Saturday, 31 May 2014

MAY FILMS AND TV

There were some decent films and a bit of TV enjoyed during May.

MUD - Matthew McConaughey is an actor who I enjoy watching. I saw the trailer for this last year and liked the look of it. My son thought it looked awful. After watching it, I wouldn't rush to see a repeat or be inclined to own a copy. I wouldn't go so far as to say my son's instincts were right but in truth it's not the best film I've ever seen in my life. A bit slow in a lot of places.







Ever After: A Cinderella Story - Drew Barrymore is one of my favourite female actresses. There's something about her that comes across as refreshingly normal, which for all I know could be a carefully constructed anti-Diva persona that she has cunningly adopted to fool me. I do like her though, particularly in her two collaborations with Adam Sandler, who is someone else I have fun watching. The Wedding Singer and Fifty First Dates are films I never tire of.

Anyway the Cinderella film was repeated on TV recently and though I have seen it before, you can never have too much Drew in your life!






The Lincoln Lawyer - Matthew McConaughey again and in a much better film than Mud. I recorded this maybe 3 months ago and only just got around to watching it this week. I was vaguely familiar with the character - lawyer, Mickey Haller having read this first as a Michael Connelly book, along with most of his other Haller themed stories. It was long enough ago that I couldn't actually remember the plot or outcome, only going.......oh yeah..... as it all played out on screen in front of me.



X-Men: Days of Future Past. Currently showing in cinemas world-wide, my wife and daughters fancied this. So last Saturday evening we ignored the attractions of the Champions League Final on TV and went to Milton Keynes for a pre-cinema meal which was enjoyable as I got the chance to relax my dietary intake for an evening; before rolling up to a 90% empty cinema for the main event. Enjoyable and entertaining, decent effects and I like a bit of James McAvoy anyway. Only downside was that I think someone left the doors open as it was absolutely freezing in the theatre. We could have done with a few more attendees as we could have huddled together for warmth. I don't think I could have been colder if I had somehow been able to watch it from the street, whilst on my way home from the swimming pool after having my car and all my clothes stolen.




More X-Men: First Class. Well having decided on our cinema trip on the Saturday, we thought we had better watch the earlier film for some context, so the night before we watched this one on the small screen. Ok and a similar reaction to the one above. Decent effects and entertaining enough. I'm not sufficiently minded to have my wife run me up a Wolverine costume on her sowing machine, so I can indulge a secret repressed fantasy of mine to cavort around the back garden displaying my super powers to the neighbours.



NEDS - a British film from a couple of years ago, or Scottish if you're feeling parochial. Non-Educated DelinquentS would give it more context. A tale set in early 70's Glasgow, a swotty schoolboy, with an alcoholic, wife-beating father and a gang-leader older brother, gradually goes off the rails and embraces the gang culture. Unfortunately this one has only been half-watched as time didn't allow us to finish what we had started. I was enjoying this and will get back to it in the next day or so. Peter Mullan has a minor role and also directs, our main man Conor McCarron stars as John McGill. Some of the Glaswegian dialect was difficult to comprehend particularly the banter when the young gang members were doing their thing.





John Simm
Prey - UK TV starring John Simm. Simm is another actor who is compellingly watchable. Prey was a 3 part mini TV series/drama involving him as a man on the run after being accused of murdering his wife and one of his sons. Superbly acted and compelling viewing. Reviews said...."grittily British with compulsive appeal" and an "unabated misery-fest" ......... which sums it up nicely. The main detective in charge of pursuing the hapless Mr Simm was superb and probably stole the show - Rosie Cavaliero.




Rosie Cavaliero



Friday, 30 May 2014

MAY ADDITIONS TO THE LIBRARY......SOME OF AT LEAST

Well I was going along quite merrily during the month of May, until about halfway through when my resolve cracked and I had a bit of a splurge for my kindle.

After that things settled down again, until an e-mail from 280 Steps advised me of some of their forthcoming titles, which included a re-issue of a Scottish crime author from the 60's and 70's - Hugh C. Rae and The Shooting Gallery. After a bit of web browsing and some help from Brian Greene at Criminal Element, I dug out some information on Mr Rae and some of his intriguing and gritty crime books from back in the day. Several were available cheaply so it would have been remiss of me not to have taken things that one step further.

