammo and Bebop, who dream of making a name for themselves amongst Dublin's criminal fraternity. they will steal, cheat, smuggle drugs, and even murder to build reputations as hard men...but despite their criminal ways they will always be Mama's Boys.

Hugo Hamilton - Headbanger (1997)

In a cinema verite style, Hugo Hamilton decimates cliches of cops and robbers with doses of smoldering Irish sectarianism and the realities of a seedy, postindustrial Dublin. "Coyne is a majestic creation.... If Flann O'Brien's lunatic Professor De Selby had genetically engineered a cross between the novels of Raymond Chandler and those of Patrick McCabe, this is what the progeny might well have looked like." — The Times (London)


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

PAUL HEATLEY - THE BOY (2015)


Synopsis/blurb........

WARNING - CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE, SEXUAL CONTENT, AND SCENES OF VIOLENCE. SHOULD NOT BE READ BY ANYONE.

Trapped on the trailer park where his mother abandoned him to his father's care, Jake learned early that life is not always what you want it to be. He searches for distractions from the mundane - with his skateboard, with his friends, and through the window of a girl from school. 

But one night changes everything, and sets Jake on an irrevocable path towards becoming a man, aided by some familiar faces.

Though a standalone story, The Boy is the third in a very loose trilogy beginning in The Motel Whore and continued in The Vampire, and concludes an interlocked series of tales about a town filled with losers, loners, misfits and outcasts, with a unique coming of age story.

It will crawl inside your skull, it will live beneath your skin. It will stay with you for days.

The first read of the year and a cracking start to 2018.

It's not quite as grim and joyless as the first two in the trilogy. Jake, our protagonist enjoys some friendship, kindness and care during our time spent in his company on a trailer park. He has a couple of skateboarding friend's his own age. He has a father who cares about him, albeit in a somewhat haphazard way - both of them damaged by the walkout of a wife and mother. His father's girlfriend shows an interest to a small degree. There's the kindness and concern shown towards him from a friend of his father's after a misadventure and with the enabling of one rite of passage on the path to manhood.

There's an obvious flip-side. Jake suffers physical injury and pain following a vicious beating after disregarding some sage advice from his father's friend, and his mental anguish reveals itself through the release of his pent-up anger and rage towards his mother and her new life and family with the fancy car and nice home. There's indifference from his father about a long period of absence from their trailer, contrasted with genuine happiness on his return.

We have a boy longing for manhood and struggling to get there in a largely solitary fashion. Poor choices and an uncertain path may lay ahead.

A great character piece. We cross paths with some old friends from Heatley's The Motel Whore and The Vampire. Overall it's fairly dark, gritty and grim, but interspersed with some fleeting moments when for just a while the world doesn't seem such a crappy place. Not an existence I crave for my own self or any of those I care about, or anyone really.

4.5 from 5

Some of Paul Heatley's work was read and enjoyed in 2017 - The Motel Whore, The Vampire and one of my 2017 best books - FatBoy.

His website is here. Catch him on Facebook here and Twitter@PaulHeatley3

Read in January, 2018
Published - 2015
Page count - 85
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle


Q+A with Paul last year - here.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

2 BY STEPH POST





















A couple on the stack this week from Steph Post.
Hands up, I've not yet read any of her work but it looks right up my street.

Some praise below....

"Steph Post's prose is lyrical and evocative. Her depiction of hardscrabble life in rural Florida is so effective, you'll wanna lock the doors and crank up the AC. But where LIGHTWOOD truly excels is in illuminating the ties that bind--and stretching them well beyond their breaking point." --Chris Holm, award-winning author of THE KILLING KIND

"Brilliant...Lightwood solidifies Steph Post as the official voice of working class literature in Florida, akin to what Daniel Woodrell has done for Missouri, or Ron Rash for the Carolinas." --Brian Panowich, bestselling author of Bull Mountain

Anyone whose prose has been compared to Daniel Woodrell certainly merits further investigation, in my opinion.

