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One Day in the Life of Jason Dean by Ian Ayris

What a fabulous novella this is. The thing has sat on the list for so long I almost forgot about it, but I’m glad I finally delved in. Jason Dean is an enforcer for a local shit-stain, who forces him to do stuff which tears at his core. Ah, who wants to sympathise with a hitman, no matter his pain? Well, you’ll sympathise with this one.

Bullied by a Neanderthal father, Dean has grown up damaged. Nevertheless, through all the misery and ignorance he has studied classic literature and music by himself and developed a rich internal life, bolstered by love for his daughter.

The novel starts with his dread for the morning meeting with his boss, Micky. His wife, beside him in bed this day, despises him. He grinds his way to the meeting and has a fantastic argument about the merits of Shostakovich and Wagner, and then we dread, along with Dean, his tasks for the day – a collection of debt and a murder which needs seeing to.

Jason does as he’s told, but the clouds are thickening, especially as the debt he collects is from a veteran alone without his family. As he does his criminal duty, his learning pops and fizzles within, trying to bolster his moral code as he works at the only skill-set he knows.

I ploughed through this. It’s not a long book. It shouldnt take more than a couple of days to get through, but it will stay in your head for days and weeks. Dean’s philosophising is so unpretentious – it all comes out in his local, unschooled dialect – that it has greater impact. Here’s a man from a broken family, who lives on a broken housing estate, trying to break out from his past. His daughter, and the longing for the past he had with his wife, hit home hard. He wants to do the right thing. He doesn’t want to murder and collect debts from old people with medals they might have to sell to stay above water. He wants a life not ruled by the soulless and ignorant. When the book ends you’re left upset for a man you ought to despise.

A top, top read.

You can buy One Day in the Life of Jason Dean from:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Dark Heart, Heavy Soul by Keith Nixon

What a claustrophobic read this is. Konstantin, the book’s Russian protagonist, is steamrollered into a job he doesn’t want and has no clear idea of its end objective. After collecting a team of scoundrels he leads them to break into a cash-counting facility for an item very important people want to get their hands on. In return, they can take as much of the cash as they can handle. The facility is crammed with cameras and traps, and the reward for failure is a long incarceration, or worse.

You’re with Konstantin throughout, even with his background in the Russian Special Services and involvement in the Chechen conflict (which is shown through flashbacks). He’s dodgy. He’s an expert in violence and planning unsavoury operations. He dresses like a scraggy arse and lives in an abandoned part of the city with an arsenal in his cellar which could wipe out a battalion. But, there’s a moral core to the man which sets him against everything bad he’s experienced – and here, despite the high stakes, he’s careful to not waste innocent lives. Nixon tells the story like he’s leading you through dark woods and, like Konstantin, you shake at letting go of the black thread which leads him. The lawyer who invites him to the job knows only breadcrumb details. The team he assembles are unknown misfits and borderline psychopaths, one of whom has a trigger finger unconnected to hsi brain. And if Konstantin is successful, will he even have a chance to revel in his glory?

Nixon’s prose is spare and sharp, but it plays on all the senses and tightens your stomach at the tension. Who to trust? Who to feel for? I’ll have to get involved in the rest of the series, now.

You can buy Dark Heart, Heavy Soul from:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Gumshoe by Paul D. Brazill


Another work of comic sleaze from noir master Paul D. Brazill. Peter Ord is a private eye in Seatown, a blustery place in northeast England, full of blustery characters. Ord stumbles from one job to another in the company of the drunks, the nutters, and bottles of special sauce to keep him arm’s length from life’s cold realities. His main task throughout this novella is to serve up info and complete tasks for the local gangster, Jack. But never mind all that, the plot (which are more moments in the life of Ord) is purely in the service of delivering hilarious scenes with chapters punctuated with tasty punchlines. Every chapter will at the very least raise a happy smile, and more often bellow a laugh at the nutters within.

A taster:

He was guarded at first but after a couple of drinks the words tumbled out of Ernie’s mouth like a gang of deunks staggering out of a pub at closing time’ …

This kind of stuff just spills out the book. It’s short and sweet, and well worth an investment of time.