Whilst on the Criminal Element site, I was looking at another post by Brian which concerned Adam Kennedy's The Domino Principle - a lost classic of noir apparently. Well I've got to have some of that, so a hop and a skip over to Amazon and another few positive reviews, particularly from Clifford - here. Bang the wallet's back out again! Roll on cold war, conspiracy, paranoia and a "perfect mystery/thriller" awaits me.

There was a movie adaptation of this with author collaboration and starring Mickey Rourke and Gene Hackman - The Domino Killings. The film isn't that great apparently and there was a second book called The Domino Vendetta which also features Roy Foster written in about 1985 - something I'll probably feel compelled to buy as well.

Having temporarily scratched the itch, I'm not making any rash promises for June.

Some of the acquisitions were....

1970 assassination novel.

Short story compilation

Latest 280 Steps offering

More short stories

Essex crime with a psychic!

Great cover and title.
  
First novel from Out of the Gutter editor

Les likes it - good enough for me!

Scottish crime.

More Scottish crime.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

TERRY IRVING - COURIER

Synopsis/blurb……….

Get ready for the ride of your life…
It’s 1972. The Watergate scandal has Washington on edge. Rick Putnam, a Vietnam veteran and motorcycle courier for one of the capital’s leading television stations, is trying to get his life back together after his nightmarish ordeal in the war. But when Rick picks up film from a news crew interviewing a government worker with a hot story, his life begins to unravel as everyone involved in the story dies within hours of the interview and Rick realizes he is the next target.
Before Twitter and Facebook, the fastest way get a story on the news was on a BMW R50/2 motorbike. It was also the fastest way to get killed…
Courier is a political conspiracy thriller as exciting as Three Days of the Condor, with a lead as cool as Easy Rider, all set in Nixon-era Washington.
Written by a four-time Emmy award-winning writer and producer, this is a killer blend of action and surprise twists, certain to appeal to fans of James Ellroy and Dennis Lehane.
Courier is Terry Irving’s debut novel. I was attracted to it on Net Galley because of the striking cover and the premise of a Vietnam veteran, not long back from his war and he’s landed slap bang in the middle of a conspiracy and cover-up in Washington, 1972. Though we have mention of Watergate and Nixon, our story deals with other shenanigans here.
We have our troubled veteran, Rick Putnam, suffering from PTSD and surviving on 3 hours sleep as he re-visits nightly his war and experiences in Ia Drang. His escape from his nightmares comes in the form of late night, pedal to metal motorcycle rides around DC. His day job as a courier for a TV station, brings him into the firing line when a whistle-blower and the news crew he talked too all die in simultaneous “accidents.” The film of the exposĂ© goes missing and Putnam, who was seen receiving the back-up film is targeted. Putnam’s training and “spidey sense” enables him to escape the first “accident” planned for him.
Unwilling to trust too much in coincidence, Putnam with the help of his “geeky” computer-savvy housemates seeks to unravel the conspiracy. With a relentless adversary, himself a veteran from the Vietnam-US conflict, we have continued attempts on Rick’s life and those who he entrusts with his knowledge.
Courier is an interesting tale, well told. I’m a bit too young to recall first-hand the presidency of Richard Nixon and his subsequent resignation and the tumultuous time and place the US capital must have been in the early 70’s, but Irving does a great job is placing the reader there.
Washington, Watergate, Vietnam, motorbikes, conspiracies, veterans, Ia Drang, elections, campaign contributions, investigative journalism, dark arts, cover-ups, TV reporting, (covert) homosexuality, Native American issues, the BIA, reservations, motorcycle gangs, gay bars, Vietnamese restaurants and cuisine,  explosions, arson, car accidents, thugs for hire, pursuit, murder……. and more all whipped up together to provide a heady cocktail.
Decent characters that are well-fleshed out, with a sympathetic main lead and an interesting bunch of support characters. Slight criticism in that I would have liked to have seen more of our adversary, though we do get some of his history, it was his present I would have liked to have seen greater depth to, in respect of who was pulling his strings. There’s also a bit of love interest in the guise of a politicised Native American girl, which added another layer and dimension to the mix.
The author I would guess has a passion for motorbikes as he imparts a fair bit of knowledge into the mechanics and behaviour of a bike being ridden at the edge of its limits. There’s a fine balance between too much technical stuff – cue snooze-fest and just enough to prove you know what you’re talking about and the author manages to strike the right balance here, as well.      
Overall verdict – 4 from 5. The fact that Irving gets it all done and dusted in about 220 pages is another tick in the box from me.
Terry Irving’s blog/website is here.  

