Messy Business – Books, Writing, Stuff

Books and books and books …


Jason Beech

You Have the Right to Remain Silent … Gabriel Valjan

Today I grabbed the writer Gabriel Valjan off the street and shoved him into the back of my van. I did a few 360 degree spins and some harsh hair-pin turns to shake him up a bit before I half-blinded him with a hot lamp in his face.

Turned out there was no need – he’s happy to talk, but you must always make sure.

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the highly rated five-book Roma series, set in Italy. The thrillers feature Italian organised crime, political corruption, and motorbike riding female assassins. Result.

Be careful he doesn’t dope-slap you.

Gabriel Valjan

A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?

Gabriel Valjan (GJ): Part of me would be sad, the other part would want to Dope Slap some sense into the person. Unfortunately, if I am to believe the statistics, few Americans read a novel after college. Okay, fiction is ‘made-up,’ but even nonfiction requires an interpretation of human behavior and events. All writing is predicated on observation and conjecture: the How and Why we respond to the world around us, and to each other. Remember Rashomon? No two people ‘see’ the same thing the same way. I find that fascinating. Good writing also engages all our senses. Books from the past illustrate attitudes and mores from another era. As a reader, I respect a talent that takes me elsewhere, teaches me something from outside my own purview. I’d try to remind our blinkered friend here that books have changed the world. Think of Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Beloved and racial injustice, Silent Spring and the environment, or 1984 and totalitarianism. As a writer, I appreciate how another wordsmith demonstrates their relationship with language, their command of craft. At the barest minimum, our philistine misses an opportunity for entertainment without commercials.

What must a protagonist have to make you read on?

GJ: Some unique quality, such as a sense of humor, an eccentricity of some sort. I don’t have to like everything about him or her, but give me a reason, a situation that would make me want to root for them.

Do you need a likable protagonist?

GJ: No. I can accept a flaw, a great weakness, because I think it enlarges the humanity of the character. Likable can also be too safe, absent of conflict, and plain – not interesting.


Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.

GJ: Let’s pick a television series since there’s a good chance people will know it. For my antagonist, I’d select Walter White from Breaking Bad. He’s a brilliant man, a school teacher, who has lived a very safe, very milquetoast existence until he’s diagnosed with lung cancer. He’s worried the medical bills will leave his family destitute, so he parlays his knowledge of chemistry into producing the best methamphetamine in the southwest. Walter becomes a ruthless drug czar, the best at what he does because he has nothing to lose.

The writing is phenomenal, in my opinion. Each installment is tense, and you, the viewer, must know the links in the chain of events from one episode to the next. On second viewing, you’ll realize each character has a motive – the principle one being Family – and each is flawed. Walter’s nemeses are Hank, his DEA brother-in-law, and Gus Fring, a criminal mastermind with his own compelling backstory and motivation.

What I learned from watching Breaking Bad and transferred to my own writing is how to write multiple character arcs in a series. So, instead of writing a novel, I’ll write five novels, and I’ll map out each character arc so readers will witness several trajectories; it’s a lot of writing and revision to have the overall schematic in your head, but having this architectural approach to writing a series has been so much fun for me because I can tinker with pacing, modulate tension, and experiment with when to set something aside and then revisit it later. It’s difficult to explain but it feels like a breakthrough in my own creativity.

What makes you throw a book out the window?

GJ: Writers who don’t tell a story. There are writers out there who want to impress you with what they know, or their vocabulary, or their ability to write long winding paragraphs because they have a massive Ego. Their intellect is supposed to blind me. Yawn. I take the view that I should disappear into the story and when I close the book, I want to know what else this person has written. If I look up from the page and ask myself, “What did I just read?” or “I read x-number of pages, and this has gone nowhere,” then that book goes out the proverbial window.

Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?

GJ: Am I masochist? Great question. When I read someone else, I suspend The Writer’s Voice inside my head. I try not to think how I would write the same scene, or whatever is on the page because that’d be unfair to the writer. ‘Dodgy’ can mean a lot of things. Great premise, terrible execution. Great character, compelling story, but crappy editing, or wonky digital formatting. I read for Story and if the writing is terrible, I won’t grind my teeth. Out the window it goes.

Roma Underground

What gets you writing? A great novel, maybe? Something you saw on the street or on the TV? Something else?

GJ: Inspiration has come to me in different forms. A common turn of phrase – back in the day – inspired the story with that title in Paladins, the charity anthology in which we both contributed yarns. I’ve watched people in conversation from a distance and imagined the dialog. Another example is to take a basic idea and ask, “What if?” Once I start writing, I tend to think in scenes and I’ll lay them down like playing cards.

What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?

GJ: The last book, The Good Man, was set in 1948, so research was crucial for authenticity. I read up on cinema, on fashion, on military history, on weapons, and the layout of Vienna, and who lived where at the time. Vienna was a divided city after the war. The next challenge was layering the information so readers didn’t feel as if they were receiving a lecture. Details create texture and the right details can convey a character’s personality.

What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?

GJ: A shady Hollywood script fixer is murdered, the LAPD has a database, and J. Edgar Hoover wants it and anything Communist. Blacklists, paranoia, and divided loyalties drive The Naming Game.

Where can readers connect with you?



Twitter: GValjan


You can find Gabriel’s books at numerous retailers, including here at Amazon US and UK.

Thank you, Gabriel, you’re free to go.

City of Forts is now available for pre-order. BUY NOW for the special PRE-ORDER price.

City of Forts (2)


I have a new book coming out in April – here’s the cover reveal.

I have a new book out on 15 April 2018 called City of Forts. Feast your eyes on the first draft cover below. The eagle-eyed will note there’s a typo of my name on the spine, but that will be fixed for release.

