Friday, 18 May 2018

One Man's Opinion: SUNK COSTS by PRESTON LANG


Here’s another great read from All Due Respect books.
Their latest, Sunk Costs (US), tells the tale of a young drifter who arrives into town and picks up a ride with from an attractive woman. Things are a little too good to be true and an explosive turn leads Dan into making a deal. All he has to do is to find a key in the office where the lady used to work.
Sounds simple enough, only it really isn’t.
There’s another woman, Kate, after that same key. Kate works in the office and realises that there may be riches to be had if they can get hold of it.
The situation spirals out of control as the prize continually and tantalisingly slips out of reach at every turn.
Dan’s street-smarts and con-artistry are put to the test as the danger level rises enough to swamp him.
Tightly written, punchy and engaging from the start, this is a low-life adventure that you won’t want to miss.
Thoroughly entertaining. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

BATTLEFIELDS

It’s quiet without you.


Tidy, now you’ve gone.

There’s too much space.

Enough room to swing that cat of yours.



Stillness drips from walls

pooling into seas of silent nothing.

Ghosts tease me into searching shadows

and all the you-sized spaces.

The bathroom’s free, the chairs all mine

and I can surf the TV with reckless abandon.

I write BLISS in the steamy mirror

and rub it out before the final S is drawn.



Tomorrow I’ll blast out talk shows,

sprinkle crumbs on the carpet

and pile clothes in random places.

I’ll leave the cap off the toothpaste,

forget to flush the toilet

and miss the bin with every shot.

My shoes will live separate lives at the back door

while bikes stand rusting in the rain.



Until you return,

I will fill this world with chaos

eat with my fingers and leave the lights on

so you can find the way home.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

One Man's Opinion: LADY KILLER by ED MCBAIN



Meyer thought he would die in a way unbefitting a heroic cop. He would die of heat prostration, and the obits would simply say COP FLOPS. Or perhaps, if the news was headlined in Variety, SOPPY COP DROPS.

‘How do you like this Variety headline announcing my death by heat prostration?’ he said to Carella as they entered another hockshop. ‘Soppy Cop Drops.’

‘That’s pretty good,’ Carella said. ‘How about mine?’

‘In Variety?’

‘Sure.’

‘Let me hear it.’

‘SOPPY WOP COP DROPS.’

Lady Killer has a sense of urgency from the off. A young boy delivers a letter to the police desk.

‘I will kill The Lady tonight at 8. What can you do about it?’

The words are made from letters clipped from newspaper. It could be a hoax. The detectives of the 87th can’t afford to treat it that way and have to give it their full attention. If the letter is telling the truth, they have a day to solve the case. And so the pressure begins.

As is often the case in the series, the weather in the city is extreme. The tarmac on the roads is melting and people are desperate to find some relief from the heat. McBain does his usual wonderful job creating the picture and the temperature features as strongly as the characters themselves and would be enough to get the reader to open a window even in the winter months.

The plot sees an investigation in which no stone is unturned. The lab examines the letter. The paper on which it is made is identified and tracked down. This takes the amorous Cotton Hawes to a bookshop in which he manages to fall in love. Boys dressed like the delivery boy are collected from street corners. Artist’s impressions are drawn. Every effort is made to identify anyone known as Lady and this takes us from saunas to La Via De Putas to the showy apartment of a musical star. No lead is strong enough and the detectives become anxious about the ticking clock.

In the midst of their frustration, we meet the author of the threat. He’s watching the detectives through a pair of binoculars that will later give the team more clues to go on. We discover that the threat is no idle one and that the motivation behind the letter is to give the police a chance to stop him from committing the serious crime he has planned. He’s going to leave a trail of clues that he feels should be easy to solve. Unfortunately, the detectives struggle to get onto his warped wavelength.   

The pace starts well and builds nicely to the exhilarating climax and another really classy read.

A couple of things stand out to me in this one. The first is that there is only the one crime being investigated. That’s unusual in my experience to date. It’s often the weaving of different cases that helps to keep the books moving forward with the suspense I enjoy. It also means that the books usually have a range of tones and flavours that provide excellent contrast and variety to appreciate.

