Sunday, 14 January 2018

One Man's Opinion: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE by W R BURNETT



Theo J Hardy is the new Police Commissioner. He’s straight, determined and ready to clean up the act of the force he oversees. He has his hands full with his colleagues and the press, so when the infamous heist planner, Riemenschneider  (aka Herr Doktor, aka The Professor) finishes his spell in prison, Hardy’s not to happy that no one has noticed.  Riemenschneider has disappeared into thin air and the cops have no angle to track him down.

I say thin air. That’s not exactly the case. He’s turned up at a gambling joint run by the shady Cobby and he’s ready to put into motion the perfect crime. To put everything in place, Riemenschneider requires a team and a bank roll. In order to find these, he insists on seeing the biggest cheese and slipperiest bastard on the block, Emmerich.

Now Emmerich’s in a spot of bother. He’s spent all his dough on a dame. As well as supporting his bed-ridden wife at home, he has another house in which his sexy young thing enjoys all the trappings of luxury that money can buy. The tax people are after him and the prospect of a huge hit on a jewellery store is irresistible.  In order to keep the balls in the air, he has to come up with other alternatives and prepares various plans in which he will end up double-crossing someone or other.

Dix is the Italian Stallion. At least he used to be. He’s been tamed by his wife and is besotted with his new son. He’s almost gone straight, but is keen to maintain his wealth to make sure his family are financially secure.

Dix and Brannon are hard men. Big tough guys who both play their cards close to their chests. Dix is batting for the gang, Brannon for Emmerich. There’s a showdown in prospect and you can almost smell the testosterone and the blood from the first moment we sense the pair will come together. The ensuing battle doesn’t disappoint and, as has to be, only one of them can walk away.

Gus is a hunchback. He works a diner counter. He has good beef for his friends and Grade B and C burgers for everyone else. He has a temper, a surprising power and he’s connected to everything that happens in the underworld crime scene. As it happens, he’s also a big fan of Dix’s and will back him all the way and make sure that he stays safe, no matter how many cops or villains are after him. Gus’s knowledge and connections spread everywhere like the sewers under the streets. There’s not a corner he doesn’t know or a sharp he hasn’t come across.

What happens when all these characters come together and the heist is played out is gripping. The plot shifts as fortunes rise and fall and circumstance changes. The robbery itself is tension-fuelled and the police chase is always engaging. The highlight, however, is the interplay between the criminals and the observation of the ways their loyalties split and fuse while their world turns to shit.

In the end, I was rooting for almost everyone. If it were possible, it would have been great for the cops to succeed and for the robbers to get away (most of them, at any rate), but that can’t happen.

The rounding off of each individual’s journey is compelling and triggers an emotional reaction. It didn’t all pan out in the way I hoped it might, but if it had it would have been much less of a book that it is.

The Asphalt Jungle (US) is cracking read. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.   

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

One Man's Opinion: MATT PHILLIPS interviews MATT PHILLIPS




Here's the deal, buddy—you’re going to tell me what I want to know.



Is that a question?



Nope. It’s an answer.



Okay…



You see this, buddy?



Looks like a—



S&W .45, pal. That’s what it is.



Is it loaded?



I look like the kind of guy who walks around with an unloaded gun?



Not really.



Right-O, buddy. Now, let’s get down to business: Are you Matt Phillips of www.mattphillipswriter.com ?



That’s me. I’m a pulp writer living in San Diego and I—



Shut it, buster. I’m the one doing the asking. Did you write this book, this…Accidental Outlaws ?



Yeah, I did.



https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/phillips-accidental-outlaws/You think you’re tough shit, putting in all this crap about guns and crooks and motorcycles and losers? You think you’re some kind of tough mother?



I’m just a guy writing stories. Trying not to die with a blank tombstone, you know?



What’d I say about questions?



You’re asking them.



Right. Don’t make me ask Smith & Wesson to chime in, okay? You write any other books? Or is this a one off thing, a fucking dabbler thing?



I wrote a few.