Post has just seen her second Judah Cannon book - Walk in the Fire published this week by Polis Books. Better pull my finger out and start getting myself caught up then.

Steph's website-cum-blog is here.

She can also be located at the following haunts.....

Twitter@StephPostAuthor

FacebookSteph Post

Goodreads - Steph Post



A Tree Born Crooked (2014)



James Hart, with a tough-as-nails exterior and an aching emptiness inside, does not want to go home. Yet when James receives a postcard from his mother, Birdie Mae, informing him of his father's death, he bites the bullet and returns to the rural and stagnant town of Crystal Springs, Florida, a place where dreams are born to die. James is too late for Orville's funeral, but just in time to become ensnared in the deadly repercussions of his younger brother Rabbit's life of petty crime. When Rabbit is double crossed by his cousin in a robbery-turned-murder, James and a local bartender, the unsettling and alluring Marlena Bell, must come up with a plan to save Rabbit's skin. A whirlwind road trip across the desolate Florida panhandle ensues as James tries to stay one step ahead of the vengeful Alligator Mafia and keep his brother alive. With bullets in the air and the ghosts of heartache, betrayal and unspeakable rage haunting him at every turn, James must decide just how much he is willing to risk to protect his family and find a way home.




Lightwood (2017)

Judah Cannon is the middle son of the notorious Cannon clan led by Sherwood, its unflinching and uncompromising patriarch. When Judah returns to his rural hometown of Silas, Florida after a stint in prison, he is determined to move forward and live it clean with his childhood best friend and newly discovered love, Ramey Barrow. Everything soon spirals out of control, though, when a phone call from Sherwood ensnares Judah and Ramey in a complicated web of thievery, brutality and betrayal.

Pressured by the unrelenting bonds of blood ties, Judah takes part in robbing the Scorpions, a group of small-time, meth-cooking bikers who are flying down the highway with the score of their lives. Unbeknownst to the Cannons, however, half of the stolen cash in the Harley saddlebags belongs to Sister Tulah, a megalomaniacal Pentecostal preacher who encourages her followers to drink poison and relinquish their bank accounts. When Sister Tulah learns of the robbery, she swears to make both the Cannons and the Scorpions pay, thus bringing all parties into mortal conflict rife with deception and unpredictable power shifts. When Judah's younger brother Benji becomes the unwitting victim in the melee, Judah takes it upon himself to exact revenge, no matter the damage inflicted upon himself and those around him. Judah becomes a driven man, blinded by his need for vengeance and questioning everything he thought he believed in. With Ramey at his side, Judah is forced to take on both the Scorpions and Sister Tulah as he struggles to do the right thing in a world full of wrongs.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH TOM PITTS


Tom Pitts author of American Static and more answers a few questions for me......


Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job?

Good Lord, no. I work at a moving company during the day. Not moving stuff though. I’m just the office guy. Finding the time to write is a constant struggle. If I ever get stuck with eight hours a day that I can write, the world better watch out. 

I’ve just recently finished American Static, how long did this one take from the initial idea and conception to the completion of the book? Did the end result match any expectations you may have had at the start of the process?


Match? I’d say it exceeded my expectations. I started with a very rough idea and ran with it. The story went much farther than I ever thought it could. I think it took about a year from the first sentence I laid down.

I believe prior to American Static, you’ve had three previous works released – Piggyback (2012), Hustle (2014) and Knuckleball (2015); do you have a favourite of the four?


Definitely my latest, 101. But of the published works, I guess I’d say Hustle. There’s a visceral quality in that novel people respond to. I’m not sure whether it’s the gay prostitution or the heavy drug use, but folks love that book. 

Is there one in particular you would press into the hands of a new reader?


Probably Hustle, but I’m always partial to the latest and greatest. I think American Static is a better novel than Hustle, and the one I just finished writing, 101, is better than them both. But, hey, I’m partial. 

All four have San Francisco as the backdrop, your hometown? San Franciscan born and bred?


I was actually born in Canada. I moved to San Francisco when I was 17, way back in 1984. So, by California standards, it’s home now.  People always comment on how the city is my canvas, but the truth is, I haven’t really spent any time anywhere else. If I could afford to travel once in a while, it’d probably widen my fictional horizons as well. 

