Friday, 19 December 2014

The Festive Fifty In Books And Songs (30 - 21)

30 Hit Me by Lawrence Block and Ian Dury 

29 Trouble In The Heartland by a whole bunch of great writers and Bruce Sprinsteen

28 Dirty Old Town by Nigel Bird and The Pogues

27 London Calling by Tony Black and The Clash

26 Misery by Stephen King and The Beatles

25 007 by Ian Fleming and Desmond Dekker

24 The Blue Room by Georges Simenon and The Boo Radleys

23 Fire In The Blood by Ed James and Niney

22 Bad Penny Blues by Cathi Unsworth and Humphrey Littleton

21 Puppet On A Chain by Alistair MacLean and Echo And The Bunnymen

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Festive Fifty in Books and Tunes (40 - 31)

The next installment...

40 Cheapskates by Charlie Stella and The Clash 

39 The Guns Of Navarone by Alistair McLean and The Skatalites

38 Silence by Jan Costin Wagner and Simon and Garfunkel 

37 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe and The Velvet Underground and Nico

36 The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McInty and Tom Waits

35 Bloody Valentine by James Patterson and My Bloody Valentine 

34 Portobello by Ruth Rendell and Jen And The Gents 

33 Lazy Bones by Mark Billingham and Green Day

32 Time Bomb by Jonathan Kellerman and Rancid

31 Cherry Bomb by J. A. Konrath and The Runaways  

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Festive Fifty in Fifty Books and Tunes

The Festive Fifty is an institution, there's no doubt about it. A celebration of good things. I'm doing a little twist on it this year and listing 50 book titles that happen to share a song title. It's mainly for my own entertainment, but if it brings any cheer your way, I'd be delighted. 

Thanks for coming. 

Here, in absolutely no sensible order are the entries 50 - 41:

50 The Guns Of Brixton by Paul D Brazill and The Clash

49 California by Ray Banks and The Dead Kennedies

48 The Hanging Garden by Ian Rankin and The Cure 

47 Frank Sinatra In A Blender by Matthew McBride and Frank Sinatra

46 In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes and New Order 

45 Let It Ride by John McFetridge and Ryan Adams 

44 The Dead Beat by Doug Johnstone and Deadbeat 

43 Message In A Bottle by Kath Middleton and The Police 

42 Watching The Detectives by Deborah Locke and Elvis Costello

41 The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 

More tunes and books from this old-timer tomorrow.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


“It was never the politics with me. Never. It was the being part.” – Michael O’Connor

In Down Among The Dead (UK and US) Michael O’Connor is an old man living on the Kilburn High Road. There are too many steps to his flat and he drinks too many pints to keep himself healthy. His life is now as empty as his fridge and he fills his days with visits to the pub, the bookies and to Mrs Quinn who lives across the way.

The thing is Michael O’Connor has a past. He’s been a soldier for the IRA and has been involved in events that are bound to catch up with him. His problem is that the events that have destroyed his life also happen to be the only things that define his existence. It’s no wonder, then, that he goes shooting his mouth off after a few drinks every once in a while.

Steve Finbow has done a brilliant job with this story. He flicks back and forth between 2008 in Kilburn and 1988 in Gibraltar where he’s on one final job for his boss. The settings in each case are extremely vivid. There’s plenty of detail and each has a constant feeling of menace as the separate story-lines converge to sharply pointed endings.

O’Connor himself tells the story. While he’s clearly kissed the Blarney Stone, he also knows how to tell a tale without wasting a word. This is sharp and bold writing that is populated punchy dialogue and crisply drawn characters. It’s a wonderful voice that is at once sympathetic and pathetic and it’s one that’s very easy to spend time with.

For those of you who are around my age and above, the story of the murder of three unarmed IRA suspects will be brought to mind. The past has a way of haunting us in real life as if it was all just a fiction. This particular fiction is a treat to be part and entirely avoids any of the potential pitfalls of dealing with such material.

In the post script, it mentions that Finbow is currently writing something new. I’m delighted to hear it and I’ll definitely be there to check it out when it’s published. I'm reminded that I have an earlier book of his on my kindle called Nothing Matters (Snubnose Press) which has just joined my must-read pile. 

Very highly recommended.

Down Among The Dead is now available for pre-order.

Saturday, 29 November 2014


A quick mention from me that Southisders is still on offer until the end of the month. That's only a couple of days. It's still at 99p/99c if you're up for a little bit of Elvis, Home Alone and Blue Christmas.

And now to Tussinland. Either just buy it or read the review and then buy it. Here are my quickly scribbled thoughts.

‘I’m a crazy Bosnian rape orphan and I’m out of control.’ – Logan

Tussinland is Paul’s favourite place. It’s a world that’s created when he’s downed a bottle of his favourite expectorant, a rosy world of good feelings and happiness, or at least a break from the normal humdrum of his existence.

