Messy Business – Books, Writing, Stuff

Books and books and books …



A Small Sacrifice by Dana King

Dana King’s A Small Sacrifice is an entertaining and smart private dick novel. Nick Forte gets into a case all about clearing a woman’s son from the murder of his child, which quickly escalates into attempts on his life as he realises this thing reaches deeper into Chicago’s underbelly than at first glance.

The plot is intricate, smart, and well played. The violence is short and sharp, and spare. King doesn’t dwell on the kid’s murder, but at the book’s end, there’s some graphic bloodletting. The book’s core is the mystery, the process, his internal monologue and the wrestle of his conscience about what he must do to stay alive in the mess he’s trod in. And that is where it sings. The action is fun when it happens but it’s definitely the second act to the chit-chat and finding his moral compass.

Good fun.

You can buy A Small Sacrifice at Amazons US and UK.

“I fucking love this book” – David Nemeth, Unlawful Acts, on Never Go Back.

Nightmare Asylum and Other Deadly Delights by Sonia Kilvington

Sonia Kilvington’s Nightmare Asylum and Other Deadly Delights (Close to the Bone publishing) is a creepy beast of a book – all short stories, some flash length, every one of them delving deeeeeep into the characters’ psyches. And what dark, twisted and sometimes sad minds they are. Kilvington has really dug into motivation, though sometimes I’m not sure it’s motivation but some trauma which carries characters onto the rocks against any wishes they ever had.

That sense of uncertainty pulls and pushes until disaster strikes. Even when it turns out for the best, there’s that restlessness which means the character can’t quaff a nifty glass of champagne and enjoy the rest of their lives. They’ve got a shoulder to constantly look over to see what else is on their tail.

It’s unsettling. I’m not the fastest reader, but this book slowed me down more than usual. I had to put it down for a couple of days because you have to shake the cold from your spine before you start again. For example, Winter Baby. Told in a way that the loss of the character’s baby doesn’t just make you feel sympathy, it settles in your bones as if the loss is yours. The transition from family bliss to the rotten collapse of your world, where you’re forgotten along with the child, is something that I know will pop into my mind any moment in the future, and I’d guess the same for anyone whether you have kids or not. Beautiful and vile at the same time.

Cry Baby further explores the strangeness of some men, here a mother’s boy who pines for his mum so much that he’s triggered by Sylvie, a woman he sees in a bar wearing the kind of dress his parent wore when in his formative years. He sizes the woman up, calculates his plan, and then preys on her weakness, but his obsession is not quite what you’d feared, though it’s totally off-the-wall. Crackers, and totally, weirdly entertaining. Strange men wanting a sense of control from uncontrollable females runs through a lot of the book. Soulmate, though more straightforward than Cry Baby is still wary of the man with a crooked view of women. In this one, the protagonist’s computer is hacked when an online lover she’s never physically met becomes mad that she didn’t answer her quickly enough. What follows is a dash to save her job, her savings, and her life.

The finest example of the rogue male is Perfect Love, about a male robot programmed to love. The droid gains a semblance of sentience, but his programming is strong (coded by a male?) and when the love of his owner doesn’t match his concept of the emotion you can imagine how pear-shaped it all goes. Reminded me of that strange film, Ex Machina (Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander), but instead of the female robot wanting to escape, here the male robot wants to latch onto its love, with overbearing consequences.

It’s not all dodgy fellas. There’s sibling jealousy, horrible women, and a whole bunch of Gothic madness to set you up for a cracking read. Good stuff.

You can buy Nightmare Asylum … from Amazons US and UK.

You can find Sonia at her blog, Sonia Kilvington, Writer.

The Death of Tarpons by Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton’s The Death of Tarpons is a cracking coming-of-age drama set in 1950s Texas. Bookended by the main character in old age it tells of his boyhood summer where not much happens except friendship, family, and fishing – upended by the occasional vicious beating by his dad when he transgresses the old man’s strict moral code.

At its calmest it’s the kind of story you can read with a stalk of grass in your mouth and float on the current, but the threat of violence never really lets you settle. And when it comes you’ll wince, and you’ll be angry. Angry at the dad and angry at the protagonist, Corey, angry at his mum for slipping into her Bible.

