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Know Me From Smoke by Matt Phillips

Know Me From Smoke is the kind of book you have to put down every so often. It’s not the violence which gets you, though there’s plenty – it’s the emotional violence which overpowers. Here’s a book which cuts you, lifts a slice of skin, and then burrows deep before you know it.
It’s a noirish love story about a widow whose husband was killed twenty years before by a man she never knew, who has now come out of prison after a lengthy sentence, and has wrangled his way into her bed.
It’s not a twisty-turny book. The ending feels inevitable, but that just adds to the sometimes unbearable unease which this story builds. You like the ex-con, Royal, you hate the ex-con, you love the ex-con, you want to beat the ex-con with a baseball bat – all at once. Is he capable of reform, or has his past got its claws in him? Is being a criminal just who he is?
The real soul of the book is the widow, Stella. She’s lived with the loss of her husband for so long, drowning her sorrow in song at the local restaurant. She’s full of doubt about her new love. There’s something eerily familiar about him, but she’s been alone so long it’s time to let herself have some happiness. She’s such a beautiful character from the start that what you can see ahead grinds your stomach sick. She throws, through many conversations with her lover – but especially with her pianist partner at the restaurant – some philosophical pearls. I loved the one towards the end about dealing with life’s sucker punches, about how her husband’s death was not a sucker punch – not really – that he is and always will be a part of her life.
It’s a great book, with a terrible villain – Phoenix – who pulls Royal into a nightmare just as he’s come out of prison. It has protagonists to pull for, and an atmosphere you’ll swim through. I bought the beast in ebook form, but I know I’ll buy it as a paperback and read it again sometime.

Matt Phillips

You can buy Know Me From Smoke at Amazons US and UK, or direct from Fahrenheit Press.

Remember by Shervin Jamali

Shervin Jamali’s Remember continues the author’s exploration of heaven and hell, wrapped up this time in a quite beautiful love story.

The story starts, Up-like, with a couple parted by cancer and the husband left devastated and useless without his better half, confused about her last words that though they had met late in life they had known each other before.

One visit to an enigmatic hypnotherapist sends Daniel onto a wild journey which shows how he died, goes to heaven, and looks to reincarnation for reunion with his wife.

The stakes are high – what if he never meets her and they forget each other forever? The romance is buffeted by darkness, some intense brutality, some bitter humour – but highlights Jamali’s light at the end of his cynicism.

The book is not my usual cup of tea. It has its flaws. I would have liked a longer story which explored events a little more deeply. It sometimes skirts over complex events that could have done with more drama. And I wish he didn’t use “baby” when talking to his love. It makes it sound a little cheesy and dated.

But those are small gripes in what is a soaring love letter to the romance life holds if you fight for the love of your life.

You can buy Remember from Amazon 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)

 

Phoebe Jeebies and the Man Who Annoyed Everybody by Ryan Bracha


It shouldn’t work. The title of the book ought to apply to the reader and annoy the hell out of you, but Ryan Bracha’s Phoebe Jeebies and the Man Who Annoyed Everybody is a cracking book with the sweetest heroine. The Man Who Annoyed Everybody is Tony, an Annoyance Officer who works for a rich brat who wants to cause annoyance to the general public for kicks and laughs. Tony’s good at it. He relishes the job, and recruits others to the cause. But when Phoebe comes into his life, it changes his whole outlook on life and forces him to confront his past.

Bracha is not afraid to make you hate a character (Tony), but, as he did in After Call Work: Verbal Warning, he challenges that hate, twists it, makes you like him/her, slaps you back into despising him, and challenges you all over again. Tony will ruin movies for others at the pictures, cause havoc in the self-publishing book industry, and take joy from his activities. But Phoebe is such a sweetheart, she thaws that cold heart of his.

The danger in such a premise is that Phoebe could be nothing more than a cypher. An object of his love, who he dotes on for no reason than she’s a woman providing a plot point to transform him. But Phoebe pops from the page with her smarts and sharp questioning of Tony’s life and purpose. She has flaws, motives, a past all her own, and you fall in love with her along with Tony.

It’s a book which will make your teeth grind at times (from Tony’s actions), and I think that is intentional. The ending is wild and a little sudden, but the joy is in the characters. Bracha is reminding me, at a weirder level, of Iain Banks – in that it’s not so much the plot which matters (fun as that is), but the company of great characters.

A top read.

You can buy Phoebe Jeebies and the Man Who Annoyed Everybody at:

Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

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