Wednesday, 21 February 2018

JANUARY 2018 - READING LIST AND PICK OF THE MONTH


A cracking start to a new year of reading - 19 books read in the month, though only half of them would weigh in at over 100 pages long.

Nothing sucked  only 1 - 3 STAR read, conversely a lot of them were very good but only 1 - 5 STAR read.

Pick of the month - Lawrence Block's Keller in Des Moines - another episode in my favourite hitman's life and a story with no resolution as such - just an urgent invite to read the longer novel where our tale concludes.

The month could in some ways be regarded as a Lawrence Block tribute month - I read one old lost and recently found book from him - Sinner Man - and seven of his Kindle singles with Keller, a few of which had been enjoyed before as they also form part of the longer work Hitman.

The full list with links...

Paul Heatley - The Boy (2015) (4.5)

Lawrence Block - Keller in Dallas (2009) (4.5)

Christopher Davis - Walking to Babylon (2017) (4)

Lawrence Block - Keller's Adjustment (2005) (4)

William E. WallaceHangman's Dozen (2016) (4.5)

G. B. Williams - Locked Up (2017) (3)

Lawrence Block - Keller on the Spot (1998) (4.5)

Lawrence Block - Keller's Horoscope (2001) (4)

David Putnam - The Innocents (2018) (4.5)

Lawrence Block - Sinner Man (1968/2016) (4.5)

Kevin Berg - Indifference (2016) (4.5)

Joe R. Lansdale - Briar Patch Boogie (2016) (4.5)

Lawrence Block - Keller's Therapy (2013) (4)

Nick Kolakowski - A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps (2017) (4.5)

Lesley Welsh - In the Blood (2018) (4.5)

Jeffrey Archer - The Man Who Robbed His Own Post Office (2007) (4)

Graham Smith - Past Echoes (2018) (4)

Lawrence Block - Keller in Des Moines (2016) (5)

Lawrence Block - Keller the Dogkiller (2016) (4.5)

Dissecting the month to the nth degree.....

11 x 4.5 STAR READS...... Lawrence Block x 4, Paul Heatley, Nick Kolakowski, Lesley Welsh, Kevin Berg, Joe R. Lansdale, William E. Wallace, David Putnam

6 x 4 STAR READS.....Lawrence Block x 3, Christopher Davis, Graham Smith and Jeffrey Archer.

1 x 3 STAR READ ..... enjoyable, but not without a few niggles - G.B. Williams and Locked Up

19 reads from 12 different authors, 8 from Lawrence Block

7 of the 12 were new-to-me authors....... Kevin Berg, William E. Wallace, Christopher Davis, Lesley Welsh, Nick Kolakowski, G.B. Williams and Jeffrey Archer - though I may have read Archer about 30 years ago.

I have more on the pile from William E. WallaceChristopher Davis and Nick Kolakowski (well I did, but I've since read his second book - Slaughterhouse Blues.)

5 authors have been read and enjoyed before - Lawrence Block and Joe R. Lansdale - numerous times, David Putnam (4), Graham Smith (2), Paul Heatley (3) and

I have more on the TBR pile from all of them.

Gender analysis -  mostly male authors, 2 females - Lesley Welsh and G.B. Williams....... despite assertions that I'm going to correct the imbalance in my reading, I never do.

I believe of the 12 authors I read, 5 are English, and 7 hail from the US.

All 19 of the reads were fiction - 8 novels and 1 collection of short stories, 10 reads were less than 100 pages long

One of the books - Sinner Man - the re-discovered Lawrence Block originated from the 60s, a couple of the reads were penned in the 90s - Block - Keller episodes.

4 reads were from the 2000s, the other 11 from this decade - including three 2018 books and three from 2017.

10 of the 19 books were accessed via a Kindle Unlimited trial, 2 were review copies made available from the publisher - Bloodhound Books, 2 came from the authors, 4 were pre-owned with the last accessed free through iBooks and finished off via Amazon Freebie purchase.