Edgerton does a brilliant job at showing Corey’s motivation and why he takes it. Takes the edge off that anger and turns you soft with him as he gets back into the swing of things with his best friend, Destin, and his grandpa, Corey’s biggest influence. And by the time you get to the end …

It’s the first book I’ve read by Edgerton, though I’ve been aware if him for a long time. I need to push on and read his other stuff, because this was great.

You can buy The Death of Tarpons, currently FREE, from Amazons US and UK.

All Due Respect Magazine, Issue 2

This thing has been on the Kindle for a few years, which shows the mad build-up of stuff I’ve stored on there, but this was worth the wait.

It kicks off with Owen Laukkanen’s N.F.G., an excellent slice of fishing boat noir, where the story revolves around the careless owner’s son and an old hand, Earl, whose full of stories nobody but the narrator listens to. Crammed around a tiny table in the ship’s galley in their quieter moments, tension arises from the son’s attitude and builds to a Biblical climax. Excellent rise in tension amidst the pressure of hauls, the wild sea, and dive-bombing seagulls. A great way to start the anthology.

They’re all very good noir tales, and one of the standouts is CS DeWildt’s Decomposition is the Universe Forgetting Itself. This bit of madness starts with Tommy Skaggs stealing money from a neighbouring trailer, and you’re already against him with the way he talks to the young girl he finds alone in there. He walks out with the money and an uneasy feeling in the reader’s stomach, and it gets worse when he robs the store and kills the cashier. You think the rest would be about his escape, but when he jumps over the wall into the trees which neighbour the backyard of a demented old woman, the story slides into a weirdness that’ll make you gag all the way to the end. It’s brilliant.

Eric Beetner’s Ice Cold Alibi is Hitchcock stirred into Sweeney Todd, with a protagonist you’ll love to hate, a tale of strong women and useless men. Top stuff.

Liam Sweeny’s God’s Country is a sweaty drug-runner tale that’ll hurt your stomach as you read it, and Scott Adlerberg’s The Gulf is a Belize set beauty stitching racial snipes and gender fears together in a complex tale. A white woman from Vermont travels with her black Brooklyn boyfriend to a so-called independent Belize where British troops still patrol – Adlerberg weaves in colonialism, white-woman-with-black-man anxieties, black-man-with-white-woman anxieties, male-female power imbalances, male pride, and female anger at having to deal with men’s obsession with her body so she can’t just be. Throw in an unwanted pregnancy and you have enough here for a novel, but Adlerberg, without an ounce of preachiness, makes an impactful noir tale out of it all in a short space. This one had me waking up thinking about it the next morning more than the others, but it’s a cherry on top of an excellent cake all round.

You can buy All Due Respect, Issue 2, from Amazons US and UK.

You Must Have a Death Wish by Matt Phillips

Matt Phillips’ You Must Have a Death Wish is a fun blast of noir which follows three men through their disastrous decision-making – Moonie Sykes who is branching out to become a hit-man and who finds it difficult to harden his heart for it; Gato, a man so pissed at an associate he wants Moonie to kill him and then maybe set him up for the murder, and Larry Aces, the dodgy property businessman who screwed Gato over.

If you’ve read any Matt Phillips you’ll expect violence, some offbeat conversations, and an explosive finale. I powered through this one, and though there’s some gruesome acts to make you wince, this felt more of a lighthearted romp from Phillips than the other two I’ve read – Know Me from Smoke and Countdown where the consequences really hurt.

The main man, Moonie, is a fantastic character, full of heart, always looking for a way up, but somehow lacking the immorality you need to get ahead in the crime world. Gato is a lizard – cold, calculating, and holds a grudge only the splash of blood can cool. Larry Aces is funny, wildly immoral, performs one act you can’t ever forgive him for, and spews rubbish out of his mouth every sentence. A proper scumbag.

The one character I didn’t buy is Zelda who hooks up with Larry Aces after he goes on the lam, drawn way too thin compared to the richness Phillips always gives his characters. I didn’t get what she wanted, she seemed to hate Aces and yet stayed with him it seems just for the size of his dick.

Other than that, a rip-roaring bit of pulpy noir.

You can buy You Must Have a Death Wish direct from Fahrenheit Press or Amazons US and UK.

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