FFB: Edith’s Diary by Patricia Highsmith

51iefe949hl._sx317_bo1204203200_Catching up on my neglected Highsmith novels: so focused on the Ripliad lately, it’s good to remember to step aside for her other work. In her introduction Denise Mina talks about this novel being her gateway to the creepy world of Pat, completely by accident. What an introduction! This book is pure dread. It’s crime by content, but as in many of her books, the crime is hardly the main plot element. Edith’s crumbling dissolution as life keeps disappointing her is utterly terrifying as well as perfectly drawn.

It would never get published today because ‘head hopping’ is considered an insurmountable crime. Highsmith hops adroitly from Edith’s increasingly buzzing head to that of her wretched offspring, the supremely creepy Cliffie — incel supreme! — without losing the reader at all or making it too jarring. The jumping off points are well chosen. Highsmith is so good at building unsettling creepiness — Cry of the Owl and This Sweet Sickness also do that superbly. But I think the choice of this invisible middle-aged woman adds a poignant sorrow that breaks you in a way those two novels don’t.

There’s a moment when Edith stands in the little stream in her aunt’s back garden, looking up at the house where she had often been happy. She recalls a line from a Goethe lieder (this is Highsmith, you know), ‘Kennst du das Land?’ and it captures perfectly the distance between the sometime happy child and the woman completely lost in fantasy. Edith remembers the line about the roof and the pillars, but the line that really resonates is, ‘What have they done to you, poor child?’

Highsmith shows you the obvious things, like Cliffie as a child trying to kill the family cat, or her husband’s very dull, very middle-class affair — but in throwaway lines, she also lets you know the cold family life Edith had even as a child. It’s striking that as she veers into insanity the woman not only moves from left-wing political activism to bizarre right-wing diatribes (that often match the author’s opinions) but she also becomes more creative, both in writing her alternative diary-life and her self-taught sculpture. So Pat.

Check out the FFBs at Patti’s blog. Or maybe Todd’s.

Another Fine Review for LOVE IS A GRIFT

love-is-a-griftA fine new review of LOVE IS A GRIFT over at stalwart reviewer Col’s Criminal Library. He found entertaining the mix of:

Sex, drugs, drink, music, crime, robberies, guns, bikers, kidnap, witches, family feuds, take-downs, consequences, trailers and diners, fake friends, dead boyfriends and a swimming lesson, real friends and a false alarm, nasty neighbours, a werewolf PI in the background, a good deed and an oven clean, and lots more.

Col has been a great supporter of the crime community for some time. Check out his massive collection of reviews at the blog and be sure to leave him an encouraging word. He’s been kind enough to review Satan’s SororityExtricate and Smallbany, so I am eternally grateful.

Also check it out: Fahrenheit Press and F13 in the news!

Review: Worst Laid Plans/Bang Bang You’re Dead

Kicking off the Tête-bêche series from Fahrenheit Press (AKA 69Crime), it’s Aidan Thorn’s Worst Laid Plans and Nick Quantrill’s Bang Bang You’re Dead. While I am published by Fahrenheit, I paid for this book out of my own pocket, because I knew it would be a worthwhile read.

Thorn’s book has a fun premise:

Vinnie Travers, lead singer with The Down & Outs literally doesn’t know what’s hit him when his path crosses with four young lads on a night out in a borrowed Mercedes.

Andy Dickson, home alone while his parents are on holiday, is left trying to figure out how a simple night out with some mates ended with a dead body flung hastily into the backseat of his dad’s car.

But it’s not until the next morning that the fun really begins…

This fast-paced novella has a new twist around every corner. I was laughing out loud with the unexpected changes and the always brutal, black humour. It will keep you  guessing as things go from bad to worse and oh the clever plans that just go wrong. A hoot. I’ve got a soft spot for a heist gone wrong and this one just gets wronger.

Flip it over and you’ve got Quantrill’s gritty realism as a change of pace.

Fresh out of prison, Sam is back home and determined to turn his life around. Be the man his family needs him to be. But it’s not so easy going straight when you’re friends with Jonno. 

Drawn into a drugs deal involving petty local gangs, things quickly take a turn for the worse when he discovers the notorious Nolan brothers are involved. 

With simmering rivalries coming to the fore, Sam has to decide between new and old loyalties. And with old sores over his brother’s death being picked at, it’s not so simple. Especially when you have a gun in your pocket.

Things start off bad and then get worse. He’s got an eye for the downward spiral of a town run by thugs, where every choice lands you in ever hotter water. Just when you think you can’t trust anyone, help may come from an unexpected source.

Check out all the Fahrenistas and get yourself some hot sauce while it lasts.