Favourite cover? Sinner Man - Lawrence Block



Second favourite – Nick Kolakowski's A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

My reads were this long 85 - 43- 186 - 72 - 155 - 288 - 30 - 47 - 324 - 240 - 308 - 56 - 38 - 134 - 300 - 42 - 348 - 30 -35

Total page count = 2761  (2323 in December)....... a 400 page increase

16 and a half Kindle reads, 1/2 a read on my phone, 1 PDF and 1 trade paperback ARC.

1 < 50,
6 between 51 < 100,
5 between 101 < 200,
2 between 201 < 300,
2 between 301 < 400,
0 > 400 pages

Graham Smith's Past Echoes was the longest read at 348 pages.

A couple of Lawrence Block - Keller's the shortest at 30 pages each - Keller on the Spot and Keller in Des Moines



















Tuesday, 20 February 2018

2 BY JEDIDIAH AYRES



2 from Jedidiah Ayres this week. He's not an author I know a hell of a lot about.


Ayres has his blog here.

I've had these two and his collection - A F*ckload of Shorts on the kindle for four or five years now.

Another acquired taste and I somehow doubt he's going to be challenging Dan Brown and Stephen King at the top of the best-seller charts, but that's not to say he doesn't write the kind of books I want to read. Notwithstanding the fact that I haven't.....yet.



Peckerwood (2013)


Assault, armed robbery, and the occasional blackmail: life is pretty damn good for Terry Hickerson. He's got a dog, a best friend, enough cash to get him drunk, and a teenaged son to carry him home. Sure he's a constant pain in the local law's ass, but Sheriff Jimmy Mondale's got enough to worry about, what with his estranged daughter on a tear, and the District Attorney being onto his partnership with ex-biker, meth kingpin, and tackle shop owner Chowder Thompson. When tragedy hits their small town of Spruce, Missouri, Terry's peckerwood bullshit will push the three of them into a volatile whilrwind complete with bullets, bodies, and broken bones.

"A masterpiece of dirty, down-low rural noir. Read it and sink a little further into the muck." Scott Phillips, author of RAKE and THE ICE HARVEST

"PECKERWOOD is intensely original and harrowing country noir. Ayres delivers sharp-edged prose that lands like a knife under the ribs." - Dennis Tafoya, author of DOPE THIEF and THE POOR BOY'S GAME

Fierce Bitches (2013)

Across the border lies Politioburg: hell on Earth, home to putas, punks and psychos.

Escape is not in the stars, redemption is not in the cards, but reckoning might just be on the menu.

Stand back. The pit is about to spit something back out.

Monday, 19 February 2018

RAY BANKS - WOLF TICKETS (2013)


Synopsis/blurb....

Sean Farrell - small-time thief, petrol smuggler and all-round scoundrel - just got shafted by the love of his life, Nora. She took his twenty grand, his coke and his favourite leather jacket; she left him with little more than a hangover and a Dido song to remember her by. 

Now Nora's sights are set on the two hundred grand buried somewhere in the Northumberland countryside, and she's enlisted the help of the most dangerous man in Dublin to find it. Farrell hooks up with old Army pal - the shoplifting, rotgut-swilling arsonist Jimmy Cobb - to beat them to the punch. Because nobody gets in the way of Sean Farrell and money.

Probably getting on for ten years since I picked up a Ray Banks book and more fool me I reckon.

Banks doesn't do cozy, Banks offers hard, brutal, world-weary men with little interest in a straight life, but barely enough energy to make a success of whatever criminal activities they may turn their hands to.

Wolf Tickets brings together a couple of ex-army comrades who have gone their separate ways, a parting brought about by a woman, Nora. Farrell wakes one morning to find Nora gone, along with his money and his one of a kind leather jacket. Nora might be in Jimmy Cobb's neck of the woods - Northumberland and Farrell's coming a-calling.

