Thursday, 7 July 2016

LONG WAY HOME by Eva Dolan - a review

The Blurb
A man is burnt alive in a shed.

No witnesses, no fingerprints - only a positive ID of the victim as an immigrant with a long list of enemies.

Detectives Zigic and Ferreira are called in from the Hate Crimes Unit to track the killer, and are met with silence in a Fenland community ruled by slum racketeers, people-trafficking gangs and fear.

Tensions rise.
The clock is ticking.
But nobody wants to talk

The Review
Long Way Home is the first in the series of books by Eva Dolan featuring DI Zigic and DS Ferreira. Zigic and Ferreira work out of the Hate Crimes Unit in the city of Peterborough - a place known to have high migration levels from Eastern and Central Europe. Dolan uses the tensions this can inevitably bring as the back-drop to this brilliant novel.

The story begins when a man is burnt alive in a shed in the back garden of Gemma and Phil Barlow - a somewhat unsavoury couple who appear to have something to hide. Dolan's decision to not use born and bred English coppers as her lead detectives allows her to explore the tensions between the native community in Peterborough and the migrant population, making this novel hugely contemporary. The power of Dolan's writing exploits this divide with a sparkling ferocity. For instance, the following conversation takes place early in the book when Zigic and Ferreira are still trying to assertain the identity of the dead man in the shed. Here, DS Ferreira is at the Barlow's intent on getting some information from Gemma Barlow:

     Gemma took a packet of Silk Cut out of her cardigan pocket and lit up, the lighter flame
     wavering as her hand trembled. She wore a thick gold wedding band over a diamond chip, 
     thin rings biting on two more fingers.
          'We didn't know there was anything wrong until we heard the sirens,' she said. 'Was it an
           'It's still too early to say.'
           Gemma nodded, took a deep drag. 'Sorry, do you want a cuppa or something?'
           'Coffee if you've got it.'
           'Instant alright?'
           'Tea then.' Ferreira took a tobacco tin out of her handbag. 'You don't mind?'
           'My grandad used to roll his own,' Gemma said. 'Cheaper, isn't it?'
           'I prefer the taste of them.'
           Gemma leaned back against the worktop, eyes on Ferreira's hands as she rolled the tobacco
     between her fingertips, packing it tight inside a licorice paper.
           'You're not English, are you?'
           'I was born in Portugal. We came over here when I was seven.'
           'No work over there, was it?'
           'Not much opportunity.' She ran her tongue along the edge of the paper and twisted it into a
     slim torpedo. 'We went to Spalding first, then when my parents got enough money together they
     moved us here.'
           'Do they work?'
           'Yeah.' Ferreira bit her lip. 'They've got a pub.'
           'They've done alright out of itthen.'
           Out of what, Ferrira wondered, grafting sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, Dad in the fields, Mum in freezing cold pack-houses, living in a caravan for two years, then a barely habitable pit for another five, four kids sharing two bedrooms; her and three younger brothers?
           'They must be proud of you, getting into the police?'
           'It was a pretty big deal, yeah.'
           'They always send you when an immigrant gets killed?'
           'What makes you think he was an immigrant?'
           The skin around Gemma's small blue eyes tightened and Ferreira bumped her age up from mid-twenties to early thirties.
           'Well, you know, they're all foreign round here now.'
           'You're not.'

The tension in this scene runs throughout the entire book. There are twists and there are turns, episodes that are truly shocking - yes, this book holds nothing back - an ending that I totally didn't see coming, and beneath it all, the glue that holds it all together . . . that constant tension.

Every character in this book is brilliantly drawn. Each has its place. Each has a voice, a tale to tell.

The Sunday Times described said 'The modern scourge of people-trafficing is brilliantly described in this ingenious and compassionate novel.' That about somes it up.

Long Way Home is one of those novels that rightly propelled Eva Dolan to the the very top of the crime writing game, and I highly recommend it.