They got names, buster?



Three Kinds of Fool. Redbone. Bad Luck City. Got a couple more coming. The Bad Kind of Lucky and Countdown.



What I want to know is, who the hell thinks they got the right to publish this stuff? Looks to me like we got a bunch of people out there who think they’re bad asses. Am I right?



I don’t know about that…I mean, you’d have to ask them. I’ve been published by All Due Respect Books, Number Thirteen Press, Near to the Knuckle. Got one coming from Shotgun Honey, too. 



I read this damn book, Accidental Outlaws. I read it. I like the drifter guy…What’s his name?



Packard.



Yeah, the guy who rides the Harley and carries the Colt.



That’s him.



Now that’s a bad ass. Man has some brushes with death, don’t he?



You could call it that.



He also burns some shit to the ground and—



Let’s not ruin it for the kids.



Right. Right. I hear you. Well, shoot. Where can people get this damn piece of literary drivel?



You can pick it up at the Down &Out Books bookstore . They got links there to all the other places people buy books.



Down & Out Books? With a name like that, it sounds like more people thinking they’re bad asses.



You’d have to ask them about that.



Maybe I’ll have Smith & Wesson go over there and—



C’mon, buddy. Go easy.



Alright. I’ll go easy, but you have to make me one promise.



A promise?



Let’s call it a guarantee.



What am I, a used car salesman?



Nope, you’re a writer. And if you don’t do what I say, you’ll be selling cigarette butts to drifters down on skid row.



Okay…



The next story you write…It’s going to be about me.



The hell with that, I don’t have to—



I hear a whisper from Smith & Wesson. You want me to tell you what he’s saying?



Well, shit. How do I know you have a good story? I can’t just—



Oh, I’ve got plenty of stories. Matter of fact, we can start with this one…

Monday, 1 January 2018

One Man's Opinion: DIG TWO GRAVES by KEITH NIXON



Happy New Year, folks.

Some reflections. 

When you focus so much upon writing, it can be difficult to separate the personal world from those woven as internal fictions. Or maybe that's just madness. I can't be sure. I’m going to try and sum up 2017 without straying too far into the personal, but feel the need to say that the year for my family and friends was a wonderful one in so many ways and I hope that 2018 comes close to matching that.

As a writer, the terrain was a little more uneven.

The folding of Blasted Heath was a big hit. In a world where exciting fiction needs small publishers, it’s sad to see one of the best crime outlets biting the dust. It had been a long time coming and the sinking of the final nail came as no surprise, but the waves grew larger than I should have let them and I’ve only just managed to bail out the last remnants of the water from the bilges. On the plus side, I’ve been able to put the books out myself and give them a new lease of life. The first three are now live and the fourth and final instalment, Closing Time, is currently available for pre-order.  

I wrote another novel in 2017. It’s the first in what I hope will be another short series. For a while, I thought the book had found a very exciting home. Sadly, after managing to navigate the corridors, the final door remained locked. I’ve become hardened to rejection over the years. If anything, I’ve learned to celebrate it. Unfortunately, I’d made the mistake of allowing my hopes to grow and that meant the fall was bigger than it might have been. Another lesson learned. As it’s a Christmas-set story, I’ll have to be patient and wait until the leaves drop again before I release it. I’m looking forward to finding out what readers think when the time comes. In the meantime, I plan to write the next in the series. It will be great to be reunited with the central characters when the time is right.  

Among the treats of the year, I’d highlight the event I hosted at Coastword with Christopher Brookmyre. He was pleasant and good company off stage and, more importantly, he was hugely entertaining in front of the audience.

It was also great to catch up with Anthony Neil Smith again (check him out if you haven’t) on another of his trips to Scotland.
I was particularly thrilled to finally meet Chris Rhatigan and his family in Edinburgh. We worked together on the Pulp Ink collections and on some short fiction and I’ve always liked his way of being. He might be an interesting and solid guy online, but he’s even more warm and wonderful in person. His writing is rather special. There’s no compromise in his work and you should definitely be reading his books and short stories. Following on from our meeting, I was invited to do some work in the role as editorial consultant for All Due Respect books and that’s been a rewarding experience to date. I hope that somewhere in this process I’ll discover ways to improve as a writer along the way. All Due Respect will have some cracking fiction for you coming soon, so keep those eyes peeled.

