Friday, 2 January 2015

Best Reads 2014

What makes a book a 'good read' for me? That's quite difficult to pin down because I read a variety of different genres and not every book I choose to read satisfies me. I'm constantly looking for the book that will remain with me for a long while afterwards, will delight me with descriptions and transport me to another place and time, will keep me turning the pages long after I should be sleeping, will stop me in my tracks and make me think about people, about life, about human nature. These books don't come around too often. It would be wonderful to have this quality of reading experience every time I pick up a book. Maybe this would take away the magic of finding that gem; that book that I fall in love with and want to tell the world about. So which books did I fall in love with in 2014?

Here's my quick top ten-ish in no particular order.

First, two very different books from Douglas Lindsay.
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR KITE! - The protagonist should have died in a plane crash but somehow survived and then tries to get his old life back. Lots of cultural references and mystery.
THE BLOOD THAT STAINS YOUR HANDS, the next in Lindsay's Thomas Hutton police thriller series. Lindsay just gets everything right for me; characters, plot, setting, humour...murder and for me his writing is totally satisfying.

Something totally different - CANADA by Richard Ford. A boy is abandoned by his feckless parents and to avoid being put into care, he finds himself being bundled off to Canada to live and work for a man who has a mysterious past. This book transported me to another time and place - totally absorbing.

I've read many Catriona King novels in 2014. I've devoured them as quickly as a box of Thornton's chocolates. Just great detective stories set in Belfast. There's round about eight or nine in the series so start with the first - A LIMITED JUSTICE.

I also discovered Daniel Judson in the last year and have now read everything in his back catalogue that I've been able to get my hands on. I started with the GIN PALACE TRILOGY. I love his very dark writing, full of hopeless characters who have to somehow tun their life around against the odds, all done against the background of a murder thriller. Fabulous stuff.

THE LAST TIGER  by Tony Black is the tale of the Tasmanian tiger that will break your heart and keep you thinking about the boy who searched for love and acceptance. Don't miss out on this one.

A book I just came across out of nowhere is THE BONE CHURCH by Victoria Dougherty. Set in wartime Prague, two lovers try to flee to safety and their subsequent adventure is harrowing while capturing the dangers of the time perfectly.

Johnny Shaw is a writer that you must not miss. Read one - any - of his books and you will be hooked. The dust from the farm will get into your mouth and the heat will burn into your back. 
I highly recommend DOVE SEASON or PLASTER CITY. This guy knows how to write.

As well as having a passion for reading, I also fall into the deep pit which is family history research from time to time. Hours can pass quite easily when an interesting line is discovered. One of my discoveries in 2014 was my my great grandmother's cousin's son (I know...) was engaged to marry the writer Katherine Cecil Thurston who, around 100 years ago was a very well known and celebrated author whose books were even made into plays and performed on Broadway. Sadly, Katherine died before the wedding and her life was cut short. Although her writing is all but forgotten now, I would suggest you have a read of MAX, a story of hidden identities and life in Paris in the early 1900s. 

I greatly enjoyed Dan O'Shea's two novels PENANCE and GREED. Two great thrillers that will have you travelling around the world. I love the tone of these books - crumpled and grumpy but also the fabulous grasp and use of language. I don't want my reading to be dumbed down so I appreciated and enjoyed these stylish books.

That's probably more than ten books - I've cheated but I've kept the best until last and although all of the books above are excellent, this one is outstanding:


I read this book at the beginning of 2014 and it has remained in my mind all year. The pictures Owens paints are so vivid, the characters so well worked out that I feel as if I was actually there. One of those books that you just never want to end, swallows you up and deposits you into a whole different world populated with incredible characters. Set in Kentucky in the 50s, the descriptions are outstanding and the narrative from the nine year old Orbie gives the most wonderful perspective on the goings on of the adults around him and the social struggles of the time. Amazing writing.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Douglas Lindsay? Can't Escape From You...