Grab a copy from Amazon UK here and Amazon US here


Thursday, 2 June 2016

THE DEAD CAN'T TALK by Nick Quantrill - a review

The Blurb

How far will Anna Stone, a disillusioned police officer on the brink of leaving her job, go to uncover the truth about her sister's disappearance?

Approached by Luke Carver, an ex-Army drifter she's previously sent to prison, he claims to have information which will help her. As the trail leads from Hull and the Humber's desperate and downtrodden to its great and good, an unsolved murder twenty-five years ago places their lives in danger, leaving Stone to decide if she can really trust a man who has his own reasons for helping.

The Review
The Dead Can't Talk is Nick Quantrill's fourth novel. Nick's first three novels - all examples of British crime fiction at its finest - featured private detective, Joe Geraghty, so it was always going to be something of a risk to branch out into new characters. Crime writer Howard Linskey recently made it work, and Nick Quantrill has made it work too.

Readers of Quantrill's work will know that the city of Hull plays a major part in his writing. Hull is to Quantrill as Edinburgh is to Rankin - the city itself becoming a character in its own right. 

The Hull of the Geraghty novels still exists in The Dead Can't Talk, except Hull is now a city recently crowned the UK City of Culture. This being so, political machinations abound as the city readies itself for the spotlight. At the same time, a bye election - a shoe-in for prospective MP Graham Holdroyd - is attracting all sorts of attention.

Into this arena come Luke Carver - ex-military, recently released from prison, a man of means and determination, a man seeking a purpose - and Anna Stone, a police officer recently put on gardening leave for her an indiscretion at work, and the woman responsible for Carver's incarceration. Anna's sister's apparent suicide several years earlier has always haunted her. and now she has some time on her hands, she is determined to find the truth. 

When Carver is framed for the murder of the woman across the hall of the shabby house he shares, Stone and Carver's paths cross once again - each with a truth to lay bare.

And then there is Graham Holdroyd - prospective MP - what of him and the secrets he holds?

As Carver and Stone delve into the murky past of the city, they uncover a web of lies and deceit that goes right to the heart city's establishment.

The Dead Can't Talk is written in Quantrill's distinctive clipped prose - the dialogue spot on, the story tight and brooding, a whole cast of characters weaving in and out of the story, each with their own secrets to guard. 

As the different strands of the story are expertly pulled together, and the motives of each character comes to the fore, I was left with a degree of sympathy for each of them. And that is the beauty of Quantrill's writing. There are no good guys and there are no bad guys - just people. People who make mistakes, people who make errors of judgement, victims of birth, victims of fate, victims of circumstance. 

In short, people who are real.

Quantrill does not judge. He simply writes. And that is why he is one of the few writers I have read everything of. 

The Dead Can't Talk is a taught piece of British crime fiction that is another fantastic addition to the Quantrill canon, and I highly recommend it.

The Dead Can't Talk is available from Amazon UK here  and from Amazon US here

Thursday, 26 May 2016

TODAY by Andrew Webber - a review

The Blurb
How would you live today if you knew there was no tomorrow?

Today is a story of the struggles of modern life, society's obsession with planning for the future, and the lack of control we have over the hand fate deals us.

Follow the lives of three ordinary people as one tragic day unfolds that changes everything:

Country girl Laura, struggling to cope with her move to London. Frugal John, desperately saving to get on the property ladder and womaniser Charlie, racing through as many conquests as he can.

Today will make you question how you live your own life and whether you put off your own happiness in exchange for a future we may never have.

The Review
TODAY is a novella set in modern day London, telling the story of three young people trying to make their way in the capital.

First, we have John. John lives in a grotty little room in a grotty little shared house, his every waking thought driven by the desire to one day have a place of his own.

Laura lives far away from her family, and spends all her time working in a job where she feels undervalued, overlooked, yet expected to work herself into the ground. And she does.

And then there is Charlie - whose only desire is, well, himself. Charlie's occupation is babe-magnet, lover extraordinaire, a modern day Casanova in fake tan and too-tight T-shirts. Charlie has no thought, or feeling, for anyone but the face staring back it him in the mirror.

