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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)

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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)

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

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