Thursday, 30 October 2014

EDGAR WALLACE - WHEN THE GANGS CAME TO LONDON (1932)


Synopsis/blurb…….

Tough, ruthless gangsters from Chicago descend on London and for two weeks their violent campaign of murder and intimidation holds the city in a crushing grip of fear. Scotland Yard has never seen such an onslaught. When a lull ensues, Captain Jiggs Allerman of the Chicago Detective Bureau suspects the rival gangs of forming an uneasy alliance. Suddenly a shot rings through the House of Commons - unleashing an outburst of terror even more bloody.

Two rival gangs from Chicago coming to London and competing to blackmail rich men into paying up to prevent being killed. Scotland Yard is helped by Jiggs, a captain from the Chicago detective bureau... old school Hollywood style gangsters' story, from the master of the genre Edgar Wallace.

A vintage mystery read with this 1932 book from prolific UK author Edgar Wallace. One of his publishers claimed that at one time (20’s or 30’s) a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. He died 1932, while working on the screenplay for the film King Kong and after having penned over 170 novels. Apparently he dictated his books onto a wax cylinder (the Dictaphone of the day) and his secretaries typed up the narrative later, before he shipped it directly on to his publisher afterwards. A lot of his books were created during a three day period and help explain his prolific output.

Enjoyable enough with a fast moving plot concerning rival US gangs and their efforts at extorting money from the rich and lofty in London. By chance we have a Chicago Police Detective in town. Our Captain Allerman is all too familiar with the villains having crossed paths with them more than once stateside. In tandem with Terry Weston of the Yard, he anticipates their every move and whilst able to avoid some bloodshed is impotent to prevent the competing gangs forming an alliance and ratcheting up the ante. Unless he’s given carte blanche and the mild and meek powers that be endorse a policy of meeting fire with fire, London is set to become a gangster battleground with an American flavour.

Wallace adds some interesting characters to the mix, notably a young typist, Lesley Ranger who inadvertently becomes involved at nearly every turn. There’s an interesting dynamic at play with her and Weston, as well as one of our suspected crime lords. Our first introduction to Miss Ranger is when our first murder victim interviews her for a position.

“You left your last employment because the hours were too long?”

“I left my last employment because the manager made love to me, and he was the last man in the world I wanted to be made love to by.”

“Splendid,” he said sarcastically.

A charming attitude on display – a product of the period or maybe an indication of Wallace’s attitude towards females in general? Hard to say, this being my first read of the author. In fairness, throughout the rest of the book Lesley is portrayed as resourceful, intelligent and perceptive, but for me it was the most awkward reading moment.

3 from 5

Acquired earlier this month from Amazon UK at under a pound for Kindle.

I have another recent addition waiting on the shelves – The Calendar. Not rushing headlong to read it, but conversely not shuffling it to the bottom of the stacks either.


I selected this read as part of Rich’s October monthly meme for 1932 over at Past Offences blog. Click here to see what others have been enjoying.

JAMES REASONER - THE MAN IN THE MOON


Synopsis/blurb….

Markham is a private detective, but instead of a client he has a personal stake in this case. He's the one who finds the two kids wandering along a desert highway in the middle of the night. Their father is missing, and Markham's efforts to discover the man's fate draw him into a dark web of crime, hate . . . and murder.

THE MAN IN THE MOON is a 10,000 word novella from legendary author James Reasoner. It originally appeared in the April 1980 issue of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE and is one of several stories about Markham, a classic Southern California private eye.

I read and enjoyed a couple of James Reasoner’s short novels last year – Tractor Girl (review link here) and Dust Devils (here), with one other – Texas Wind sitting neglected on the pile. I had kind of forgotten about Reasoner until my good blog-friend, Prashant read and excellently reviewed this short PI story a few weeks ago (here).   

I’m a big fan of the PI in crime fiction, preferring this form of investigator over more formal police procedurals. I think the one man thing has more potential for interesting conflicts with authority when the two cross paths. Slightly less believable sometimes and the stories can be a stretch sometimes, but hey - I like what I like.

