Thursday, 28 July 2016

One Man's Opinion: GBH by TED LEWIS

GBH (US) is an assault on the senses.

The protagonist’s life is split into two alternating sections, The Smoke and The Sea.

In The Smoke, we’re in the past. George Fowler is leading a successful and violent criminal gang that makes most of its money peddling porn movies. For Fowler, his cold ruthless wife and close associates, the world is controlled through fear and the perpetration of enough acts of terror to keep that fear alive. Problems arise when it becomes clear that someone in the organisation is no longer playing by the rules. This heightens tensions between Fowler and the other major players in London’s underbelly and their friends of the law enforcement variety. Fowler sets about smoking out the rats from the nest and in doing so risks setting the entire operation ablaze. The story in the city is taught and strained like a muscle pushed to its limits.

The Sea is told in the present tense and has Fowler in hiding in a down-on-its-knees seaside resort. This allows for reflection on what’s been and along with this comes detailed description of the world he inhabits. Having lived through extreme horrors and lost much of what he held dear, he is drinking heavily to find another kind of escape. Though he should find it easy to lie low, he can’t relax. Paranoia engulfs him and he can’t break old habits of trying to fathom exactly what is going on in the world around him. Those he encounters become potential threats and as he tries to work out their motives he slowly tears himself apart.

The tension and pace mean it’s difficult to break away from.

Lewis does an amazing job of creating an environment of menace and perversity without ever really shining a torch directly upon it. The most sinister aspects are told through suggestion, intimidating settings and sharp similes:

‘I strike a match and light the fire. The newsprint crackles like the sound of small bones breaking.’

The finale is held tantalisingly in the near-distance all the time and the way this is done means the appetite for more is always kept alive.

Key to the psychological elements is the empathy engendered for Fowler. Not only is it easy to relate to his plight, it’s also impossible not to root for him in spite of all his dark deals and reign of terror.

This book is a beautiful thing. It’s for writers to learn from and readers to enjoy.

GBH? Great Book Here. 

Friday, 22 July 2016


"Whatever are we to do with you, baby girl? Huh?"
"Kill me, I guess."
"That idea has been said already. Got'ny other ones?"
"Help me. Ain't nobody said that idea yet, have they?"

It might seem odd that when living in surroundings as beautiful as the Ozark hills that Ree Dolly feels the need to escape into visualisations using The Sounds Of Tranquil Shores/Tranquil Streams/Tropical Dawn/Alpine Dusk. It seems odder still given Woodrell’s immense skill at describing her environment and highlights the power and the wonder of the nature around her.

It doesn’t take long, however, to realise that she has every reason to want to switch off her mind to the burdens and the monotony of every-day survival.

The weather is unforgiving. Her dad has gone missing and has skipped bail. Worse still, he has put up the family house and land as security. When it becomes clear that he isn’t going to be showing up in court, Ree’s family face eviction and homelessness. If that weren’t enough, her mother has lost her mind and her two young brothers still have a lot to learn.

Ree sets off to find her father and delves into family business that no one wants to be looked at. The Dolly and Milton clans do their best to discourage her from looking and will stop at nothing to block her way. Unfortunately for Ree, the cocktail of desperation and determination mean that she pushes through each barrier until her own life is in peril.

Winter’s Bone (US) is a wonderful read. The brutality of life is told with no filters with the flair and craft of a real artist. There’s tenderness and affection underpinning the creation of this insane and hostile world. The cultures of the families involved is explored in a way that brings into play the contrasts and contradictions of their world – tradition, love, loyalty and pride sitting alongside violence, drugs and abuse.  

The characters are solid, like monuments of Ozark stone. Their interactions and choices are a delight to follow and their slang and dialogue offer plenty of flavour throughout. They also happen to include one Uncle Teardrop among their ranks, and this guy’s as well-created a villain as you’ll come across, as well as Ree who is so fragile, strong and unstoppable that she makes a perfectly rounded protagonist.

Among the things I love about this one is the way the rhythms and tones flow and drift like a distant song or poem. The plot is always gripping and the cadence locks it down tight. There’s enough here to set it up as a future classic. This is a book that won’t be dying any time soon.


Wednesday, 20 July 2016


'Now didn't seem like the right time to tell Mrs Hunter that the only principle I'd been holding out for was the one called the right price.'

Ways To Die In Glasgow (US) is a terrific read.

Told from multiple points of view, we get to witness events in the lives of a disparate bunch of criminals at a time when they’re struggling to maintain their usual murky equilibrium.

Stepping into their world is Sam Ireland, a brilliant new Private Investigator who manages to fill the PI mould and also to break it. She’s a tenacious woman who is developing the ability to follow her instincts on a case. Sam’s a top class creation, full of spirit and energy while being likeable, fragile and a little bit crazy. As she probes into the case she’s working, she sets in motion a sequence of violence, killings, deals and double deals that spin at top speed like an enormous tornado.

The cast of characters here is superb. Glasgow counts among them and is described with a warmth and touch that could only be done by someone who really knows the city.

The story has a strong energy which maintains the tension from start to finish. Action, threat and brutality are peppered liberally throughout, but there’s also humour and a level of observation that need to be enjoyed and admired.