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Limited edition!

 

Catch Up on Reviews: Harris, Simenon, Libby, Spark

Cari Mora by Thomas HarrisCARI MORA
Thomas Harris

I was really excited about a new book from Harris. His best work is hypnotic and even books of his that others have disparaged, I have greatly enjoyed (though I would have loved to see an editor push him through one more reqrite of the climactic scene of Hannibal Rising). Much of this novel is fascinating and exciting. I could have done without the constant reminders of how attractice the main character is, but her background as a child soldier was gripping and tragic. The primary antagonist, Hans-Peter Schneider, was singular and repulsive in a particularly interesting way and there were all the elements of international crime to keep the plates spinning and the tension taut. As many have mentioned, however, it all feels a bit thinly sketched. I would have loved to see a lot more of this world. The inclusion of a chapter of Red Dragon at the end just made me want to re-read that immediately. The book is gorgeous but since Penguin is doubling down on publishing and promoting fascists and anti-Semites, I don’t plan to throw money their way any time soon.

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Good People of MontparnasseMAIGRET AND THE GOOD PEOPLE OF MONTPARNASSE
Georges Simenon

Penguin book, too, but as I found it on the shelf at the pub, I didn’t hand any money to them. A particularly good shelf that day, where I had to choose between a few good choices. I am slowly acquainting myself with the Simenon catalogue, though I think there’s something essentially Gallic missing from my sensibilities. I can appreciate Simenon without really liking him. Maybe — after listening to Andy Lawrence talk about them — I need to try some of the romans dur instead. I did enjoy the first part of the biography of the writer, but had to return it to the library when I changed countries again. Shall have to get back to that. I enjoyed this; Simenon’s style is without artifice. I always learn from reading him.

LIBBY
Milt Machlin

I have been obsessing on Libby Holman for a while now. The tragic torch singer inspired the theme song for LOVE IS A GRIFT and the film that we used in the music video. Holman was a huge star on stage, lived life to the fullest, but everything started to go wrong when she married the spoiled heir to a tobacco fortune. He shot himself but local prejudice and anti-Semitism led to Libby being charged with murder (despite her husband having a long history of suicidal tendencies and raging alcoholism). They finally give up on the trial, but from that day things seem to go south. She never quite gets her career back on track and people around her seem to die at an alarming rate — including her bizarre and needy later relationship, Montgomery Clift — and her own sad end. But she left her estate to Connecticut where its natural beauty can be shared by all. Kind of a trashy bio, but a quick read.

SYMPOSIUM
Muriel Spark

I can end on a high note: my god, Spark is a wonder. Is there anyone who can skewer quite so deftly as she? Who can whip together murder, Scots border ballads, eccentric relatives and snarky suburbanites with apparent effortlessness? Margaret worries she has the evil eye, Uncle Magnus has a purple tie, the painter would quite like to paint and not have dinner parties, the mother of the groom wants to give them a Monet even though she rather hates the bride and what’s really up with the servant and his very expensive watch. This is the kind of book where all the unexpected pieces fit together so neatly that when you finish it, it is tempting to re-read it immediately to relish the pleasure of it all. Clever, but not in the way that people usually mean that. Delightful is a better word. Savagely so. Laugh out loud funny, too.

Congratulations!

2019-04-23 09.15.38Winner of the big prize package is S. Naomi Scott. Check out her book reviews! Her fab review of LOVE IS A GRIFT can be found here:

This is modern, fast-paced, hard-hitting neo-noir doing exactly what it’s supposed to do and doing it remarkably well.

Thanks! Every review helps. Sometimes it wins a prize.

 

Love is a Grift: Giveaway #3 THE BIG ONE!

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Check it! A super prize package that includes an XL t-shirt, travel mug, notebook, and sticker all emblazoned with S. L. Johnson’s wicked cool cover design for LOVE IS A GRIFT plus a free download of Victoria Squid’s theme song for the book. What do you have to do to win?

Review the book LOVE IS A GRIFT.

  1. Buy it or get it from the library (don’t steal it — crime belongs between the covers!) and offer your opinion at Amazon or Goodreads or on your blog (or some combination thereof).
  2. Tell me where your review can be found. Tweet the link to me or drop it below here in the comments.
  3. That’s it: you’re in the bin for the drawing which will be held May 15, 2019 before I change continents again.
  4. Open across the globe! I will verify the items have been mailed, but I cannot guarantee delivery by your mail service. They will be going out from the USPS to the address that you give me. Be sure to use the format they employ.