You may have noticed my earlier post about Douglas Lindsay's new police procedural THE UNBURIED DEAD and read that I'd hunt him down and hit him if he didn't come up with another DS Hutton story PDQ. Well, never fear, violence wasn't necessary (or maybe the threat of violence was totally overwhelming) because, what do you, bang, bong - Lindsay produces not one but two more in the Hutton series (you see, I am now confident enough to call it a series) to satisfy even my voracious appetite for all things Lindsay.

A Plague of Crows and The Blood That Stains Your Hands both have interesting plots, very different to each other, but equally engaging. Depends what you are looking for; CROWS is more gruesome and at the 'you have to be kidding me' end of the market, whilst BLOOD is more of the 'everyday life gone wrong' type of deal. Both great and I certainly appreciate that the plots were miles apart. No recycling here. 

Enough about plot. Characters - ah yes! In CROWS, Lindsay starts to lift the corner of the duvet to give the reader a peep at the dirty, heaving blackness carried around on Hutton's back. We already know this man is severely damaged by something in his past...and here it is, in all its fetid glory.

And then more stuff happens to him. How much can any man take, you may wonder, as Hutton moves from coffee to vodka to woman after woman. 

A warning - you will feel like taking Hutton into a dark corner and having 'a word with him' about his attitude to woman. Stick with it though - trust me, but I did think for a bit that Lindsay had gone a bit too far with objectification - was it it just salacious writing or was there some purpose behind all the tongue lolling, breast fantasising? You'll find out in Book 3.

Magic stuff, no really. A fabulous book - The Blood That Stains Your Hands is just remarkable. Lindsay digs ever deeper into the psyche of Hutton and leaves no grave unturned (yes there's graves) in this crescendo of malice, hypocrisy, despair and revelation.

Spoiler alert ( I feel I have to...), Hutton survives The Plague of Crows. He somehow returns to work more damaged, more disillusioned and smelling even worse-  not showering or changing ones clothes after being out on the scatter does not make for pleasing odours.

Assigned to the humdrum of policing, public toilet vandals and neighbours falling out, Hutton is given a 'get out of jail' card from his boss, Taylor. They head off to the scene of a suicide where they find an elderly lady hanging from a bridge wearing a pair of wings. Got my interest. 

The plot is an interesting one, not your usual - hip, hip, hooray, but if you know anything about the congregations you can find any Sunday in churches across Scotland, then you will not be surprised to read about the vitriol and politics that go on in our communities when churches are asked to merge due to falling rolls. If this is all new to you, then you might be surprised at what these good Christian folk can get up to. Lindsay is obviously well versed in the goings on with parishioners giving up a lifetime of churchgoing rather than entering the other church down the road and continuing with their worship.

Unlikely plot, but brilliant choice. I love a good dollop of religion with my crime, goes down well. I'm pretty sure Wee Barney was lurking somewhere at the back of the congregation wondering what kind of haircuts he could suggest. Enough.

Lindsay tortures Hutton some more. His life gets worse. A lot worse. We find out more. We see deep into his darkness which Lindsay describes in such an accurate way. This is a writer who understands pain.

I hope there's more to come - a lot more.
As Dylan said, Can't Escape From You...

Friday, 11 April 2014

Tobacco Stained Graphic Novel!

I'm always excited by writers who keep looking around corners, head down alleyways and ditch the SATNAV. They come up with writing that is different, surprising and sometimes, just a bit off-the-wall-crazy. 

Not every writer takes chances and that's fine because at times I allow my reading to lapse into a comfortable laziness and I greatly enjoy formulaic crime novels. It's a bit like enjoying a Cadbury's Cream Egg every Easter. Familiar, comforting and the quality you've come to expect. 

I couldn't eat cream eggs all year though, and my reading material, at times, needs a shake up. A good blast of something different and insanely creative refreshes the parts cream eggs can't reach. (I'm denying myself chocolate just now so please excuse the cream egg references.)

Andrez Bergen is my insanely creative author of choice when it comes to messing up my reading habits. He challenges me with his constant cultural references. He keeps me on my toes as he moves back and forward in time and in and out of real and virtual worlds. Concentration is necessary or I could easily get lost in his maze and find myself trapped in 12th Century Japan waiting to be executed by a drone warrior from 22nd Century Melbourne just to discover I was plugged into a computer programme to save me from standing outside in a downpour of acid rain.