He’s not got a good deal going for him, but that doesn’t make him a bad man. This is extremely important to the book because, as the central character in a world where he’s surrounded by the devious and the broken, he’s someone it becomes impossible not to root for.
Paul’s problems are many. He has to live at home with his promiscuous mother for a start. He’s lost his family and his teaching job. He’s overweight, is addicted to sugary cereal (which he eats by the packet) and has more friends on the TV than anywhere else. These are only minor issues when compared to the main one, namely that he’s the chief suspect in the investigation into the murder of his ex-wife and her new partner.

The thing is, the reader knows that he’s innocent from the off. We see it happen at the beginning, Paul’s niece, Miranda, and her boyfriend, Logan, film the killing and then run away with an enormous stash of heroin.

Paul is then painted into a corner. As well as the police, the man who needs to get his hands on the drugs is after him as are his Christian fundamentalist relatives who need the cash.
This isn’t just any old story about troubled people who live difficult lives, it’s a very well-written and thrilling adventure where the twists and turns make for a very emotional and ejoyable ride.

What I liked most about this novel is the way the characters were developed along the way. They grow into fully drawn people and while it happened my sympathies had to adjust. It’s something that’s hard to pull off and also gives the novel a hugely satisfying depth.

There are a lot of great reviews out there for this book and it’s been extremely well-received. I was a little worried that it would let me down.

I needn’t have worried. It certainly lives up to its growing reputation and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to be entertained while they read their crime fiction.

A small word of warning, this one’s very specific and graphic at points. If you’re easily offended, this may not be for you.

Thursday, 27 November 2014


In Breaking Point, Brian is struggling to come to terms with his brother’s death. His girlfriend is pregnant and is unsure about him as a father. The local dope dealer spends too much time smoking his own gear and hopes that his dreams of opening a Kung Fu school will help him pay of his debts to his supplier. Owen is just a bitter man seeking revenge for the ear Brian shot off.

These ingredients are perfect to create a romp in a quiet Northern Irish village. Each element of the story collides with the other to provide a novella with bags of dangerous energy.

Gerard Brennan handles his players really well and his plotting-foot is always hard down on the accelerator as he drives the story forward. The inevitable violence is brutal and graphic when it happens. It also carries some rather unusual elements that only a slightly twisted mind could create.

Above all, I enjoyed the humour of Brennan’s novella. He uses a lot of comedy and it percolates through character, conversation and situation. It’s an addition to the punchy story that adds a lot to its entertainment factor.

This one’s perfect for shaking up one’s reading diet and adding some fun to life.

It is a sequel, but you really don’t need to read the prequel [The Point] first. I would, however, urge you to do so at some point as I feel it’s a slightly stronger piece.

The Point novellas are great reads and I’ll definitely be going back for more if there’s a further addition.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

One Man's Opinion: ICE by ED MCBAIN

“Carella had learned early on in the game that if you wanted to survive as a cop, you either took nothing at all or you took everything that wasn’t nailed down. Accept a cup of coffee on the arm from the guy who ran the local diner? Fine. Then also take a bribe from the neighbourhood fence who was running a tag sale on stolen goods every Sunday morning. A slightly dishonest cop was the same thing as a slightly pregnant woman.”

I came across a copy of Ice by Ed McBain on the table of books being sold off by my library. The name’s familiar and the cover interesting, so I figured it was a chance worth taking. I didn’t pay much and the book was worth that at least.

I’m in two minds about it. There are some wonderful aspects to the novel and there are some unappealing ones, too.

It opens strongly with the murder of a young dancer as she returns home in the snow. The key to the killing in terms of the investigation is that the weapon was also used in the shooting of a small-time drugs dealer named Paco Lopez.

There’s a leap from here into a police station, the 87th Precinct. There’s a heavily pregnant prostitute, a cell full of vocal drunks and a cast of police officers as long as the law’s arm. I thought immediately of Hill Street Blues in terms of the feel of the station. What is much more difficult to settle into on the page as opposed to on the screen is the chopping and changing from one place to another. McBain flicks between one point-of-view to another without warning. I found that to be disconcerting and it had me re-reading at several points to catch the change.

This shifting from one head to another carries on throughout the book. I did get used to it, but never really was entirely convinced by the style. It’s not a matter of weaving together separate strands of a story, but it’s more of a scatter-gun approach.

There are also big changes of pace to cope with. The case of the murders itself is totally engaging, the back-stories and tangents often less so.

Throw in a heavy line in dialogue tags and there's a lot to block the arteries of this one.

In contrast to that, there are some big pluses. The characters of the main detectives are well drawn, particularly that of Carella.

There are also some great crooks. Brother Anthony and the razor slashing Emma are rather special and might well be right up there in the all-time-baddies Hall Of Fame.

Throw in some great lines and a pretty engaging investigation and, in the end, I’m glad I passed that library table.

I enjoyed my visit to the 87th Precinct and I’m sure I’ll go there again, only not in any great hurry.