I accessed this one via Net Galley.
------------------------------------------------------------
* My 400th blog post, since I started back on 16th May 2012.
My Book Trivia was my first. I can't say anything has changed in two years, only the figure is maybe 1000 more!

2 BY CHAD TAYLOR

Another author here that I haven’t yet tried, though I hope to rectify this later this year, always assuming I ever start doing some reading towards my challenges I set for myself.  

Taylor is a New Zealand author of 4 or 
5 novels and a collection of short stories.

His website is here.










Urban noir or entropy noir…….. whatever that is, I suppose I’ll find out if I pull my finger out and read them!

I suppose I'm anticipating something other than a straightforward crime fiction novel. It's nice to go off page sometimes. 





His other books interest me also - Shirker, Pack of Lies and Heaven, though for now, I will exercise some restraint and see how these go first.






Electric

It's the middle of February and all over Auckland the lights are going out.
Samuel Usher is a data-retrieval specialist: a broken man working on broken machines. Sam's drinking too much, taking too many drugs - trying to get by. Until he meets Candy and Jules, two drifting mathematicians, each after a Holy Grail - the one perfect theory that will make their worlds complete. After five years together, neither is getting any closer to their goal.
As for Sam - he just wants Candy. And for a while, it looks as if he may have her. Then Jules is found in a coma, and Candy disappears. All Sam's left with is a strange list of numbers and three words: ANYWAY FREEDOM GOODBYE.
Sam's pursuit of the truth will lead him into an underworld of chaos and turbulence, where numbers rule and love and friendship collide.



Departure Lounge

"Entropy noir. . . . The hypnotic pull lies in the zigzag dance of its forlorn characters, casting a murky, uneasy sense of doom."The Guardian

A young woman mysteriously disappears. The lives of those she has left behind family, acquaintances and strangers intrigued by her disappearance intersect to form a captivating latticework of odd coincidences and surprising twists of fate. Urban noir at its stylish and intelligent best.

Chad Taylor lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand. He is the author of one collection of short stories and four previous novels. His second novel, Heaven, was made into a feature film by Miramax.




Thursday, 22 May 2014

R.C. O'LEARY - HALLWAYS IN THE NIGHT

Synopsis/blurb……

Looking for a summer read? The Verdict is in:

"R.C. O'Leary's legal thriller Hallways in the Night is a great read."


Tampa Tribune: "this legal thriller is certainly hard to put down."

BookStory: "An edge of the seat legal battle. Unputdownable."

MenReadingBooks: "the courtroom scenes crackle....the setting and dialogue sing with pure authenticity."
_____________________________________________________________

When a veteran cop attempts to arrest baseball's home run king, one of them ends up on trial and the other ends up dead.

A page-turner from start to finish, Hallways in the Night will take you on a journey from inner city Atlanta to the upper echelons of the State's power structure where back room deals are made in pursuit of the kind of justice that only money can buy.

As the trial date gets closer, the stakes will get bigger in a case where nobody can afford to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Another new author for me and another self-published book again and another excellent read. I think I enjoy legalistic crime fiction when I allow myself to read it, which is not too often. Note to self …..read more of these books, you know you like them!

With the exception of the odd John Grisham and Paul Levine book over the years, plus another under-rated author – A.W. Gray and his Bino – Texan lawyer books, I haven’t dipped too much into this area of fiction. That’s a shame because tense court scenes when done well can be gripping and absorbing…….the expert on the stand, expostulating all manner of theories to put our man on the spot and the defence lawyer wading in and dismantling and belittling the hired gun whilst redressing the balance of probabilities in the mind-set of the jury……what’s not to like?

Here in Hallways we have a cop, Dave Mackno put on the stand by Maurice Bass, an ambitious prosecutor who has eyes on a political career. An altercation with celebrated Atlanta baseball star, Remo Centrella ends up with our home-run king – dead and our veteran cop and defendant, Dave Mackno in hospital with life threatening injuries.