On this occasion, Markham after finding two abandoned children out on the highway and having performed his duties as a concerned citizen; stays around and without any opposition from the local law follows his nose and gets to the bottom of the mystery.

Reasoner crams a lot into this piece and whilst I’m not exactly reaching for my wallet right now – I’d be interested in looking at the other couple of Markham stories available on Amazon for less than a pound sometime in the future.

Short and satisfying and another 4 from 5

Reasoner has written about 150 novels and many short stories. His website is here and his blog is here.


Bought recently on Amazon.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH BRIAN STODDART

Brian Stoddart, author of the pretty amazing debut novel - A Madras Miasma, kindly took his turn answering a few questions from myself.



I enjoyed his book earlier in October and it was a dead cert shoe-in for my pick of the month, until the equally excellent A Shelter of Others by Charles Dodd White crossed my sweaty palms. An honourable draw has been declared and the supreme accolade, second only to the Man Booker of Col's Criminal Library Pick of the Month for October will be shared.

My review of A Madras Miasma is here.



I was gloriously ignorant of the fact that Brian has his own website until I did a bit of browsing - you can visit him here. He also has a Twitter presence - @BrianStoddart

And it would be remiss of me not to point you in the direction of his publisher - Crime Wave Press - publishers with a mainly Asian slant on crime fiction. Catch them here.



Here we go.......and thanks to Brian for his time,

 What’s the day job?


These days, international consultancy on higher education reform, and that has taken me to Syria, Jordan, Lao and Cambodia, among others. Before that, I was a university researcher and teacher and, later a senior executive. That work took me all over the world and gave me the chance to watch a lot of different cultures in action.

I have spent an hour or so stalking you around the internet. You have about a dozen or so non-fiction books to your name on various subjects; sport, especially cricket, something on the British Raj in India and (ignoring a few), a book on Syria which may or may not pre-date the Arab Spring.

Yes, the book on Damascus tells of my experiences living in the Old City for several months right up to the eve of what is now the Syrian crisis. That won a couple of awards for creative non-fiction, and was an important step towards writing the fiction. So, too, was the biography of a fascinating member of the India Civil Service, a book that built on earlier research on India that permeates the Le Fanu books. The sport work was part of my broad social history interest, especially in the old British Empire in which India was at the heart of development. All that work taught me how to write for and think about different audiences, how to use research, how to tell the stories, and how to focus interest.

A Madras Miasma is your first published fiction, was this your first serious attempt at a novel?

Strangely enough, yes. I had long thought I could not write fiction, but as I branched into new areas of writing I began to reassess that view, and began to think how I might write crime fiction especially, because that genre has long been my fiction of choice. The background in history as a profession, and in India as an area of interest both came together. So I sat down with some ideas, a context, a basic story line and set out to write the book, which turned into A Madras Miasma. For me it was telling stories in a different way, and viewed that way the "writing fiction" challenge was reduced. A reasonable confidence in knowing the locale, the context and the history gave a great platform on which to write a story.

Presumably your background was helpful in research for the novel, as a reader though I’m curious how you established the setting, can you offer a few pointers on the process please?

I love what I call "crime and place" writing, and Madras now called Chennai seemed like a great choice given the centrality of India to the world development now, and its importance to the Empire. Being seen as less important to the Raj than other major cities also gave Madras more of an atmosphere. That allowed me to recall a city that I have spent time in over many years, and I did go back for a spell there while I was writing the book, trying to see the place in a new light. The history that I knew from the 1920s gave a great backdrop, and so did the characters I had discovered through the research, because their interactions allowed for many ideas that I used. The colour and sense and tempo of the city really helped fire up the contours of the story line and the characters. The backbone of that city is still there, and ready to be traced even more, so more books on the way.

Have you always written fiction or is this a recent departure for you? What inspired you to cross-over?

Well, amazingly, I had written almost no fiction at all. I won third prize for a poem published at school, but that was about it. The cross-over was really a result of process over time, the realisation that I could write something different and something creative that would at the same time perhaps entertain other people. It was also because in doing the research on the British in Madras, I realised the power of characters and personalities that sometimes never got into the history - the crime fiction allowed me to do that.