Great plot, great people, great places, great entertainment and, above all, great writing. Essential reading for lovers of any shade of crime fiction.  

And the really good news? There's another Sam Ireland book due out any time soon. It may not make up for the Brexit fiasco, but it should bring a few welcome hours of distraction from the whole nonsense.

Friday, 17 June 2016


I spotted a recommendation (thanks Craig) for Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (US) a while ago and decided to buy a copy. It’s been on my shelf since and I took it down recently because I wanted something a little different to read. I guess I needed cheering up and this seemed to be the best choice available.

I’m not typical of the intended audience (in fact, I’m about as far from young adult as you can get), but I really enjoyed this tale.

There were a few hurdles to jump before I got into the swing of things, mainly in adjusting to style, time and place, but it wasn’t hard. I was soon laughing at the bumbling nightmares associated with teenage angst. Greg, the narrator and the Me of the title, is particularly fun to follow as he twists and contorts his way of being to try and fit in with everyone. He’s also terrible around women he finds attractive and his clumsiness and pratfalls around them are a treat to read about.

Greg’s forced into linking up with an old friend of his by his mum. The friend in question is Rachel and the reason she needs company is that she is dying of leukaemia. His job is to cheer her up and help her fight, but his qualifications for it are zero.

Enter Earl. Earl is Greg’s partner in the world of film-making. They put together curious pieces to entertain themselves and to pay homage to the off-the-wall films they like to watch. He joins in with the mission of helping Rachel and their efforts form the central theme of the story.

The dying girl is a crucial ingredient to the tale yet, as Greg points out, she’s not the centre piece. Greg is the main feature – he’s far too selfish to be able to remove himself from the spotlight. That’s fair enough given that he’s the narrator. It’s also important as it’s the journey towards the realisation that he’s been thinking about himself far too much in all this that provides the core of the story.

The writing is broken down into small chunks. Jesse Andrews takes frequent turn-offs from the freeway to delve into film scripts and screenplay-like dialogue. This is refreshing and engaging and provided that cheering up I was after.

I couldn’t buy into all the elements of this tale, but that’s probably because I’m on the wrong side of middle-age. With a few exceptions though, I’m glad I followed the recommendation I spotted. It’s funny, witty, sometimes moving and hit the spot I needed it to when I began.  Very pleasing.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Free Mysteries and Thrillers

Thirty free books from the mystery and thriller genres. 

Killing them softly...

Saturday, 4 June 2016


I picked up a copy of NYPD Red (US) out of curiosity. James Patterson fills shelves in the library, bookstores and charity shops and he also appears all over my Facebook page offering places on his writing courses. The man clearly knows how to write and how to sell books and I thought it might be a good idea to find out if I could learn anything from taking a peek inside one of his novels.

NYPD Red is immediately gripping. A film script describes the action of a murder in a posh New York hotel. The victim is a Hollywood hotshot and the killing is carried out in exemplary fashion.  The scenes move on to further killings to film celebrities and has the LA set leaving the city in droves.

Enter our detectives. Zach and Kylie are thrown together to solve this one. Zach’s a hard man who likes his yoga and his women and Kylie is ambitious and tough and happens to be married to a film producer. The pair also happen to have previous – a relationship that sparkled and fizzed and burned out too quickly for Zach’s liking.

For the first third of the book, I forgot that I was trying to learn anything. It zips by and each hook sank under my skin.

After a while, though, I began to disengage. The jumping from one scene of tension to the next felt manipulative and the thrill lessened as the outcomes became more predictable. The early pleasure derived from getting to know the cats and the mice in the story slowly deflated as they became less substantial and confined by their roles. Hitchcock’s adage about showing the audience the bomb was taken literally and employed all the way along. The explanations about why something would work and wouldn’t either telegraphed what was coming or rounded things off in ways that felt unnecessary. I also found that everyone in the book, with the exception of a few bit players, spoke in pretty much the same way and the lack of variety became irksome. There was still the odd surprise to keep my attention, but in the end I just wanted to reach the resolution in a hurry.

My biggest issue with the book is that I didn’t really care enough about anyone. The skill all seemed to have been focussed upon the drive and energy of the action and the determination to keep the reader moving from one chapter to the next without pausing for comfort breaks. To a point this is successful. What I struggled with was that there didn’t seem to be anything else to it. It’s like the swan analogy in reverse. You can see the legs kicking like hell under the surface, but rarely get a sense of the grace and beauty of the creature above the water.

I think I did learn something about my own work from this read. On the one hand, I should probably ramp up that tension and create more of an appetite in a reader where that’s appropriate. On the other, I should continue to strive to create beating hearts for my characters otherwise the action is just movement and pace.

My conclusion on NYPD Red goes something like this. If you’re looking to escape or just relax and want something to distract the mind, this is likely to serve you well. It’s probably a good holiday read, but it’s also a big book. I don’t think it warrants all the space it would take in your suitcase, but if you pack it in on your Kindle you could be in for a few hours of entertaining fun.  

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Drawn In

Introducing my latest work, Drawn In, a gripping tale that follows what happens when a young woman on vacation in Florence meets a handsome street artist and interferes with his work – the collection of souls.

Available from Amazon UK US Canada Australia Germany France and around the world