Lady Killer doesn’t suffer at all for having only a single investigation underway. There’s still a great range of characters to get to know and with Cotton Hawes at the fore, we have another opportunity to get inside his head.

If there’s a downside to this one, it’s a minor one. There’s something about the ending that left me a tad disappointed. It was nothing I can’t get over, yet it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped. I’d happily take opinions on that to see if you can persuade me otherwise. Let me know if you have the time. And is there anyone else out there who thinks the title may be referring more to Hawes that anyone else? If there is, same goes.  

Even with that minor point, it’s still a five-star read to my mind and I already have the next one lined up for when I need a reading lift.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Toe Six Press

Toe Six



Things go in cycles. Come at you in waves. Here's something new that'll sweep you off your feet. Authors and readers, you should really check this out. 

I'm only here to make the introductions. 

Something's afoot. Meet Toe Six Press

Saturday, 7 April 2018

One Man's Opinion: MANHATTAN BEACH by JENNIFER EGAN


Manhattan Beach

‘She’d never been good at banter; it was like a skipping rope whose rhythm she couldn’t master enough to jump in with confidence.’

When I read The Keep by Jennifer Egan, I was so engaged with the textures and structures that I knew I’d be visiting her books again. Given that The Keep was never fully within my grasp in terms of understanding the whole, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect from Manhattan Beach.

It’s a very different book. More conventional in many ways, but no less gripping for that.

The central character is Anna. We meet her as a young girl as she visits a Gatsbyesque gangster with her father. The father/daughter relationship is clearly a very special and rather fragile one, the links between father and gangster are new and tentative. Though the early encounters with each of these people is fascinating and beautifully described, it took me a while to get to the pace and cadence of the story.  Sentences took me by surprise and the variation in points of view had me struggling to fully acclimatise. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying things. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was, perhaps, more that I found the landscape disorientating until I found my feet.  

Once I’d come to know Anna’s family (a mother who has given up on her dancing career and on many other aspects of her life in order to become a carer; Anna’s severely disabled sister who rarely speaks but steals many of the scenes in which she appears; her bagman of a father; and her errant aunt who makes a living from the men she connects with) everything settled down. Like Anna, who will later find great insight from fumbling around in the darkness of the underwater world, I was able to find my way through the twists and turns with delight and navigate land and sea as if a natural.

The flesh on the bones of the story is rich and delicious. It offers great insights into a world at a different time. There’s a war on. Many of New York’s men have gone to fight and many of those remaining are about to leave. Women are finding new roles as necessity gives birth to invention without eliminating prejudice or changing attitudes. Similarly with race, equality is available only in small, practically invisible measures. There are barriers everywhere for Anna to overcome, but she’s strong and wise and determined.

As well as an insight into wartime New York, we get a great view into life in the Merchant Navy. As Anna’s aunt mentions, the sailors involved count among the overlooked heroes and from the stories we get to witness, any stripes they earned cannot be begrudged.

The gangland element of this tale is mysterious and fascinating. Dexter Styles is our eyepiece. He has risen through the ranks of the mob and married into power and society until he is on the verge of being completely legitimate. He has an uncanny way of understanding people and situations. He sees the world with clarity and certainty. He’s an adorable bad guy. His grip on the world only begins to loosen as a grown-up Anna re-enters his orbit.   

Overall, this one’s a real joy. I didn’t want it to finish and when I was inside I was totally submerged in Egan’s creation. I felt like I was there and could cut loose from reality and drift like a raft upon the ocean at any point in time simply by opening the pages at my bookmark and sailing on.

Is this the perfect read? Of course not. There are flaws. Where the scenes on the shipyards, of the diving and of life at sea appear to be deeply researched (all explanations being deftly handled), the world of the gangster seems to be less understood and I think I’d have liked a more solid grounding here. The early stages do take some orientation. There are a number of coincidences in terms of the plot that are a little too convenient if you want to split hairs.