All three of these characters are introduced one by one, Webber carefully grounding the reader in the insular world of each before moving onto the next, with prose that is fluid and imaginative. The repressive, almost nihilistic, nature of the characters' life choices becomes clearer and clearer with each turn of the page, until the lives of all three suddenly and violently collide in a simply devastating scene.

TODAY is a cracking tale of contemporary life in the unforgiving city that is modern day London. It is a novella that is both disturbing and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Highly recommended.

TODAY is available from Amazon UK here and from Amazon US  here


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Six Guns at Sundown, by Eric Beetner - a review

The Blurb
Seething hatred spurs The Lawyer forward, with a burning vengeance for his family slaughtered by seven hardened gunslingers. He’s tracking them down, one by one, until every killer is in the ground. His next target, Big Jim Kimbrough, left tracks to the small town of Sundown, Arkansas, where The Lawyer learns his prey has already moved on.

But he can’t leave after he witnesses a black man named Josiah being dragged behind a horse, the man’s only crime is allegedly taking food from a white man’s table, and is about to be lynched. The Lawyer takes up arms to save Josiah, realizing Kimbrough is slipping from his grasp with every minute he spends in Sundown. None of that will matter, though, if The Lawyer doesn’t survive the next twelve hours in the wake of a racially charged mob, fueled by the town’s tyrant and cheap liquor.

Eric Beetner (The Year I Died Seven Times) is no stranger to writing terse, action-packed storylines. He shifts his gifted prose from modern crime tales to the gritty world of the Old West without missing a beat. SIX GUNS AT SUNDOWN is a riveting Western that continually tightens its grip to the last provocative page.

The Review
Great writing is about two things - the theme, and the relationships between the characters. And what great writers can do is take these elements and transpose them through space and time. In the case of Six Guns at Sundown, Beetner has chosen the Old West as his arena. I love cowboy stories, so when I chanced upon this novella, I jumped all over it.

Six Guns at Sundown is classic Western fare, with a noir flavour. The Lawyer is on the trail of Big Jim Kimbrough - the man that slaughtered his family. And he will stop at nothing to track him down. Well, almost nothing. A dying man leads him to the town of Sundown - a lawless hell of a town - a town run by whatever loud-mouthed, trigger-happy lunatic happens to be shouting the loudest at the time. On this occasion, the current loud-mouthed, trigger-happy lunatic goes by the name of Buchanan - a rancher with a perceived injustice for which he wants revenge.

But there are two sides to every story. And when The Lawyer rides into town, he is going to make sure Buchanan understands that - whether Buchanan likes it or not.

Six Guns at Sundown is a brilliantly written slice of Western noir, from one of the finest crime/noir writers around.  It is the third in a series of novella based on characters created by Edward A. Grainger, author of the excellent Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles adventures. If you love your Western reading on the Clint Eastwood Unforgiven side, I highly recommend this series.

Six Guns at Sundown is available from Amazon UK here and from Amazon US here 

Monday, 16 May 2016

What Happens in Reno, by Mike Monson - a review

The Blurb
Matt Hodges is not a good husband. He’s unemployed, a drunk, and a compulsive gambler. His wife Lydia has basically written him off. However, with a small inheritance coming, Matt promised Lydia he’d not only pay for the cosmetic surgery she so craves, but that he’d also get them out of debt. Unfortunately for Lydia, as soon as the check is cashed, Matt heads for Reno to try his hand at high-stakes poker, and to stay as drunk as possible for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, back home in Modesto, Lydia plots with a local violent criminal (who happens to be her new lover) to find Matt and get the cash for themselves before it’s all gone. What happens when they all finally meet in Reno will be our little secret, okay?

The Review
Reading What Happens in Reno is like being hammered repeatedly in the face with the back of a shovel. The prose is stark and terse. Sentiment, there is none. Okay, a little. The characters rampage across the page. The dialogue is superb, the story dark and thrilling, the tension held at that very moment between the electric chair and the flick of the switch. 