Christopher Lucania, as always, has done a beautiful bit of work. You should check his work out here.

Here’s the blurb:

All thirteen-year-old Ricky Nardilo wants is a fun summer before he and his friends part for school again. But, when he and Liz fall through the floor of an abandoned house and comes face to face with a dead man, the hot months become charged with danger.

The City of Forts is the name Ricky and his friends have given a crescent of abandoned homes at the edge of Town. Lying in the shadow of a disused factory it is their refuge from the Town’s rust, its drug dealers, and the Ghost Boys.

It’s not a refuge for long. The dead man has triggered a gangster’s warpath. Tarantula Man wants to know how his man has disappeared. And he wants to use the City of Forts for his own purposes.

Ricky, Liz, Bixby, and Tanais will not give it up without a fight – and maybe with the help of Floyd, Mr Vale and his son, Charlie, they’ll rid themselves of the invaders.

City of Forts is a dark coming of age crime drama where every street and alleyway is loaded with menace.

Here’s what those in the know have to say about it:

“A haunting tale of death, love, and the American Dream on a US town’s mean streets” –

Keith Nixon, author of the bestselling Konstantin series.

“A brilliant read that explores society and all its cracks. Jason Beech expertly balances the nostalgia of childhood adventures with the brutality of life in a very grown-up and dark town. City of Forts deserves to sit equal with the greats as a piece of entertainment and a study of modern life’s struggle” –

Aidan Thorn, author of When the Music’s Over from Number 13 Press.

To celebrate its release I’ve invited a bunch of really exciting authors to not talk about my book at all, but instead talk about their work. You should check them all out and give them your hard-earned money. I don’t mind if you buy mine either.

The first will run tomorrow, Monday – so tune in to check it out.

In the meantime, you can pre-order City of Forts (ebook version) by clicking here.

The pre-order is $1.99 and £1.49 (so save a couple of bucks/quid).

The German Messenger by David Malcolm

David Malcolm’s The German Messenger, a melancholy spy novel set in the UK during the First World War, is as foggy and moody as its cover suggests. Its protagonist, Harry Draffen happens upon an intrigue involving his opposites on the German side, who aim to land on the British coast and deliver a message. What that message is confuses Harry and his associates, unsure whether it will harm Britain or shorten the disastrous war which has embittered him.
This is a beautifully written novel with a mood which pulls you right in and demands you light a fire and pour some spirits down your neck. It’s an atmospheric tour of the UK from dowdy East End slums to isolated Scottish villages as Harry and his men, Andresj and McLeish hunt down the German Messenger, spilling blood and escaping dodgy predicaments by the skin of their teeth.
You might need a history refresher on what early twentieth century Europe looked like, and how ethnic tensions fizzed and exploded in the old empires, but it won’t distract from the story’s main thread.
The book is more in the Le Carre mould than crash, bang, wallop, and explores the tensions within Britain as much as those in Europe. Draffen and McLeish are Scotsmen, “bag-carriers for the English,” and that bitterness bursts out at times, often on Britain’s enemies. It gives the novel an extra level of welcome confused loyalties in a horribly complex Europe.
If you like a moody spy thriller which is more interested in procedural investigation, philosophy, and the complexities of the European and especially inter-British mindset, you can’t go wrong here.


Dig Two Graves by Keith Nixon

Keith Nixon’s Dig Two Graves is a dark and very enjoyable character study. Solomon Gray is a copper whose life has been put on hold since his son went missing ten years ago at a fairground. In the present is a sixteen year old whose been murdered, and he has Gray’s number on his phone.

From there, Gray is on the hunt for the murderer, complicated by bodies piling up around him. The blame seems to point at him.

The book is more about Gray than the actual murders, and I’m fine with that. I love a dark protagonist and Gray’s life is as storm-ridden as any. He doesn’t know if his son is dead or alive. He doesn’t know if the sixteen year old is his son, though his age pings all possibilities around his racked mind. His wife, Kate, committed suicide in the aftermath of her son’s disappearance, and Gray has a non-relationship with his other child, a daughter.

On top of all that he has to deal with religious busy-body, Alice, who encouraged Kate’s faith, aggressive colleagues, and the possibility of new, complicated love. When the screw is turned you want to swig some of that whisky he throws down his neck.

When the screw turns, I did question Gray’s character. After one particular murder I wanted to bash him over the head with that whisky bottle for not being clear with the police – it felt out of place.

But, if you like mood, setting, and a great character to set your teeth into, this is a classy read.

You can buy Dig Two Graves at:

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (US)


The Guns of Brixton by Paul D. Brazill

The Guns of Brixton is a mutt, bred from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Pulp Fiction, The Sweeney, and the Carry On films. All of this could have been a mushy stew, but Brazill has such a way with words and structure that this is all its own thing. It’s funny, as his books always are, extremely silly, but utterly engaging.

It starts with Big Jim and his accidental killing of Half-pint Harry. They head off to a robbery wearing women’s clothes. Lynne and George have some work boredom to alleviate, and the priest has issues to discuss over food.

After a near car crash, one character, Richard, is about to call the cops when the other car’s inhabitant puts a gun to his head and forces him to drive them away:

“Shit, thought Richard, as he heard the approaching sirens screaming in the distance, why the hell not? It couldn’t be any worse than Camilla’s party.”

Here’s a bunch of criminals and other dodgy characters who revel in their strange, comical lives, and they drag you through their grim lives with a smile smudged across your face.

There’s a whole bunch of viewpoints in the novella, all living disconnected lives from each other. How do they come together? Comically, that’s how.

Brazill’s novella isn’t a massive read, but it’s a good ‘un.

You can buy The Guns of Brixton from:

Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)



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