FFB: Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith

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I was sure I had written this up before but I searched for it and didn’t find it. This Sphere edition is so much nicer than the bland corporate packaging of the St Martin’s Griffin edition I did end up buying. When you’re on a Highsmith kick and buying everything, the covers are less important (though still proud to own the kickass edition of This Sweet Sickness).

There are two kinds of writers: those who are articulate about the process and those who are not (ditto most arts and artists). Highsmith is not one. If you want a handbook on the topic, this is not the one to teach you. Of course if your publisher offers to pay you to write one, most writers will accept the challenge. But this is not the Highsmith School of Suspense Fiction School, which she recognises. So she turns to the tortured history of her novel The Glass Cell (a good Film for a Friday) in hopes that it will clarify how she does what she does. The case study is so singular that it could hardly be useful in inspiring a budding writer.

Highsmith outlines the evolution of the novel, which ‘was not inspired by any specific story idea but evolved simply out of the desire to write such a book–which is perhaps no bad reason for writing a book’ (chapter 10). She traces the idea from a prisoner’s fan letter (‘I don’t think my books should be in prison libraries’), to reading a book about convicts, to developing intellectual rather than emotional’ threads ‘none of them spectacular’. After that she tries to add some motivation for the characters. A key turns into a dog. What ifs multiply. A wife becomes unfaithful. The first two versions were rejected by her publisher.

‘I thought my story was not bad, but perhaps it could be better. When one thinks this, even faintly, it is best to write it over.’

The interesting part of this book is of course her voice, the anecdotes and the little insights that she may not even realise she’s offering. Speaking of her admiration for Graham Greene Highsmith makes plain her pleasure in reading him. ‘There is no doubt that a study of the whole field of “the best” in suspense writing, whatever that is, can be of benefit professionally to a suspense writer, but I would just as soon not pursue this study.’

Highsmith, in all her ambivalence there — and it’s entertaining.

See all the overlooked gems at Patti Abbott’s blog.

Review: Twerk by Isobel Blackthorn

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TWERK
Isobel Blackthorn
Hellbound Books

Desire, a spark, a decision made too fast, and a Las Vegas stripper is plunged into the depraved world of a psychopath. But is she the only target of his twisted desires?

A regular Sunday night in a Las Vegas strip club is rocked when a local oddball dies mysteriously, during a private dance.

Amber falls immediately in lust with the hot paramedic who arrives, and follows him outside, anticipating sizzling romance. But, her casual encounter quickly descends into a terrifying, twisted nightmare from which she is unable to escape.

Five days later, and it’s Lana’s next shift at the club; she’s a fly-in-fly-out stripper paying her way through law school – she’s also Amber’s best friend.

Where is Amber? And what about the dead client? Was it an accident? Suicide? Or murder?

Finding neither the police, nor the club are taking much interest, Lana conducts her own inquiries, even though she finds herself the victim of a social-media hate campaign, and an ex-boyfriend who is sending her death threats. She’s desperate to uncover the truth about the death, but the person she most needs to speak to is Amber, who has failed to show up for her shift yet again…

Lana is thrust into a web of lies and deceptions she is determined to unravel, in which everyone is a suspect.

An addictively dark, psychological thriller laced with steamy romance, mystery, action and suspense; Twerk exposes the working lives of Las Vegas strippers behind the glamor – the challenges, the rewards, and the deadly risks.

REVIEW

Set in the world of Vegas strip clubs, Blackthorn’s novel shows the real — and often decidedly unglamourous — life that means.  The women suffer all the aches and pains of the hyper-athletic work they do on stage and in the more intimate surroundings of the special after-shows — no touching though! The club’s license hinges on not turning into a brothel. Some of the women work in the sex trade, too, but on the outside. Most just use the club to finance their kids or a dream.

Lana falls into the latter group. During the week she’s an ambitious law student. On the weekends she’s a highly skilled stripper with a unique act. But then there’s a client death at the club which sets in motion a lot of strange events leading to a surprising climax.

The novel alternates between point of view: from Amber who falls for a hot paramedic and gets a lot more than she bargained for, to Lana, who’s finding social media can connect you with the past and that’s not always a pleasant thing, to the mysterious ‘Lacuna’ whose bizarre ramblings let you know there’s a very dangerous person in the mix. Blackthorn manages the narrative suspense by moving between actions and voices until the end where they all come together in a tense showdown after hours in the club.

You may be drawn in by the stripper theme, but you’ll keep reading for the suspense. Just like the strippers who are a lot more than just empty fantasies, the story dives beneath the surface to explore fears and pain and how some can nurture them for a lifetime until they explode.

Another Great Review!

My #Fahrenbruary is kicking off well. A terrific review by Aidan Thorn and this one by Jason Beech (yeah, the old cover still turns up). Thanks, mates!

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