So, how excited was I to discover that there are now plans afoot to magically morph Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat into a graphic novel? That's at least worth six cream eggs. I have no idea how one would go about this task but thankfully Andrez Bergen does AND you can get in on the ground floor of his fiendish plot by supporting his KICKSTARTER campaign by pledging just a few pennies to mega bucks if you have the where with all. Very exciting! 


The critically-acclaimed 2011 tale of a near-future noir/dystopia gets a huge sequential art treatment — with new plot twists included.


Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was a novel first published in 2011 that proudly wears on its sleeve the influences of writers Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Neville Shute, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Graham Greene, and... filmmakers Satoshi Kon, Carol Reed, John Huston and Akira Kurosawa.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

GREED by Dan O'Shea

I feel very satisfied after reading GREED by Chicago writer Dan O'Shea. Sometimes you just need a big crime hit and, believe me, they don't come anymore full on than this.

Classy writing, lots of detail, if like me you like that, and multiple viewpoints, which I rather like too. Seeing the same event from different angles. Sweet thinking, Mr. O'Shea.

I've headed straight onto O'Shea's first Lynch novel (yep, I muddled up there) and I always think it's a good sign if you just want to get your hands on more of the same.

Greed by Dan O'Shea is a tale of paranoia set within a complex world of dog eat dog hatred and violence. O'Shea gathers up all the nasty elements in our society in one large bucket of corruption and gives a good swilling around while he sits back and waits to see who comes out tops. Mafia? Mexican drug cartels? Al-Quaeda? They're all there trying to out do each other. Chuck in some mysterious off the radar government spooks and you'll be lucky if you emerge from this book without a few stray bullet holes just above your left ear. O'Shea's solid cop Lynch has to try to work out who the bad guys are as a fortune in blood diamonds emerge in downtown Chicago, brought in by an ex French Foreign Legion chancer. Tense storytelling, complex plot done very well, holds together and not a loose thread is left at the end. Exciting, absorbing and more, please.
Find out more about Dan O'Shea here.

Amazon UK

Sunday, 22 December 2013

HOT Writers 2013

As another wonderful year of reading rapidly comes to an .end, I'm going to share my favourite books of 2013 with you. I never  have a plan to read anything in particular; some books I stumble across, some I've been asked to read before they are published (which is always a great honour), and some books are by writers that I always return to because I love them.

I'm sure you've got lots of favourites that won't appear on my list but maybe I might manage to persuade you to try at least one of these highly enjoyable reads. 

So...the bold and wonderful Andrez Bergen was allowed yet again to give free range to his awesome creativity. One would think that after producing two of the most awe-inspiring novels of last year he'd be quite happy to rest his little Aussie shoulders and wander peacefully under the cherry blossom trees of Tokyo..but no, obviously he just couldn't help it. Thank goodness!

WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? is a huge accomplishment; a dystopian virtual world populated by a surfeit of heroic characters fighting off the baddies to maintain the equilibrium of their imaginary society. I know, that all sound a bit crazy. Classic comic fans will love all of the references but there is much more to this novel and if you can push aside the references and get to the heart of the despair and hopes of the characters then you will be on the way to discovering what really motivates Bergen; the human condition. What we have here is a love story worthy of Romeo and Juliet as two lovers from opposite sides of the street battle to save their love for one another. Add into the mix the fact that this struggle all takes place in a virtual world where the real life players are hooked up to a matrix, living in the same Melbourne that readers of Bergen are already familiar with, then the emotion and longing for love and belonging gets cranked up to fever pitch.

Bergen deals with themes of loss, despair and hope as his real and virtual characters try to find meaning in their lives as they stumble around trying to find out why both worlds are crumbling under their feet. This novel is an easy fit for comic book fans but please don't be put off, Bergen rewards every reader who works their way through his stories, sometimes you don't even know why you keep turning the pages but just as people will stand in a freezing cold riverbed for hours at a time panning for gold, remember that Bergen will reward your efforts richly. You will never regret picking up this, or any other novel by Andrez Bergen - tough stuff with a golden heart. Magnificent!