Note: As of now, I cannot find the book in the Kindle store, though it is available in paperback if you look hard enough at Amazon.

 

Remission by Ed Chatterton 


Ed Chatterton’s crime thriller, Remission, opens with Frank Keane, a Liverpool cop, in possession of £25 million and incurable cancer. The money comes from a dodgy character from his mission in America to keep schtum about his Stateside business. Suspended from the force, he spends a bit of quiet time in the countryside, but, this being a crime thriller, such peace doesn’t last long. Keane will check his shoulder to see if his American “friend” or Liverpool drug gangs are behind him with a gun aimed at the back of his head. 

Meanwhile, the body of a woman is found in a van stolen from a Berlin Clinic but which has crashed in Liverpool, leaving both abductors dead and leaving a bunch of weird questions behind. 

So begins a trail of blood and terror which Liverpool’s MIT try to clear up and from which Frank Keane tries to escape and ultimately solve. It’s a thrill-ride and a grim exploration of far right extremism. There’s one scene in a zoo where a German Nazi operative is threatened by another in such a way you lose sight of his extremism and experience a real primal fear for him that I almost fell off my chair. I can’t remember a time I read something which made me so clammy and fearful, and that includes Ellroy. 

Chatterton matches it later at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, a scene of horror as grim as anything I’ve ever read. The buildup is pacy, relentless, cold (and funny). Keane’s cancer gives the book a personal urgency which parallels the larger picture and gives the novel some warmth from the cold motives which populate the rest of the story. 

There are a lot of characters in the book. Frank Keane is the protagonist, but he’s not the sole viewpoint. We get in the head of his colleague and former lover, Harris, as well as her protege, the far right characters, and even the security team in Berlin. I’m fine with all that, though I’m not sure how I needed to get involved in the security team’s mindset. It seemed a bit much. There is also some head switching within scenes which can lead to a bit of confusion. 

If you leave the book for a while you might get lost on returning with all the stories involved, but I doubt you’ll leave this lying on the bedside table for long. It compels you to turn pages and its darkness drags you into its abyss. 

A great read. 

Blade of Dishonor – The War Comes Home by Thomas Pluck

War veterans, a grumpy old man, and a Samurai sword swish you through this entertaining bit of short pulp fiction from Thomas Pluck. Reeves is a war veteran and ex-UFC fighter in search of a role. Drawn, reluctantly, to brawls in his arse-end-of-nowhere town, he searches for that meaning while he works in Butch’s gun store – and gets his ears eaten raw by the old man’s brutal words. The old fella considers Reeves useless: he can’t make a decision; he’s always getting into stupid fights, and he has a ridiculous beef with the sheriff which goes up a notch when he starts dating the diner waitress the lawman fancies. Why doesn’t he get back into UFC and do something with his life? With the arrival of a mysterious Japanese businessman, whose aspiration in buying the gun store fails to hide his desire for a samurai sword Butch has had since the Second World War, Reeves finds his role.

Pluck’s Blade of Dishonor – The War Comes Home, the first in a three-part saga, is a classy bit of pulp. The hero Reeves can fight, and likes to fight, but he does it either for money in UFC bouts, or to protect his pals. His love interest, Tara, is as up for adventure as he, and pulls him up for his shortcomings, and Butch – his grandad – doesn’t give him an inch, pulling him up for every stupid decision he ever, and continues, to make. There’s a stretch when you fear the old man is a little one-note, but the way he talks about the sword and what it means for Reeves to protect it digs into the character’s depths. 

The whole thing ends with some great action involving Japanese ninjas and the arsehole sheriff which definitely made me gun for the second and third in the series.

Pluck is a top writer. His Denny the Dent stories highlighted me to his work – proof of Pluck’s claim to be a “writer of unflinching fiction with heart.” His Garbage Man in Beat to a Pulp’s Superhero anthology is a beautiful piece of work.

You can buy Blade of Dishonor – The War Comes Home from:

Amazon.com 

Amazon.co.uk

Kobo

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