I’ve also read some terrific books in 2017 (there were some mediocre and poor ones in there, too, but I haven’t shared my opinions on those). Ed McBain has kept me busy in the best possible way, as have Georges Simenon and W.R. Burnett. I think I’ll be reading more old fiction in the months ahead, but I’ll mix it up with exciting new work at the same time.

One of the new books I’ve enjoyed was my most recent pleasure, Keith Nixon’s Dig Two Graves (US). It’s the first in a series following Detective Solomon Gray. Billed as ‘a gripping crime thriller’, I can confirm that it lives up to that promise.

When a teenage boy is found splattered into the concrete outside a block of flats in Margate, it stirs the muddy pool Solomon Gray’s past. Things become complicated when murder is suspected and a direct link is found between Gray and the case.  

The detective begins to unravel. While he follows the threads in his personal and professional lives, further deaths close in on Gray in ever-decreasing circles until even he struggles to understand why everything he touches crumbles to dust.

Gray is anything but. While he may have a sullen exterior and is haunted by unrelenting ghosts, he also wears a beating heart on his sleeve. His past is bleak. His career is on the ropes. His future offers no hope and if he doesn’t seek medical help he’ll lose his job. He drinks to remember and to forget and rage forever lurks just beneath the surface.  As he wanders from case to case and the world around him paints him into ever-tighter corners, the exploration of his personality drills deeper than many reads in the procedural genre. When married together with the details of the murders he’s investigating, you have a multi-faceted novel that will satisfy much more than just the curiosity as to the identity and motivations of the killers.

There’s a lot of promise here and if you’re looking for a new police series to take you through your reading in 2018, this may well be exactly what you want.      
Dig Two Graves is published by Bastei Entertainment. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

One Man's Opinion: COLD CUTS by DOUGLAS LINDSAY



Bastei Entertainment is a publisher with several fingers on the pulse. In case you missed out on their recent publications, there have been new novels from Anthony Neil Smith and Keith Nixon.

Another of their current crop of talent is Douglas Lindsay. His work, Cold Cuts (US), is the opener for a police series involving the characters Pereira and Bain.

Cold Cuts tells the story of what happens when human flesh is discovered as the filling in a sandwich served up by a small sandwich shop. The press kick up a storm and the pressure is on to solve the case.  

There are plenty of leads to follow as well as the responsibility to contain any further incidents of people entering the food chain.

The theme itself is pretty dark and you might think it couldn’t become any more sinister than cannibalism. If you’ve read any Douglas Lindsay in the past (and I hope, for your sake, that you have), you’ll realise that he’s able to delve much further into the disturbing than that. The final lines are enough to chill the warmest bones. The dish is served up with a Scottish twang and dashes of humour to add seasoning to the entertainment.  

This one’s a quick and gripping read. As bait for the follow on, it should lure many a fish to the hook. Put another way, the flesh of Kevin Moynes' thigh is the perfect appetiser for the main course.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

One Man's Opinion: KILLER'S PAYOFF by ED McBAIN



Poor old Cotton Hawes. It seems that he can’t interview a woman about a case without falling in love. He even gets things going with the widow of Sy Kramer, a blackmailer who has been gunned down roaring twenties style in the middle of the city. When Hawes turns up and is mistaken for the plumber, gets himself soaked while fixing the shower and has to remove his shirt to dry off, we find ourselves in a classic scene. There’s humour, a flavour of noir, character development by the bucket-load and all the while there’s forward movement for the plot. In other words, it’s typical McBain. And highly entertaining fiction.