Any plans to spread your writing wings further afield in the future? 


Geographically speaking, my next two novels stretch a little further, but they’re still mired in California. Artistically, yeah, I think I’d like to try something bigger, something greater, but every time I sit down to write, I always seem to revert back to the crime tale. I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


There seems to be a bit of a pattern to your output – Piggyback 100-odd pages, Hustle – 320, Knuckleball – 112, American Static – 330 give or take. Is book 5 something concise or are you breaking the Pitts mould? How the current WIP going? Any hints as to what it’s all about?

My current WIP is a screenplay, so it’d better be 120 pages or I’m not gonna get paid! But as far as the fiction goes, I have two completed novels ready: Coldwater and 101. Both are full-length. I’m not sure which is going to be released first, but one of ‘em is coming out next fall from Down & Out Books. 101 is a crazy tale about the marijuana industry right on the cusp of legalization and Coldwater is about a young couple in Sacramento who have a crew of squatters living across the street—except they’re not squatters, they’re something much more ominous. Sort of a suburban horror story without any ghosts or monsters.

Do you have a typical writing schedule?            
                                     
For years I kept the same schedule. I worked a terrible graveyard shift. I’d get home at 8am, wake up at 2pm, then write from 6 to 10. Then it’d be back to work at midnight. People would marvel at how I managed to keep it up. But now that I have a regular day gig, finding those hours is harder than ever. I acted like writing was a great triumph over adversity, but the truth is that it’s much more difficult to have a day job and write. 

Does your approach to writing change dependent on what piece of work you are crafting?


I don’t think so. It’s always about sitting down and getting the work done. I guess the biggest difference is the high is over too quick when I work on a shorter piece. 

In addition to the novellas and the novels, you’ve had a fair few short stories dotted around in anthologies. How different is the process for a short story versus a 100-odd page tale versus a work three times that in length?


Not really, it’s sit down and try to complete a scene. That’s the way I do it, one scene at a time. At least that’s the way I try. During this past year I’ve been hard at work adapting a screenplay from Hustle, and that is truly a different animal. It’s completely disrupted my writing discipline. 

Do you plot in detail or sketch, or is it all making shit up as you go along?


No plotting. For me, that’s the magic. That’s what I love. When I can sit down at the keyboard and truly say, “I wonder what’s going to happen to the characters today?”


Do you know the outcome before you settle down to write?

No, I think knowing forces you to stick with a certain path, and I need to have all paths open to me. I simple choice for a character can have a ripple effect on a plot, so why limit your choices? 

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?


I’m not sure you’d call ‘em gems. There’s a reason they’re stuck in the drawer.


What are the last five books you’ve read?


Hmmn … Let’s see. Right now I’m reading The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans’s biography about running Paramount Studios. Before that it was Season of the Witch by David Talbot—highly recommended. Dillo, by Max Sheridan, Smack, by Richard Lange, and She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper. 








Is there any one book you wish you had written?

I don’t know if I wish I could have written it, but Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy always makes me wonder how ANY mortal could have written such a book.


What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

Wheelman. Small Crimes. I like the smaller crime flicks without a ton of flash. I liked Wheelman because of the experimental style of filming only in the car—very arty. And I loved how the protagonist in Small Crimes was so very unlikeable. That’s something that rings true with criminals, but you don’t see enough of in movies. 




TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Pitts household?

I pretty much roll with whatever the wife is watching, which means I get pulled down the rabbit-hole with everything from cooking competitions to whatever the series of the moment is. The ability to binge-watch a series has turned the TV experience into something much more akin to a reading a novel. A grand overarching story you can pick up and enjoy at your own speed. This year, I loved The Deuce, Ozark, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, American Gods, I’m Dying Up Here. There’s no end to them, really. 



---------------------------------------------------
Many thanks to Tom for his time.

American Static was on the blog the other day - here.

You can catch up with Tom Pitts at these haunts