Mackno is initially cleared by Internal Affairs who investigate the shooting, but with some political shenanigans behind the scenes involving Ray Manning, the owner of the baseball team - the Atlanta Barons, that Remo starred for and the State Governor, Frank Durkin after Manning’s insurance company declined to pay out on the near $50 million policy on Centrella’s life as the killing had been ruled as self-defence; Bass is pressured/bribed/sweetened to prosecute Mackno.

Great trial scenes and court-room confrontations follow, but we also get more of the history of our combatants. Bass and his identity issues as a black man adopted by a white family. Manning and his wives and children and troubled business interests and Mackno – his career as a decent cop, his drinking, his partner and the strength of his marriage and the unwavering support of his wife.

In the course of this enjoyable book, we encounter the following………baseball, steroids, money, oil, celebrity, wealth, cops, fights, death, marriage, affairs, big business, politicians, State Governors, insurance, banks, loans, credit issues, lawyers, investigations, wives and ex-wives, family history, adoption, racial issues, press, publicity, public opinion, TV, trial, judge, jury, evidence, witnesses, cross-examination, perjury, confrontation, verdict, aftermath and conclusion.  

O’Leary is currently penning a follow-up to this his debut and it’s something I will be looking forward to reading in the future. If I can find out where he hails from, I may be able to count this as an entry in my US State Reading Challenge, something which has stuttered of late.

His website and blog is here.

May has been a good month for the quality of books I have read so far, if not the numbers.

Another 5 from 5

Thanks to the author for my copy.


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

2 BY MICK SCULLY



Scully isn't an author that I know too much about to be honest. His books are set in Birmingham, UK where he works and lives. A few bits and pieces can be found on the internet about him - he's apparently worked as an acupuncturist for about 10 years and he has conducted non-religious funeral ceremonies amongst other things.











When I started my journeys into crime fiction, I never wanted to read books set in the UK. I always wanted to be transplanted elsewhere - usually the US, which has remained my favourite setting over the years. That said, my tastes have evolved as the realisation dawned on me that I was cutting myself off from some great books and authors. Hopefully when I get around to reading these I can add Scully to that list of UK favourites.



If the blurb by John Harvey is to be believed, there's a bit of low, down dirt and darkness in these.

From his photo, he looks like he has a tale or two to tell!















Little Moscow

The Little Moscow, a shady basement bar at the side of the Grand Union canal in Birmingham, stamping ground for thieves, gangsters and conmen - plus some of the city's more glamorous creatures. Perhaps the nastiest Birmingham, England, export since Ozzie Osbourne and Black Sabath, this collection of linked stories centers on a world of petty crimes and hard-nosed punishments that invariable seem to be plotted in a dive called Little Moscow. Scully does a credible job of spiriting readers inside the minds of incredible characters, including Marlene Dietrich, two artists slavishly devoted to Andy Warhol, and a tattooist who claims a sexual attraction to penguines and giraffes. 'We all live in different worlds - side by side, but different worlds,' one character muses. 'And we know nothing of each other.' Giving readers a glimpse behind those veils is one of the short story's core missions, and Scully fulfills it so well that psychological revelations obviate the need for tricky plot twists. If it appears someone's set to die or go to jail or otherwise get what's coming to him, that's generally how it turns out. But the endings prove all the more satisfying for their cold logic and lack of misdirection. And when Scully does pull a hidden card from his sleeve, it falls with added impact.""--Booklist.


The Norway Room

Meet Ash, thirteen years old, saying goodbye to his father before he goes to serve a stretch in prison. His dad's friend Kieran helps get rid of social services and then school's out for ever. But when his father's house begins to fill with stolen goods and armed gangsters, it's easy for Ash to get into trouble. When Kieran enlists him on a job, an attempted takeover of the Norway Room club, it goes disastrously wrong. Alone in a dangerous city, Ash is forced to hide out on the Mendy Estate, in the towers and takeaways, in the back rooms where the real work of the city is planned. Meanwhile, an ex-copper working as a bouncer for the city's busiest club gets caught in the middle of a hostile takeover and is tempted towards joining the criminal underworld. And a trained Chinese killer falls in love with his target. As these narratives converge in a spectacular finale, who would bet against born survivor Ash, alone in the city, to do the impossible and stay alive?