We get some of our twosomes history - tales of scrapes fought on foreign turf, down in London, as well as a violent, alcohol fuelled trip around the North-East trying to recover the missing money and find the gal. Our gal gets found, but no longer breathing.

Farrell and Cobb, trying to stay one step ahead of the law, endeavour to track down an ex-con Frank O'Brien. Farrell, O'Brien and Nora have a tangled history, one he has neglected to inform Cobb about. With a wheelchair-bound dope dealer and his heavies to deal with and the pair dependent on a homeless alcoholic for information, our boys have to go all out - full throttle ballistic to get to their target. They'll be enduring a fair few licks themselves in their quest.

Did I say this was violent? Torture scenes, beatings and injury. Sometimes off-set with comedy - Cobb, our Geordie tough guy, survives a near-death experience at the hands of O'Brien - almost a night of a thousand cuts virtue of a stanley knife. What better way to try and close the wounds than a packet of children's cartoon plasters festooned all over his boat race?

I did get more out of this than just a brutal tale of revenge and an evening up of the score. The dynamics of the relationship between Farrell and Cobb are interesting. Yes they have each other's backs, but there's quite often friction, disappointment and a barely suppressed resentment between the two. Our boys may also be lacking in some social niceties, but their loyalty to each other is commendable.

Fast-paced, enjoyable, entertaining, but probably an acquired taste. I'm hoping to read the second Farrell and Cobb outing - Trouble's Braids later this month.

4.5 from 5

Ray Banks has his website here.

In the pre-blogging days, I've enjoyed The Big Blind, Saturday's Child, Donkey Punch and No More Heroes. I've missed out on five or six from him afterwards.

Read in February, 2018
Published - 2013
Page count - 189
Source - Kindle Unlimited
Format - Kindle

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH DAVID YOUNG
















David Young, author of A Darker State and the two earlier Karin Muller books - Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf answers a few questions on the blog.

A few thoughts on A Darker State appeared earlier today - here.


Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job? (Maybe a brief bio?)

Yes it’s full-time. I started an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University in 2012, doing it in the evenings around my day job at the BBC as a news editor. I’d been with the BBC for more than 25 years – too long -- and it was a deliberate attempt to escape. In my final year of the MA, I took voluntary redundancy from the day job, and that cushioned the transition.
 
I believe A Darker State is the third book in your series after Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf, can you tell me a bit about the two earlier books?

All three are set in the 1970s in East Germany and feature my main character Karin Müller and her deputy Werner Tilsner, who both work for the criminal division of the People’s Police. The books are part police procedural, part historical novel, part action thriller – so a bit of a hybrid. But as well as the traditional crime story, the East German secret police – the Stasi – are in the background pulling the strings. Although it’s a series, each is a separate story – so you should be able to dip in at any point in the series, and then go back and read the earlier books.
 
Have you had anything else published to date?


About 15 years ago I self-published a crime thriller set on the Isle of Wight under a pseudonym. I enjoyed the process, and sold the entire print run of 1,000 copies. But it was exhausting, and impossible to continue with alongside a day job.

How long from conception to completion and publication did A Darker State take?

That’s a difficult one to answer. I had the germ of the idea at the time we sold Stasi Child, but didn’t really start developing it until a couple of years later. Once I’d planned it out, writing the first draft was fairly rapid, as that’s the way I prefer to work. At one stage, I wrote 45,000 words – so half the novel – in just five days. The re-writing and fine-tuning took a lot longer!

Did the end result resemble the book you envisaged when you set out? Were there many bumps in the road along the way?

It was pretty much what I planned, but my original editor left soon after reading the first draft (not because of it, as far as I know!) so the change to a new editor slowed the process. But the advantage was I got two lots of input and expertise.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I tend to write my first drafts quite quickly, so I don’t really have a typical schedule. When I’m in the zone, I can write up to 10,000 words a day – and on those days I’ll work 16-hour days. But I spend other times of the year editing, researching and promoting. So it varies with the seasons.

Was your latest book, an easier book to write than your first novel?