Are there any unpublished gems in the bottom drawer?

No, nothing at all, apart from the new one, and the ideas for the third Le Fanu

From start to finish how long did A Madras Miasma take from conception to completion?

It spread over about a year from start to submission. I began writing it while on assignment in Cambodia, so the expat environment help stimulate the thinking. The full draft took about four months, the subsequent drafts about the same, and then Crime Wave Press did the rest.

How easy was it to find a publisher for the book? A lot of authors I have read in the past year or so, have had to take the self-publishing route.

Like everyone else, it was not easy. I shopped the book to agents and publishers while I was busy writing, and got no joy there. One great thing was entering the book in the Crimefest Debut Dagger for the CWA, and pitching it to some great agents who were really positive and helpful. That sent me back to a rewrite, and then I found Crime Wave Press who were looking for Asian-based crime fiction. Luckily Tom and Hans liked the book and came back straight away with an agreement to publish. These days there are the mainstream publishers, self-publishing, and then between them are the growingly important innovators like Tom and Hans, and they are going to become more important.

I’m aware that there is a second Detectvie Le Fanu book – A Pallampur Predicament waiting in the wings, was the second book, trickier than the first to write, or in some respects easier?

I thought a lot about the second one because I had read a lot of other writers who reckoned the second was tougher. Reading those writers was helpful, and I did probably approach the second one in a more structured way than the first. But I also found it easier to broaden the approach and the characters and the plotlines, having been through the experience of the first Le Fanu. I have a suspicion the third might be even more challenging as characters deepen.

Will we see a lot more of Le Fanu in the future? Does the character have legs or are there plans afoot for a different direction, both in character and setting?

Yes, the second Le Fanu is imminent, the third is in planning and early writing, and the character is set up to become a series that will be essentially about one man's traversing of the 1920s and 1930s. Beyond that there are also a couple more non-fictions planned, and I do toy with some ideas for something more contemporary but also set in Asia. That is a little way off

Any modern influences on your stories? 

In crime fiction: Rankin and all the other tartans; lots of writers from a range of other countries and exotic locations (like Parker Bilal, Barbara Nadel, Jeff Siger, Quentin Bates, Ruth Downie, Philip Kerr and a host of others). Other writers include Jane Smiley, David Lodge, Tim Parks, Richard Russo and others.  Non-fiction writers like David Finkel (whose two books on Iraq are just marvellous if chilling), Robert Darnton on the French Revolution, and Antony Beevor on wars are also a source of inspiration.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I set out to write at least 2,000 words a day once the serious writing starts, and that will sometimes hit 5-6,000 if I get on a roll. Each day starts with a read and an edit of the say before. Then every week or so I will go back and read the thing from the beginning, and that helps set up an editing regime. As I go I also follow up on historical detail checking. Getting the dialogue right is a major preoccupation, because fiction is still new to me and I am still learning.  Once the main draft is done, then I go back and redraft ruthlessly - a habit that carries over from the non-fiction work.

Do you insert family, friends and colleagues into your characters? Would they recognise themselves?

It is more some historical figures who creep in but are given some different slants to fit the story. I don't think any friends will find themselves there - but some friends find it hard to read the crime fiction because they "know" me and my earlier works!

Are there any subjects off limits as far as your writing is concerned?

I am feeling my way into this fictional genre, and at this stage I would say I am not in the "dark" zone. I find some "hard" noir too hard with its extremely graphic violence, much of which is aimed at women and kids - that is too hard for me. I am more interested in capturing atmosphere and issues and relationships, with the storyline being the vehicle to describe that. So I guess the actual act of murder is secondary for me to the spreading lines that the act helps set off. 

What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

Having so many people kindly saying that they have enjoyed A Madras Miasma, and have learned something from it. That includes other writers whose work I admire, so having them say nice things is terrific.

What are the last five books you’ve read?

The Gordon Ferris Douglas Brodie series, and the 4 and 5 books in Paul Thomas' Ihaka series set in my homeland NZ. I often read like this, grabbing a series to see the development

Who do you read and enjoy?