The noir officianado, Otto Penzler, once wrote:

'The noir story with a happy ending has never been written, nor can it be. The lost and corrupt souls who populate these tales were doomed before we met them because of their hollow hearts and depraved sensibilities.'

By Penzler's definition, What Happens in Reno is as noir as it gets. 


What Happens in Reno is available from Amazon UK here and from Amazon US here

No Name Lane, by Howard Linskey - a review

 The hunt for a serial killer unearths an unsolved cold case from over sixty years ago.
Young girls are being abducted and murdered in the North-East. Out of favour Detective Constable Ian Bradshaw struggles to find any leads - and fears that the only thing this investigation will unravel is himself.
Journalist Tom Carney is suspended by his London tabloid and returns to his home village in County Durham. Helen Norton is the reporter who replaced Tom on the local newspaper. Together, they are drawn into a case that will change their lives forever.
When a body is found, it's not the latest victim but a decades-old corpse. Secrets buried for years are waiting to be found, while in the present-day an unstoppable killer continues to evade justice...

Having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, all three of Howard Linskey's first three novels - The Drop; The Damage; The Dead - each one following the life of white collar gangster, David Blake, I was a little dubious about the change of direction No Name Lane promised. I wondered if Linskey could make the leap to the other side of the moral fence, so to speak - from villainy to justice. But I had no need to worry. A great writer is one skilled enough to make such leaps. And Linskey is a great writer.

 No Name Lane is set exclusively in the village of Great Middleton - an archetypal old English village in the north east of England, where everyone knows everyone else and strangers are rarely welcomed. When a body is dug up in a field in the village during an investigation into the disappearance of several young girls, it is expected that another poor lass has been discovered. Except it isn't. It is a body from an age long past - an age only a few in the village now remember.

Enter Tom Carney - tabloid journalist extraordinaire, and Helen Norton, a young local journalist looking to earn her stripes on the local paper. Their relationship is brilliantly portrayed, the friction between them palpable, and yet with just a well-placed word or two, the sympathy each character has for the other is never far away. And there is local copper DC Ian Bradshaw. Something of a laughing stock amongst the local constabulary, Bradshaw is out to prove his critics wrong.

Linskey takes us through the unfolding story with immense skill, as we follow Carney, Norton, and Bradshaw as they investigate both crimes simultaneously. With two timelines and three points of view, No Name Lane could have been something of a mess in the hands of a lesser writer. Instead, what we have is a fantastic detective story told in a manner which is both thrilling and sensitive.

I think I'm pretty good with these sorts of books, guessing who the perpertrator(s) are. But Howard Linskey beat me on this one.

Well done, sir.

A truly brilliant novel.

No Name Lane is available on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Hot Rod Heart: A Noir Novelette, by Thomas Pluck - a review

The Blurb
 Bobby and Karen fit together like two sharp-toothed gears, suping up cars, racing them for pinks, and selling their rods to scrape a living. Then an old friend comes calling, and the jealous, brutal world conspires to tear them apart.

A fierce and fiery small-block noir tale from the author of the explosive action thriller Blade of Dishonor, and Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime & Suspense.

The Review
Hot Rod Heart is straight out of the noir tradition of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. The simmering passions, the explosions of violence, the tragic inevitability of the character's lives. I read Hot Rod Heart in one sitting. It roars along just like one of the hot rods Bobby is so expert at fixing up. Trouble is, you can't fix up a woman. A woman has needs. Needs beyond a shiny exterior and a well-oiled engine. And Karen is one wild woman.

Pluck is one of those writers whose prose takes no prisoners. He shows you his characters as they see each other - hard-edged and posturing, whilst at the time they are terrified of others seeing the fear that threatens to break them apart. And Pluck does all this without taking sides. There is a kindness in his writing. He doesn't judge his characters. He merely allows them to be themselves. In doing so we, as a readers, are tested to see whether we will judge them, knowing if we do, we are simply judging ourselves.

Hot Rod Heart  is a dynamic slice of noir that I highly recommend to all that love their books gritty, passionate, and smart.

Hot Rod Heart is available from Amazon UK here and Amazon US here