It’s possibly slightly easier once you’re into a series in that you don’t have to recreate the world, you’re just fine-tuning it. But at the same time, you’re trying to improve with each book. That’s a difficult target.

Do you have a connection with the divided Germany of the 70s? I’m interested to know what the spark that was that set you off writing in this time period and setting. 

Not really, other than a reporting trip to cover one of the big NATO exercises of the 1980s in West Germany for an evening newspaper in South Wales I was working for at the time. The spark was slightly weird. To let off steam from the day job, I started a little indiepop band, and we blagged a tour to Germany in 2008. Most of the venues that booked us were in the former East – that’s where the idea came from. That and reading Anna Funder’s Stasiland between gigs.

Did you have to do an inordinate amount of research prior to embarking on the writing of this series?

I do a lot of research, but really enjoy that part of a writer’s life. For each novel, I’ll tend to do at least two research trips to Germany, plus countless hours on the internet. I’ve also been learning German as when I started out I could hardly speak any, and I’m not much better even now.

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

I’ve the follow-up to the self-published Isle of Wight novel, but I very much doubt it will ever see the light of day.

Is there a current work in progress? How’s it going? Any hints as to what it’s all about?

I’m just about to embark on a rewrite of Book 4 in the series. It’s a fictional extrapolation of a real-life WW2 massacre and how it impinges on the present day of my East German world – ie the mid-to-late 70s. The first-person voice is through the eyes of an inmate at the Mittelbau-Dora labour camp – where V1 and V2 rockets were made. That narrative is very harrowing – but is totally based on real-life accounts. Hopefully that hasn’t given too much away, or put too many people off!

I think I read somewhere you have five titles planned in the series, will that be a definitive end point or is there scope for further adventures with Karin Muller?

As with any series, its future depends on readers buying the books. I’d like it to run and run. There’s no shortage of inspiration from real-life East German tales. Ideally, I’d like to see the series through to 1989 or 1990 to see how Karin fares when the Wall is torn down. But so far, I’m contracted for the five books.

What’s the best thing about writing?

Researching and then creating the world in your first draft.

The worst?

For me, editing and rewriting. I know it’s vital, but I don’t enjoy it.
 
What are the last five books you’ve read?


My Little Eye by Stephanie Marland (highly recommended), The History of the Dora Camp by André Sellier, Death Marches by Daniel Blatman, Solitaire by Jane Thynne, and Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein.

Who do you read and enjoy?

I don’t read as much as I should and don’t confine myself to crime fiction. In the crime genre, my favourite author is probably William Ryan for his Korolev series.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada.


Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Supporting Hull City but recently it’s become less and less enjoyable because of the club’s owners and their disregard for the fanbase.








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

Bridge of Spies.



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

Addict. Spiral/Engrenages – the French crime series – is my favourite.

In a couple of years’ time…

My aim is to have a couple of series on the go, one under a pseudonym. But perhaps a lesser ambition would be to simply still earn a living from fiction writing – and I suspect that will become more and more difficult. Bloggers like yourself and your readers are vitally important in supporting authors so thanks very much for this interview




-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Many thanks to David for his time and Emily Burns - formerly of publisher, Bonnier Zaffre for connecting us.

David Young's website http://stasichild.blogspot.co.uk/p/about_27.html
Facebook page              https://www.facebook.com/stasichild/
Twitter                           https://twitter.com/djy_writer

Sunday, 18 February 2018

DAVID YOUNG - A DARKER STATE (2018)



Synopsis/blurb....

For the Stasi, it's not just the truth that gets buried . . . 

The body of a teenage boy is found weighted down in a lake. Karin Müller, newly appointed Major of the People's Police, is called to investigate. But her power will only stretch so far, when every move she makes is under the watchful eye of the Stasi.

Then, when the son of Müller's team member goes missing, it quickly becomes clear that there is a terrifying conspiracy at the heart of this case, one that could fast lead Müller and her young family into real danger.