Andrea Camilleri would be near the top of the list, always. Peter Temple's work is just marvellous. The early Kate Atkinson (Case Histories). I always really liked Michael Dibdin, too, set in Italy. More broadly, I devoured Malcolm Bradbury's campus novels, and those by Tom Sharpe.

Is there any one book you wished you’d written?

Oh there are several! Great writing is always compelling. But one notable would be Tim Parks' A Season With Verona. He follows Verona's football club for a year, but the book is about Italy. Just a wonderful tour de force. Another would be Rajiv Chandrasekaran's marvellous account of life in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Imperial Life in the Emerald City.

What’s the best thing about crime writing?

Being able to create characters and situations that bring to life the historical events that provide the context - and then there is the circle of crime writers I am meeting and who are all so supportive.

Favourite activity when not working?   

Reading, a natural concomitant, I guess. I like photography, golf, music, and being in other cultures

If I check back in a couple of years’ time, where do you hope to be with the fiction writing?

After two years, there will hopefully be four books in the Le Fanu series, with the man himself having grown as a person for the readers who will also have learned even more about the trajectory of modern India's stories.

Monday, 27 October 2014

2 BY HARRY CREWS


Harry Crews blew into my reading life when I saw the cover of CLASSIC CREWS more than a few years ago. I was compelled to buy it.  How could you not want to read anything this ugly bruiser had written? Doesn't he look like he has interesting things to say?


Over the years I have acquired everything he wrote, which was about 20 various novels and bits and pieces all told. Sadly he died a couple of years ago. Not a crime writer by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love him and his books.














He seems to have been tagged - Southern Gothic, whatever that is.


His Guardian obituary is here.











Body





In his highly acclaimed 11th novel, Crews has written a wild, weird black comedy that takes place over one weekend during a women's bodybuilding competition. A secretary has found a new life as a champion bodybuilding contender, but her turns things upside down with their redneck antics.













The Mulching of America


Harry Crews turns the classic rags-to-riches story on its head in this hilarious saga of the trials and tribulations of a beleaguered salesman. "An over-the-top comedy in which the veteran wild man of redneck fiction casts his satirical eye on the all-American world of door-to-door sales".--Kirkus Reviews.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

LOGGING THE LIBRARY - PART FOUR

Week four and another 50 on display and in the process of being logged for future reference.

Tub 4 - duly noted!
Izzo (French) - who I have been threatening to read for years, Carlotto from Italy, a couple of Roddy Doyle's from Ireland, and a John Ridley (US)

Love the cover, can't remember what the book's about.
Kent Anderson - only ever wrote a couple of books, more Carlotto, Val McDermid, Iain Levison

Harstad is very good from previous experience. David Owen wrote the Pufferfish detective books, this one pre-dates those. Robbins - I read previously and didn't enjoy - second chance saloon! More Irish humour - Doyle. Conman - sounds like something I'd like.

Two by McKinty, Doyle again. Michael Curtin another Irish author, something from the US - Brad Watson

More Irish with another Curtin book. A couple from Italy, Krabbe might be Dutch. Razor Smith - UK criminal memoir.

A bit of Petievich - his last published book about 10 years old, a couple of  Martin Beck books, a bit of literature with James Jones and one of my wife's - Beverly Barton.


Jardine - a Scottish author I haven't yet read, Ridley again, Paul Levine - lawyers with humour, LR.Wright - who might be Canadian.

Ross Thomas - I have a few of his, a couple from Deaver, Mark Timlin, - UK crime series with Nick Sharman as a PI, John Harvey - UK police procedural.


Italy, Ireland and the US. I need to re-visit the attic because I can't tell what Thomas book this is! CRIME TIME - a UK Monthly/Quarterly (?) crime magazine 

Not yet read any Bernie - shameful!

Another magazine/book about books!

US crime fiction.


199 logged in 4 weeks go me! 200 once I get the Ross Thomas title. Two years reading already or the best part of it.

Highlights - Adrian McKinty, John Ridley, Donald Harstad, Kent Anderson and Jean-Claude Izzo.