Tony Black gets two mentions from me this year for two very different pieces of writing. If you missed KILLING TIME IN VEGAS then I'd highly recommend that you grab yourself a copy of these short stories set not just in Vegas but across the US. Packed full of gangsters with guns and bank robbers on the run, Black delivers his usual high standard with a totally believable American accent. There's a great variety in the stories beginning with the eponymous story of this fine collection which clearly signals that these aren't going to be stories about stereotypical villains. Revenge could pretty much be the theme of the collection but it comes in many different guises as Black surprises and shocks in equal measure. Punches are not pulled as the 'baddies' feel the pressure of cold steal at their temple. Black travels seamlessly from his well-known Edinburgh via Miami to Sin City itself, changing his cigarette brands and accent as he goes. Same high standard, same brilliant writing.

Having read and loved all of the Gus Dury series by Tony Black, I began reading His Father's Son with a little bit of wariness. I was, perhaps, expecting some 'now that I'm a father, I've gone a bit soft' kind of thing - a tear-jerker at the very least. What I got was nothing of the sort and I was blown away by Black's versatility. Thrown straight away by finding the plot set in Australia, I just didn't know where I was being led. As I sank into the story (this is a quick read as you won't be able to put it down) I discovered the skill with which Black has used to tiptoe around a family saga, never sinking into sentimentality. Expect some terrific characters and stories within stories that could easily stand on their own. I hope Black feels encouraged to keep digging in this seam because what he has discovered isn't coal but pure gold.
Juárez Dance was recommended via Elizabeth A. White, a gal who knows great writing. It didn't disappoint, that's for sure. Baking in the Mexican sun, a professional hitman mixes with the powerful and corrupt, killing for money, enjoying a lifestyle that brings him a luxury but an empty heart. There's lots of action, chases, violence and an excellent plot that will keep you guessing until the end. Hawken will quickly become one of your favourite writers, standing out from the crowd and raising the bar for others trying to make their name in this genre.
I greatly enjoyed Michael J. Malone's BLOOD TEARS, the excellent opener in his Ray McBain series. Let's be fair, Malone knows how to hook you in when the dead body (well there has to be one at the start of a detective novel) isn't only dead but shows signs of stigmata. I'm a bit of a sucker for some religious shenanigans. Set around Kilmarnock, (don't let that put you off, it's a wonderful place), Malone grips you with a fascinating tale of childhood fear and loss.I am now a huge fan and have A TASTE FOR MALICE, the next in the series (I'm calling it this because I want to read lots about Ray McBain) sitting waiting for me.
Island Life was the first book written by William Meikle that I have read, and as I'm a bit of a sucker for stories set on Scottish islands with a lighthouse, a good few murders and a bit of sex thrown in for good value, I wasn't disappointed. Meikle mixes Lovecraftian horror with some great characters who have to fight off evil to win the day and most importantly, survive. The supernatural elements come via beings that have survived through the ages of time, waiting to inhabit the world once more. Wherever Meikle gets his inspiration, he doesn't forget the essential element of telling a cracking good story. Lots of blood and guts, scary moments and monsters that will have you turning the pages long into the wee hours.
I also recommend that you read William Meikle's trilogy, THE MIDNIGHT EYE FILES, following the cases of Glasgow P.I. Derek Adams. Meikle mixes crime with horror and supernatural elements in a a variety of Scottish settings. You need to sit wrapped in a blanket on a freezing December night with a glass of malt whisky by your side to fully appreciate these stories. Let's hope the wind is howling and the house creeks to set the perfect atmosphere. 

Heath Lowrance deserves to be a widely read, best selling novelist. He never lets his readers down, delivering first class prose, complex plots and a plethora of crazy characters. City of Heretics delivers for all fans of crime and action thrillers. It's a tale of revenge mixed in with the madness of religious cults who prey on lost souls. Expect the usual bloody revenge that Lowrance excels in but, I promise, you will not be disappointed.Read this one and tell all of your friends to read it too.