Can she navigate this complex political web and find the missing boy, before it's too late?

Praise for the Karin Müller series

'Masterful. . . an intricate, absorbing page-turner' Daily Express

'Superb. A thrilling Cold War mystery that reminded me of Robert Harris at his best' Mason Cross

A Darker State brings a murder mystery set in East Germany at the height of the Cold War. Apart from a bit of espionage in the form of Brian Freemantle's Charlie Muffin, it's not a place I have visited in my fiction reading. After this one, I'll definitely be returning with David Young and Karin Muller and her team.

The murder mystery itself would be interesting enough - a young man's body has washed up on the banks of a river - the bindings on the body ruling out accidental drowning. Factor in the setting - East Berlin - a society where the State has its eyes and ears everywhere in the form of the Stasi and there's another level of intrigue and tension in the narrative.

Muller has been newly promoted and has a new flat to go with her position. She's a Major in the People's Police, an almost single mother of twins with an on-off troubled relationship with their father and a full-time baby minder in the form of her grandmother, who lives with her (and the father of the twins some of the time). 

Muller and her team, comprising Tilsner her deputy and a forensic officer, Schmidt start investigating the death. Before too long there's interference and pressure from a couple of Stasi officers. With Muller refusing to give up on the investigation, especially as it may have a connection to Schmidt’s son – a troubled young man who has gone missing; the Stasi pull rank and assume responsibility for the case. Muller’s boss circumvents that by allowing the team to investigate the disappearance of Markus Schmidt.

The narrative dips back and forward in time during 1976 and we get a perspective from our missing lad which helps piece together the puzzle.

I really enjoyed this one. Politics, paranoia and suspicion pervade the narrative. There are references to previous cases (A Darker State is the third book in the series) which intrigued rather than irritated me. Muller negotiates a minefield, where the ire of the State can be brought to bear at any minute with little regard for natural justice. Favours, secrets and influence gets traded before we get answers.

Tense, intelligent and not just a little frightening, A Darker State is a fascinating peep behind the Iron Curtain and the workings of an imperfect state.

David Young has a new fan and the two earlier books in the series have been added to the TBR pile – Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf.

5 from 5

David Young has his website here.

Read in February, 2018
Published – 2018
Page count – 384
Source – review copy from publisher, Bonnier Zaffre
Format - paperback

NICK KOLAKOWSKI - SLAUGHTERHOUSE BLUES (2018)


Synopsis/blurb....

Slaughterhouse Blues catches up with Bill and Fiona, the chattery and gun-happy anti-heroes of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, soon after they’ve escaped the Rockaway Mob, the criminal enterprise from which Bill “borrowed” several million dollars. 

Holed up in Havana, Bill and Fiona know the Mob is coming for them—it’s just a question of time. But they’re not prepared for who the Mob sends: a pair of assassins so utterly amoral and demented, their behavior pushes the boundaries of sanity. Seriously, what kind of killers pause in mid-hunt to discuss the finer points of thread count and luxury automobiles? 

Forced on the run (again), Bill and Fiona will venture from the crumbling streets of Cuba to the steaming jungles of Nicaragua, and finally back to the mean streets of New York City. If they want to survive, our fine young criminals can’t retreat anymore: they’ll need to pull off a massive (and massively weird) heist—and the loot has some very dark history… 

Praise for SLAUGHTERHOUSE BLUES: 

“Dark, bleak and in-your-face, take-no-prisoners prose, everything you want in crime fiction.” —Frank Bill author of Donnybrook and Crimes in Southern Indiana

Fresh on the heels of reading Kolakowski's first road trip with Bill and Fiona - A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, I'm back in the saddle with his latest offering - Slaughterhouse Blues.

No wannabee Elvis impersonators second time around, but a rival double act of Barbara and Ken out to give our sweethearts a hard time and an early grave. Bill and Fiona have separated, but fear not it's only a temporary logistical arrangement not one of broken dreams and shattered hearts.