The case of Sy Kramer is an interesting one. They guy has landed some big cheques over a year and he’s spent extravagantly and with taste. In the course of the investigation, we discover there are three main sources of income. He’s been blackmailing the owner of a lemonade factory who had a rodent problem, the wife of a politician with a history as a model and a third from an unknown source which was the most lucrative of the bunch.

In Killer’s Payoff (US) Carella and Hawes take centre stage, the latter being keen to make amends for his blunder when he arrived at the 87th. It’s an case that will take him into the mountains to follow up Sy’s hunting habit and into the up-and-coming areas of the city that are being overwhelmed by property development. Best of all are the steps taken into the world of cheesecake – it’s a euphemism that was new to me and if you don’t, you’ll just have to read it to find out.

Another great book that just makes me keen to read the next in the series.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

One Man's Opinion: KILLER'S CHOICE by ED McBAIN



When we meet Annie Boone, she’s been shot to pieces in the liquor store in which she works. The place has been wrecked and smashed glass and alcohol fumes are Annie’s resting place.

As the police investigate the murder, they discover that Annie is a woman of mystery. She had multiple personalities and each of them has a corresponding suspect to track down. The trail takes us through the creative world of the photographer, the seedy world of the pool hall, the stiff-upper lip of society, the boozy world of bars and broken-down musicians and to one of the finer department stores in the city. In each space, there’s a character who defines the habitat and a story that leaves more questions than it provides answers.

Along the way, we lose a cop and we gain.

Detective Roger Havilland meets his maker. He’s one of the real bulls in the detective pool, a man embittered by an early experience when he was trying to be kind. McBain disposes him with ruthless efficiency in many ways, but there’s a whiff of fondness for the guy in there as the back story creeps up on you.

Enter the frame Cotton Hawes. Hawes comes from a different place altogether. He’s used to order and good citizenship, so the 87th comes as something of a shock. He is a man of good education, but clearly has a lot to learn when it comes to policing the inner city. He’s lucky in that respect as he’s partnered with Steve Carella. Carella, on the other hand, is not so fortunate. While investigating the murder of Havilland, there’s an incident that becomes the talk of the precinct and almost ends the partnership at the point of it beginning.

Killer’s Choice (US) is a cracker. The layers of our victim and of the city are slowly peeled away until the cases are brought to conclusion. The angles aren’t neat and Boone’s killer isn’t easy to spot, which makes the unpicking of the crime hugely satisfying. Throw in our new man Hawes and you have a police procedural to savour.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

One Man's Opinion: DRIVE by JAMES SALLIS



‘He looked back at the open door. Maybe that’s it, Driver thought. Maybe no one else is coming, maybe it’s over. Maybe, for now, three bodies are enough.’

We meet Driver in a mess of blood and bodies. What follows is the story of how he ended up in such a disaster in the first place and the journey he takes to try and stay out of trouble with the guys who are after him.

Arcing back and forwards between the past and present is a complicated business for most of us. Thankfully, Sallis lays it out in a way that feels simple and means the strands fit together as smoothly as most of the rides Driver takes the along the way.

We learn of Driver’s upbringing. The way he survived troubled waters to become a leading stunt driver and a getaway star for armed gangs.

Dabbling with the criminal underworld soon becomes so lucrative that his day job loses its appeal. It also leads him into a life-or-death predicament when he ends up holding a large amount of cash that he shouldn’t have and doesn’t particularly want.

The layers work really well with each other. They have an easy symbiosis that helps to deepen the interest and to make the protagonist more intriguing and sympathetic.

Driver, himself, is a fabulous character. He’s patient, talented, intelligent and loyal. He’s also ruthless and old-school and believes there should be honour among thieves.

Keeping him company is a super cast – mobsters, writers, family and the old doctor who is able to put Driver together when he needs it.  

Short chapters and tight prose keep the book cruising along. There’s conflict and tension in abundance. Backstory is a bonus rather than a millstone and the author has his usual poetic and profound moments as he creates phrases that can resonate and hit hard if you let them.

Thoroughly enjoyed Drive (US) and I recommend it whether you’ve seen the movie or not.