Saturday, 17 May 2014

A.E. GREYSTONE - A PROSPECT OF DEATH


Synopsis/blurb………..

Set in small town America, A Prospect of Death presents a Backwoods narrative of life in a place which outwardly seems like any other. The main character, Virgil, draws together eight unique characters and tells us how, over the course of several years, their lives knitted together through chance and coincidence and ultimately led to a tragic incident which changed them all forever.

I was browsing on Amazon about a month ago and if you are familiar with the site, you’ll know that when you look at a book, below it there’s usually a cache of other books that may be of interest to you. I can’t remember what I was looking at, but this little number popped up below. I had a look at the description which seemed intriguing. Scrolled down to see if there were any reviews, which there weren’t; popped over to Amazon.com to check there – no reviews. Went onto to Goodreads site to check – no reviews and no ratings there either.
Author photo

Googled the book, googled the author, clicked the author profile on Amazon…….all drew a blank. Well totally fascinated by the fact that a book which has been available since July of last year, doesn’t seem to have provoked a reaction from anyone - friends or family of the author haven’t supported it - I did what any self-respecting reader would do……..I bought it.


Ok there are formatting issues with how the book is presented. We jump from scene to scene and character to character without any discernable break in the text that indicates chapter ends, switches of POV etc…..but this would be a minor gripe to be honest and once you kind of expect this you can re-adjust your reading compass and quickly re-establish your bearings when it occurs.

Well then what was the verdict?  Wow, I’m conflicted by this one. It’s a simple tale of a small town in America and how certain of the townsfolk are living their lives. We see the relationships between family members – husbands and wives, mother and daughters and all the emotions that are on display; the hurts caused after casual cruelties both mental and physical are inflicted. We have loneliness and abandonment in some instances and love and nurturing and friendships and loyalty in other relationships.

Part of our cast of characters includes a doctor……..I’m still not sure about him to be truthful and a pair of feral twins that terrorise their parents and the townsfolk as a matter of routine.

Our tale unfolds and we learn some of the histories of our cast and we share in their aspirations and dreams for the future, as we slowly meander towards an event that will change everyone’s destiny.

The climax to this event and its unfolding both horrified and appalled me. Hence my conflicting reaction………I’m still unsure what I feel as the author forced me to reconsider my views on how I felt about some of the characters within the book.   

Entertaining and interesting, ultimately disturbing and uncomfortable.

I would absolutely love to hear what anyone else feels about this one, I have to assume I’m not the only person who has read this, but you never know!

It’s less than a pound on Amazon UK and less than a dollar-fifty on Amazon US, if anyone feels so inclined to give this a shot. (163 pages long) Even if you don’t get past the first 10 pages and hate it….. I’d like to hear about it.

5 from 5 ...... had me asking myself questions, I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer to.


Amazon UK purchase.  


Thursday, 15 May 2014

2 BY WALLACE STROBY

Another two from the stacks; this time Wallace Stroby. Stroby is the author of six books in total; a two book series (Harry Rane), a three book series (Crissa Stone) and a standalone novel.


Gone Til November is the standalone and Cold Shot is the first Crissa Stone book. Like Brad Smith last week, his titles cry out to me to be read – The Barbed-Wire Kiss, The Heartbreak Lounge, Kings of Midnight and Shoot the Woman First are his others.








Stroby has won awards for his journalism and has previously been a newspaper editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. New Jersey is where he hails from and I have provisionally pencilled him in for this state on my US State Reading Challenge; something which is currently a very long work in progress.    
  






His books encompass elements that are appealing to me in my reading……….retired cops, criminals, money, drugs, mobsters, friendships, loyalty, shootings, hitmen, vengeance, card games, robberies, prison, career criminals and rogue cops.





Cold Shot to the Heart


Crissa Stone is a pro. She never works close to home, never works with the same crew, and never rushes a job. Those are the rules her mentor and lover taught her. But now he's up for parole and needs some money to help grease the wheels. There's an illegal card game set for a week from now. The take? As much as seven figures. Desperate, Crissa slaps a plan together. It's robbery, not murder. Then one of her crew shoots a player, a man with connections to hitman Eddie the Saint. Recently released from prison, Eddie could use the work, not to mention all that money.