Fiona's in Nicaragua, on a mission to replenish the dwindling purse, protecting a cigar factory run by some Anglos, while Bill is staying on the down-low in Cuba. Not low enough apparently, as he's caught some unwanted attention. Fiona's got it rougher, her job is a set-up and all her skills are required to escape barely intact from Crew Cut - Assassin #1.

A bit of recompense as well as the use of a hire plane to reconnect with Bill in Cuba are the order of the day. Our compensation is a big maybe, in the form of a tall tale and a pot of German gold, stashed back in the lion's den - New York and the Rockaway Mob's home turf. Always assuming Assassins #2+3 - Barbara and Ken can be outwitted.

Unsurprisingly, we have a few more scrapes and troubles between now and our climax. We have a far from dewy-eyed family reunion between Don, our teller of tales all things gold and his miserable father, James Dusty. Dusty Snr. is priceless. Wheelchair bound but with strong sperm apparently. Fortunately, we just get to take him at his word. There's gold to be liberated and heavy obstacles still to overcome.

Another fine read, slightly less madcap than the first outing, but still bordering absurdity at times. Humour, action, gun play, fashion, exotic settings, cray cray characters and a memorable car ride or two all feature.


Not a book, I'll forget in a hurry and with a third in the pipeline - Main Bad Guy - good reading lies ahead.

4.5 from 5

Nick Kolakowski has his website here.

A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps featured here.

Read in February, 2018
Published - 2018
Page count - 172
Source - review copy from author
Format - Kindle



Friday, 16 February 2018

G.B. WILLIAMS - LOCKED IN (2018)


Synopsis/blurb....

"Drama and tension from page one"
Do you love gripping and hard-boiled crime thrillers? Then try GB Williams' unmissable Locked In.

Ariadne Teddington is having a bad day.  Then she finds herself staring down the barrel of a gun.

Stuck in a bank robbery turned hostage situation, Ariadne keeps her head down and her mouth shut; because if there is one thing criminals hate more than the police it’s prison guards. 

Trapped with a child, a policeman, and a robber on the edge, Ariadne desperately searches for a way out for them.

Can they all escape unharmed?

And when everyone is locked in, will anyone get out alive?

Locked In offers us a bank robbery and a hostage situation and for the most part was an enjoyable read. I previously read Locked Up, the first in the series and while enjoying that one also, I didn't like the chemistry between the two main characters Ariadne Teddington - prison officer and Charlie Bell - ex-cop turned murderer and now a prisoner. There's a suppressed mutual attraction given their very different statuses which I didn't like.

Here we have Ariadne in the bank when the raid goes down. The police have been tipped off about the raid and are waiting outside and have a detective in the bank also. One of the staff trips a silent alarm and an immediate getaway is foiled. Teddington tries to put her skills as a prison officer - a firm, calming presence to good use the protect the more vulnerable hostages in the situation as well as drawing the frustration and ire of our gang of villains onto herself. A strategy that works and she does take some lumps in the book.

Plenty of tension in the narrative and a decent story line. If I'm truthful, again a little bit spoiled for me by Mr Bell's introduction as one of the robbers - though that in itself is a more complicated matter than appears at first. We kind of had a re-run of the unresolved tension between the pair. Deja-vous, deja-yawn. As individuals they are both strong, likeable characters as a pairing I just don't buy them.

Decent resolution, a fairly fast read as most of our tale with the exception of some back story goes down in a day, rather than a protracted period of time. We get a perspective from the negotiators in a hostage situation and see the pressure the decision makers operate under with a bit of political interference and we also have the inside track. The gang don't want to be caught and are prepared to harm a hostage or two to underline their seriousness. At the end, we receive a nugget of information which I'm speculating might form part of the story for the series finale.

3 from 5

Locked Up was reviewed here.

G.B. Williams has her website here.

Read in February, 2018
Published - 2018
Page count - 277
Source - ARC received from publisher - Bloodhound Books
Format - kindle