I don't know about you, but after reading hundreds of crime novels it's refreshing to stumble upon a new writer who bases the story in a different setting. Recently I've enjoyed running around Brighton while reading Paul Grzegorzek's WHEN GOOD MEN DO NOTHING. This is a totally believable police procedural with plenty of action and chases. Grzegorzek can construct a great plot and with Detective Sergeant Rob Steele and his team of Firearms Positioning Forensics experts, the discovery of a dead body soon develops into a massive international terrorist plot. If you enjoy this, also try THE FOLLOW.

ONE MORE BODY is the third in the Moses McGuire saga and it is no doubt the most tightly packed of the three.Stallings doesn't miss a beat as Moses yet again struggles to maintain his humanity in the midst of 21st century deprivation and lost morality. Moses can't forgive himself for previous actions and, without any care for himself, he sets off on another hopeless chase in an attempt to save another young girl who has been kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery. Stallings drives the story forward at top speed, crunching the gears and scraping the paintwork as he goes. He throws the reader around hard corners, drags you bleeding from the crash site and shields you from a hail of bullets while you try to catch your breath. There's a great cast of characters, some old - some new, but Moses remains centre stage, standing tall and proud, roaring at a world that can't protect the innocent. This is tough writing that has been hewn from a deep seam of emotion that skilfully balances action with a commentary on the sins of the world. Great stuff Mr. Stallings.


I am so delighted that I stumbled over the writing of Roger Stelljes because he is not one to miss. I love his stories, characters and most of all his setting. MacMcRyan, a detective of Irish decent, (I pictures Brad Pitt...but that's not so surprising for me) solves some of Minnesota's toughest crimes, not caring whose toes he stands on in the process. Meant to be a high flying lawyer, McRyan instead follows in his family's well trod steps after the murder of his two cop cousins in St Paul. He solves crime with his gut instinct that makes him the golden boy of the department but, not one to court celebrity, McRyan focuses on the next case, never afraid to go where others fear to tread.
Read the prequel and then grab the box set for only £2.49!

I got caught up in the three Roland March crime adventures from J. Mark Bertand earlier this year, He's the kind of writer that just makes me download the next book straight away to get catch up with what happens next to his characters. Roland March is a cop who has seen better days. He was once the hot shot but lost it after the death of his daughter. March hauls his way back into favour once more, putting his life on the line more than once in these great crime thrillers. Don't miss out.

This seems to have been my year of the 'trilogy' because here's another three great books for you. Malcolm MacKay is a stylish writer, text pared down to the bare bones and a set of stories told from multiple viewpoints. If you've ever wondered what it must really be like to be a hitman, then read THE NECESSARY DEATH OF LEWIS WINTER and you'll discover there's a lot more to it than aiming and pulling a trigger. 

Move on rapidly to HOW A GUNMAN SAYS GOODBYE and you'll find out what happens to a hitman when he is perceived by his boss to be too old for the job. There's no place for sentimentality in the world of gangland hits but how do you get rid of the man who knows all the secrets?

Finish off with THE SUDDEN ARRIVAL OF VIOLENCE where MacKay rounds his tale off with a hitman who decides he's had enough. Can he escape the grip of his masters or is his fate sealed? Not to be missed.

Now and again I need a blast of something just a bit different. Joelle Charbonneau delivers a humorous blend of crime and music in a world populated by teenage performers and taxidermy. You will laugh your way through END ME A TENOR just as I did with MURDER FOR CHOIR. Paige Marshall, the High School choir coach, just can't seem to avoid dead bodies as she awaits her big break in the world of opera. Despite warnings from the local police to keep her nose out, Paige snoops around, putting her life at danger, to solve crimes that the police seem incapable of wrapping up. Paige, while she's hunting down clues, also dances around the advances of a handful of handsome men who would just love to pin her down!
Joelle Charbonneau tells a wonderful story and if you love crime but want a break from 'in your face' gore and murder, then these books are for you.

So that's it! I've made my decisions and I hope there is something in my list to tempt you. One last mention, and I'm just squeezing this in at the end as I've not finished reading it yet, but Steve Weddle's COUNTRY HARDBALL is not only a great read but a classic in the making. Always good to leave you with a killer punch ;-)