Gone Til November

It's late at night when Florida sheriff's deputy Sara Cross arrives at the scene of a roadside shooting along a deserted highway. Another deputy, Billy Flynn, her former partner, who also happens to be her former lover, has fatally shot a twenty-two-year-old man during what started out as a routine traffic stop, and she's the first to arrive on the scene. He claims that the man pulled a gun, and that when he didn't respond to Billy's commands to drop it, Billy shot him. Billy is clearly upset, shaken up; Sarah sees the gun in the dead man's hand and the bag of illegal weapons in the trunk of his car and believes Billy's actions were justified.

Up north in New Jersey, Mikey-Mike runs a major drug operation and is tightening his hold on the competition, making a deal with a new supplier. Morgan, a middle-aged enforcer for Mikey who's been in the life too long, would like to make one last score, walk away, and retire for good. Mike asks Morgan to head to Florida to find out what's holding up his new deal, and Morgan sees the job as a possibility for his last big payday.

As more details of the roadside shooting emerge with Sara's investigation, and as Morgan follows the trail Mikey lays out for him, the two storylines begin to merge into a much darker, more menacing scenario than either Morgan or Sara imagined. Sara, in order to protect herself and her son, must follow the truth no matter where it leads.

Acclaimed crime writer Wallace Stroby delivers a gripping novel that is part modern noir, 


CLAIRE DUFFY - IDENTITY PART ONE


Synopsis/blurb……

Can we ever escape the past?
A psychologist is determined to exorcise the demons of her past by working undercover as bait for a serial killer terrorizing Stockholm. 

Identity – Part 1 is a serialised novel which was released by the author on her blog, a chapter a day over a number of weeks back in the early part of the year. Despite my best intentions of storing up the posts and reading a week’s worth at a time, I ended up saving and printing each episode and studiously ignoring them until Claire popped up a week or so ago and advised Part 2 would be on its way in a month or so.

Well I started in earnest a week or so ago and read the first 5 chapters from a full set of 50-odd one morning. Took a breather for a few days then whilst I was waiting in my car for my daughter to get her nails done the other evening,  blasted through from chapters 6 to 35, until nails were duly completed. When I got home, about 7pm, all Hank Marvin – I rushed my tea, eager to get back into things and finish, only to realise that my organisational and filing skills have failed massively. I couldn’t find chapters 36 and 37, so decided to re-visit Claire’s blog to read online, only she’s taken the bugger down with the exception of the first 4 chapters. Annoyed and irritated beyond belief, I sloped off to bed, before trying again the following morning. Fortunately the whole shebang has been added to Amazon UK. So digging deep into my pocket money and duly breaking the book embargo, I stumped up the £1.02 fee and got the remainder read that morning.

Identity is cleverly presented. We have the discovery of a murdered girl. We follow the investigative team of 3 officers, all of whom seem to be keeping secrets from each other. The belief is that whilst we are only investigating one murder, there are other recent disappearances that could be linked. Gradually we are introduced to a bigger cast of characters, some of whose roles are ambiguous…. are they helping the investigation, or are they suspects and perhaps responsible for the murder? Duffy releases little nuggets at a time, some of which enlightened me, some of which muddied the waters and stirred the pot rearranging my thoughts on how I thought things were playing out.

By the time I reached the end, I was a little more enlightened and a bit wiser, without there being a resolution to our case. Certain events and behaviours are still murky and I’m confused over a couple of character motivations, so a more measured reading may be in order……. or alternately Identity Part 2 proves the clincher.
Claire has an addictive, easy style of writing which I’m looking forward to reconnecting with. She has previously released another blog-book called Life is Swede, which I also purchased and am looking forward to at some point.


She blogs here at thegrassisdancing and has a separate Identity page here.

Interesting and engaging, as well as confusing and frustrating, which in turn made it a bit more enjoyable.

4 from 5


Acquired from Amazon UK, sort of.    

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

DANIEL PEMBREY - THE HARBOUR MASTER

Synopsis/blurb……..

Maverick cop Henk van der Pol is thinking about retirement when he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour. His detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his case. But Henk’s bigger challenge is deciding who his friends are – not to mention a vicious street pimp who is threatening Henk’s own family. As his search for the killer of the woman in Amsterdam Harbour takes him into a corrupt world of politics and power, Henk finds himself facing some murky moral choices. 