As far as I’m concerned, any imperfections are easily overlooked. Jennifer Egan’s style is superb whether she’s working with large or fine brushes. It’s her insight into her characters that ultimately wins out. Her ability to describe the impossible or unreachable with poetic similes or slices of magic is wonderful. Her trump card, I reckon, is her ability to throw her human creations into the world and then be able to describe every one of their reactions. This ability to empathise to such depth within fiction is a rare thing. She may even have to wear a protective suit to get right down to those levels. I felt it most when she was dealing with loss, a recurring theme throughout the novel. That’s when the delicate touch can be most keenly felt. And now I’ve come to the journey’s end, I’m experiencing my own sense of loss. But, never mind:

‘It was all still there, everything he’d left behind. It’s vanishing had only been a trick.’

Absolutely loved this read. Go and escape.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Southsiders: The Collected Jesse Garon Novels

SOUTHSIDERS

Four novels, four terrific tales. Follow the adventures of the young Jesse Garon as he struggles to survive after being left home alone.

From Amazon US, UK, Australia, Canada and Germany 

and more widely available here.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Dancing With Myself: KAREN HARPER interviews KAREN HARPER

https://www.amazon.com/Shallow-Grave-South-Shores-Harper/dp/0778331199
SHALLOW GRAVE

ME:  You are definitely a survivor in the ever-changing publishing world.  Published since 1982 with over 70 novels?  So how old are you? 

AUTHOR:  I don’t answer that question, and if I did, it would be fiction.  I’ll just say I am in the baby-boomer category. I taught two years at Ohio State (good-old Freshman English) and 15 years of high school English before I began to write full time both contemporary suspense and historical novels. 

ME:  Don’t you need a split personality for that? 

AUTHOR:  It does take a brain transplant to switch from one genre and era to the other, but I love doing both.  The historicals about real British women take more research, but each of my suspense novels hinge on something that takes background reading.  I’m currently researching cryonics and butterflies—yes, there is a link.  I guess, even in writing entertaining fiction, I’m still trying to teach about interesting things. 

ME:  Since this is an interview, do you interview your characters before you start to write a book?  I know some writer friends who do that. 

AUTHOR:  I used to write bios of my main characters, but I have learned to let them “grow as I go”—that is, develop and speak and come alive on the page.  Likewise, I let the plots develop as I write much more than I used to.  It probably drives my editors crazy when I hand in the required proposal and tell them halfway through it, and this is what might happen…maybe this is how it will end. Of course, with the historicals, I stick to what actually happened in the lives of some amazing women. 

ME:  So do you start with character? 

AUTHOR:  Actually, I start with a setting or location I know and love and then develop the story from there.  (I was honored to meet the famous British author P.D. James and was really excited to hear she started with place too.)  My current SOUTH SHORES SERIES is set mostly in South Florida where I lived for 30 winters.  I’ve used Appalachia and Amish Country, both locations I often visit.  My history ('her story') novels are usually set in either Tudor or Edwardian England. I’m a rabid Anglophile and have been to ‘Merrie Olde’ many times.  Have laptop, will travel! 


ME:  What are the benefits and drawbacks of a long writing career? 

AUTHOR:  Drawbacks--stamina and flexibility are needed.  Benefits:  I have made many friends among other writers, in various pub houses and in my longtime literary agency.  I’m blessed to have great editors, especially at this time.  I belong to some national writing organizations and some local, so that’s double-dipping with business and pleasure.  I have seen so many changes in publishing, but I must admit it’s much easier not to have to use a typewriter and not to have to schlep heavy manuscripts to the post office, then back and forth for revisions and proofreading.  Now, I just hit the ‘send’ key on my laptop.  As much time as it sometimes takes away from writing and research, it’s great to have a Facebook page and website to be able to more easily keep in touch with my readers.  I love to visit libraries for talks, also, and the photo of me with the tiger (a tiger is in SHALLOW GRAVE (US) story) was taken during such a talk.  Thanks to Sea Minor for this outreach opportunity!