Books to avoid - nothing here I have changed my mind about reading or in the case of most of the Roddy Doyle early ones re-reading - at least they are short and quick.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

200 logged - the Ross Thomas book is The Porkchoppers originally published in 1972.

Hope you're worth that special trip back up the loft!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

CHARLES DODD WHITE - A SHELTER OF OTHERS


Synopsis/blurb……

Following his release from prison, Mason Laws returns to the mountains of his youth where his estranged wife, Lavada, has been caring for his ailing father in Mason's absence. As Mason and Lavada each set forth to recover themselves, they remain entrenched in the rural and rugged landscape that bore them and their own haunted histories. This moving story tells of the families we're born into, the families we make for ourselves, and how tightly woven are the ties that bind.

“Charles Dodd White’s writing is dark, gothic and steeped in a voice that is all his own. A Shelter of Others confronts what it means to be human.” — Frank Bill, author of Donnybrook
 “Charles Dodd White is one of the best young writers at work today, and A Shelter of Others is his best book yet, a quiet masterpiece in the tradition of Ron Rash and Daniel Woodrell.” — Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk

Easy to read but incredibly hard to define or review. A Shelter of Others is my first taste of Charles Dodd White’s writing but definitely not my last. He has a couple of other books to his name – Lambs of Men and the short story collection - Sinners of Sanction County, both are on the Christmas list!

We have a small cast of main characters – ex-con, Mason Laws; his failing father Sam and his wife, Lavada. Over the course of 220 pages, we uncover their pasts and present.

Sam is descending into senility. Lavada cares for him whilst juggling a part-time job at a local diner. The lonely diner’s owner, Dennis has feelings for Lavada. Mason has returned to the area but is unwilling or unable to resurrect his relationship with his wife, and instead tries to eke out an existence working for Hammond, a small-time store owner and vegetable seller.

When Laws encounters a crippled hobo - Irving and befriends him; he’s unaware that previous encounters with a vicious Deputy called Cody Gibb have already left Irving a marked man. Gibb’s actions precipitate a chain of events from which few of our cast will emerge from intact.

A Shelter of Others displays a lot of love, tenderness and kindness in the damaged relationships on offer; as well as showing the other side of the coin - indifference, cruelty and abandonment. Beautiful writing, haunting prose – I think this one will stay with me for a while.

Sam had said to her once that sadness was the price men and women paid for being good. She saw the pain that set itself in Sam, made itself adjunctive to his good heart. She wondered if the curse strong people faced was in their ability to endure too much. Or perhaps it was not even that so much as the fact that eventually others must witness what the suffering makes of what they once were.

5 from 5



A Shelter of Others was published earlier this year by Fiddleblack. Many thanks to Jason – editor at Fiddleblack for my copy. You can find them here.

Friday, 24 October 2014

STEPHEN TYRRELL - THE TEST

Synopsis/blurb….

A short story set in a dystopian future where the surviving members of the human race have been forced to take refuge from hostile invaders within shield-protected cities.

In Aberdeen, oil is used as the fuel for the generators that power the city's shield. The lone source of oil is a rig out in the North Sea -- a rig that the invaders are constantly trying to destroy.

Protecting the rig is as vital as protecting the city itself. Security checks for those going on board are rigorous.

But the invaders will try anything to get someone inside. And it will only take one to destroy everything.

That's why there is a need for The Test.

Another new to me author and another short story and another, albeit brief, trip out of my reading comfort zone. SCI-FI does not float my boat.

That said, I really enjoyed this distraction for half an hour or so.

I was interested all the way through, I wasn’t bamboozled or baffled with techno-sciency-geeky-gizmos that were totally incomprehensible to my imagination. Instead Tyrrell provided a nice tight engaging story with a knockout punch at the end; one that kind of blind-sided me.

Would I read more from him in future? Depends – if he produces a science fiction tale in a much longer format, probably not. Something more mainstream – with a hint of mystery or intrigue over the final destination – why not.

Stephen Tyrrell has a presence on Twitter @StephenTyrrell



4 from 5….. and another notch on the scoreboard in my efforts to read 120 books, novellas, stories in this calendar year.

Acquired from Amazon UK recently when it was a freebie.