The Harbour Master delivers for Amsterdam what fans of Scandinavian crime fiction have come to love: a fascinating light shone on the dark side of a famously liberal society, combining vivid characterisation with ice-cold suspense. 

This was my first taste of English author Pembrey’s work, though I do have his novel – The Woman Who Stopped Traffic, sitting on my kindle.

The Harbour Master is a 100-odd page novella set in Amsterdam, somewhere I haven’t yet visited on my reading travelling. Pembrey’s tale was fast-paced and interesting.

We had a 54 year old cop being side-lined and pushed out by his superiors as they seek to concentrate resources on cases that attract decent publicity that plays well in the media for their political masters. Henk is conflicted whether to resist or give in and depart quietly. When he’s sidelined after showing an interest in the body in the harbour case, he decides to resist.

His wife seems to be facing similar difficulties in her chosen profession of journalism. His daughter is at university and a degree of separation and misunderstanding is an element within the family dynamic. This was an interesting tangent to the main drive of the narrative, but it helped put a bit of flesh on the bones, without detracting from the pace of the investigation.

The further Henk delved into the case, the closer his family came into danger.

Amsterdam, canals, Red Light District, prostitutes, pimps, Hungarian gangs, people trafficking, local politicians, corruption, influence, police resources, media, murder, death, tattoos, mis-trust, family, retirement and more.

I’m not going to pretend this was the best book I have ever read, but it did the job and ticked enough boxes to have me looking forward to his longer treatment.

We had enough depth to our main cop character - Henk without getting bogged down with unnecessary fluff. The plot moved quickly and held my interest – I’ve not come across Hungarian gangsters before in either my fictional reading or in following European news in general – so I’m unsure if they are an author invention or a real problem, maybe slightly less bothersome than the Russian mafia. I’m minded enough to find out though.

Our setting, Amsterdam was a first for me in a crime book setting and it was interestingly portrayed. I doubt that I’ll be rushing to pay a visit sometime soon. I think my previous perception of every building being either a brothel, sex shop or a church was only partially borne out as Pembrey didn’t introduce many churches into his narrative!

All in all – quick and satisfying.

4 from 5

I was sent a file-copy of this by the author in return for an honest review, thanks Daniel!

His website is here if you want to find out more about him and his writing.  


  

Monday, 12 May 2014

ALEXANDER BARON - THE HUMAN KIND


Synopsis/blurb……

Spare and unsentimental, this series of episodes in the life of a platoon as it advances across war-torn Europe is among the most chillingly realistic in any novel of the Second World War, coming as it does from the author's first-hand experiences. It has been described as Baron's best work. The Human Kind is poignant, shocking and bleak - but also full of the soldier's humour, for which Baron has an unerring ear.

A bit of a departure from my usual crime reads, but a book well worth the time invested in it. Baron was an author with a reputation as the greatest British novelist of the last war. He died in 1999 and published about 14 novels in total; with his war trilogy drawing extensively from his experiences as a soldier in the Second World War.     

The three war books are From The City, From The Plough – 1948, There’s No Home – 1950 and The Human Kind – 1953.  I have the other two lying around somewhere in addition to a couple of his 60’s books; The Lowlife and King Dido. The former concerns a gambling man and greyhounds and the London underworld in the 60’s; the latter is set in London pre-World War One and also concerns itself with street crime and gangs and police corruption.

The Human Kind is a collection of 25 short pieces which form a longer narrative following Baron and his platoon through their war. In actual fact we pick up with our narrator as a 16 year old and having just acquired his first bicycle. A group trip to the country and a swim in a river, which ends in a drowning and on his return a close brush with death in the form of a London bus. Escorting a young girl home later - “We were happy. We talked about next weekend, and the next summer holidays, a time that seemed infinitely distant. Life was inexhaustible and death was still beyond our ken.”   

In a later story, Baron discusses his reaction to Dickens and David Copperfield. He had withdrawn from the daily hustle and bustle of his training camp and would hide in the coal store to steal some precious moments reading it. “The book worked on me like a religious conversion.” In conclusion and after the book had done the rounds of the whole mess. “As for me, I shall never forget it, not only for what it taught me about the real character of my comrades, but because it showed me what a novel ought to be. It seems to me that if all the novels of the present century were melted into one, they could not equal in achievement a single book by a writer who can induce in multitudes a miraculous belief in his visions, who uses his power to teach, who can reach across time even to the unlettered, and who can bring them into communion with each other and with him.” I’m half tempted to read it myself one day!

Baron’s tales continue through the war. His training, his friendships, his comrades and postings abroad, encounters with other units both British and foreign and crossing paths with various folk, suffering the hardships of living in war-torn countryside. Landings by sea, air-raids, looting, shock, trauma, mental fatigue, towns, countryside, bars, tanks, brothels, beer, brandy, black markets, dogs, desolation, damp, hunger, cold, rain, interminable waiting, fear, loneliness, desertion, racism, duty and decency…… just a few of the elements of The Human Kind.

Hard to do this book justice in truth. It’s an incredibly personal picture of a seismic event in world history - something far beyond the scope of most of our experiences and recounted without bitterness.   
    
5 from 5

Acquired second hand online a few months ago.

Alexander Baron’s fiction has seen a bit of a renaissance with several of his titles coming back into print in the past 5 or 6 years ago. Worth a look in my opinion.

There’s a link to his Guardian obituary – here.  

Friday, 9 May 2014

2 BY BRAD SMITH

A fairly recent discovery is Brad Smith, a Canadian author who has been praised by Dennis Lehane and likened to Elmore Leonard. Smith has written seven novels to date and no I don’t have them all, only most of them!


Intriguing titles always suck me in and Smith has a few belters in addition to the two books highlighted…….All Hat, Shoot the Dog, Big Man Coming Down the Road, Red Means Run, Crow’s Landing and his debut Rises a Moral Man. 

I asked Brad about his debut as information both on his website and the internet in general is a bit scarce....... "Rises A Moral Man had a print run of 1000 and you’re right…it’s hard to find today. It’s about a young guy who discovers that his background is not what he thought. He travels north to an Indian reservation and becomes involved in a land scheme and a murder."

Never one to hide my ignorance under a bushel, I was unaware of native Canadians, Native Americans or Native Indians in Canada - is there a PC umbrella term for the indigenous people of Canada?

Definitely an author to be read later this year, irrespective of whether or not I undertake a Canadian reading challenge. 

He has worked on the railways both in Canada and abroad and has a varied working history, which I would think has given him great life experience and a source for much detail in his writing.  Farmer, signalman, insulator, truck driver, bartender, schoolteacher (certain lies about his post-secondary education were told to acquire that job), maintenance mechanic, roofer, and so on. He became a carpenter and built custom homes in the Dunnville area. He still works as a carpenter when not writing.

One-Eyed Jacks

At 35, Tommy Cochrane is a washed-up boxer who missed out on a shot at the heavy-weight title and has to hang up his gloves for good when he's diagnosed with an aneurysm. His best friend and former sparring partner, T-Bone Pike, isn't in great shape either as the two of them head to Toronto on a quest for the $5,000 Tommy desperately needs to buy back his grandfather's farm.

In the big city, Tommy and T-Bone encounter an intriguing cast of characters operating on the questionable side of the tracks. Fat Ollie runs the weekly poker game on Quenn Street; Buzz Murdoch gives Tommy a job as a doorman at the Bamboo club; Herm Bell is a sharp kid on a run of luck; and Tony Broad is a small-time hood with big-time ambitions and a seedy sidekick named Billy Callahan. There's also Lee Charles, a sharp, cynical, smart-mouthed torch singer, who happens to be Tommy's ex-girlfriend.

The five grand ultimately becomes available to a number of these people in a number of ways - all at great risk to Tommy and T-Bone.  

Busted Flush

Stuck with a wife he doesn't like, a job he hates, and a rapidly crumbling sense of self-worth, Dock Bass could use some good news.


So when he learns that he's inherited an ancient house from a deceased relative he never knew existed, he is ready to make a move. Even better, the old place turns out to be a treasure trove of Civil War memorabilia. But as the onslaught of collectors, history buffs, and media hounds - including an easy-on-the-eyes television reporter - descends, Dock needs every stubborn and independent bone in his body to fight of the hustlers, opportunists, and scam artists.


280 Steps have recently released One-Eyed Jacks as an e-book around now.
(Other publications to come include another screwball  novel from Rob Kitchin at some point.)