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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#Noirvember: Supernatural Noir

Supernatural Noir
Paul D. Brazill
Near to the Knuckle/Close to the Bone

Werewolves, vampires and other creatures of the night prowl the neon and blood soaked streets in this sharp short story collection that places the supernatural in a hardboiled noir world.

Honestly, I probably have read most of the stories in here before — hell, I probably own them in other collections, but I always grab the latest from Mr B just in case there’s anything I missed. I didn’t even know how much I missed Roman Dalton, his werewolf detective, until I started reading through the stories again. Netflix ought to swoop in and bag those stories for a new series.

There’s a mix of other protagonists here, too — a variety of one-offs like ‘The Liberator’ that nonetheless fit in the same dark demonised streets that Roman roams. Like Lenny said, you want it darker? Then this is your world. Howl at the moon and watch your back.

He’s even got a playlist for the book!

Film for a Friday: The Green Man

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Thank goodness for library book sales: or in this case, a DVD sale too. I happened across this film which I’ve never seen (in a double pack with School for Scoundrels, which one can never have too many copies of). It’s the kind of movie that could never get made now. Sim plays a bomber who assassinates folks he considers the world to be better off without — starting in childhood with a sneering headmaster. Clearly we’re meant to have sympathy for his career, which he suspends during the war years because of ‘too much competition’ :-D.

I figured I could at least link to some clips but the ‘tube is bereft of them. The BFI has a good write up and some clips, but you have to be logged in. Debut director Robert Day went on to Tony Hancock’s The Rebel amongst other things and the cast is chockfull of familiar faces from Terry-Thomas’ Lothario and George Cole’s hapless vacuum-cleaner-salesman William Blake (hahaha!), to Dora Bryan playing dim but unlucky and Jill Adams playing smart but hapless.  Producer/writers Launder and Gilliat are of course best known for the St. Trinian’s films. This movie is based on their play ‘Meet a Body’ (no mention of rye).

There are mix-ups, misunderstandings, a protracted chess game, hijinks with a piano and a good bit of farce. In short, it’s great fun. As I also got the box set of St. Trinian’s films, my weekend is all set for laughs.

FFB: Switzerland by Joanna Murray-Smith

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Continuing the summer obsessions (although being back to campus is the painful way of telling me summer’s over) of Highsmith and Spark, I have two plays coming up: the first is Murray-Smith’s play imagining Patricia Highsmith meeting a mysterious visitor who seems rather Ripley-esque to anyone who’s read her. There was a production in Bath that I couldn’t get to which whetted my appetite and made me wonder why I’d never heard of this though the LA version of the simultaneous debut of the play starred Laura Effing Linney. Wow. I would have loved to see that.

Probably the reason I didn’t hear about it despite having an ear for any mention of Highsmith is that LA critics were mostly ‘meh’. Insane: I swear sometimes I think no one in that city understands humour (which would explain most American ‘comedy’).

This play is crackling dark fun. If you know Highsmith at all, you know how things will turn out but it is great fun seeing just how they get there. Murray-Smith clearly has a great love for Highsmith and her writing (so much so that she hints some of the author’s most repellant personal characteristics might be played up for effect, which I rather doubt but I can see the appeal of thinking so). She captures her, right down to the snails.

Edward Ridgeway (‘Was there ever a more ordinary name?’) arrives in the titular country, emissary from the publisher who wants to squeeze one more Ripley tale our of the irascible and aging writer. Sure, it will make money for them but it will seal her legacy from being ‘…varied.’ Not that she’s dying: ‘Not quite on my deathbed, if that’s what you’re looking for. But let’s say, it’s freshly made up.’

‘Happy people are just people who don’t ask enough questions.’ I don’t know if it’s Highsmith or Murray-Smith but it’s a great line. Likewise, ‘Nice people are simply excellent narrators. They’re fakes.’

Great fun and I hope to see a production some time. What fun this two-hander must be to perform.

See all the FFB gems at Patti’s blog.

FFB: A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith

isbn9780349004570-detailStill on a Highsmith kick (when I’m not on the Spark kick) and here’s yet another unsung volume from the prolific author. A Suspension of Mercy is not a title that would fly these days. It has the allusive high-flown style that Highsmith loved in titles; today publishers prefer more direct titles (‘No, Pat. This Sweet Sickness?! People are going to think it’s a romance!’).

Highsmith doesn’t always start with murder but this novel goes a long way without a death: unfortunately for Sydney Bartleby (whose name is a dead giveaway for an unsuccessful writer) people start to assume that he has done away with his wife Alicia. The wonderful Virago cover encapsulates the suspected body disposal.

As Joan Schenkar’s lively introduction spells out, this is one of the three novels she wrote while living in Suffolk (carrying on an affair with a married woman) but the only one set there. Bartleby is a so-far unsuccessful writer married to an equally insufferable spoiled rich girl. They don’t get on and she decides to take a powder and go off to Brighton. Of course he jokes with his co-writer about bumping her off; of course he decides to bury an old carpet in the woods to see what it might be like to bury a body wrapped in a carpet in the woods, which his elderly neighbour misinterprets — and of course, this being Highsmith, things devolve in ways both predictable (duh, Bartleby!) and completely unpredictable from there.

Highsmith gives voice to some familiar writerly fears via Bartleby: Often it occurred to Sydney that he was cursed with his father’s mediocrity, doomed to failure, cursed too with his drive to write something that the world would love and respect and that would ensure his name’s being remembered for a hundred years at least, and hopefully for longer. Every creator has that hope. Sydney is actually on the brink of success when Alicia disappears and everyone begins to suspect him. Like Ripley, for whom imagined things seem more real than real things he’d rather not remember, Sydney acts the part a little too well. As he buries the carpet:

And like a real criminal, he began to feel more sure of himself with the body underground and out of sight…

As an American in Suffolk, he faces the prejudices of the locals as suspicion falls upon him for his missing wife: ‘American are violent. Everyone knows that,’ Mrs Hawkins tells his next door neighbour. There are numerous references to other notorious murders like the Christie case. The book is shot through with grim humour, as when the missing woman’s father scolds his wife for her suspicions, ‘Really, my dear, it’s too much like a detective story.’

Great fun, as always. Highsmith seldom disappoints.

Check out all the other overlooked tomes over at Todd’s blog.

Review: Small Time Crimes by Paul D. Brazill

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Small Time Crimes
Near to the Knuckle Press
Paul D. Brazill

Hit-men, con men, jewel thieves, career criminals, killers, crooks and cannibals. They all congregate between the pages of Paul D. Brazill’s Small Time Crimes – a brutal and blackly comic collection of short stories and flash fiction that views the world at its most askew.

Raymond Chandler advised struggling writers, “When in doubt…have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand” and the story would work itself out. I’d say the Brazill corollary is, ‘When in doubt have a man head to a pub.’ While many of his characters try to reform their ways both bibulous and violent, these hard-bitten by life folk generally find they picked the wrong week to give up their vices.

Or is the WC Fields rule? Never give a sucker an even break — and even the most well-intentioned characters here find themselves driven to desperate acts of violence. Most of them don’t have good intentions though: they’ve got axes to grind and long-nursed resentments to avenge and it’s no surprised to find everything going pear-shaped like life had been formed in a pear-shaped mold.

And it’s all hilarious, brutally so. These are not genteel stories. They’re laugh out loud, bitter wincing fun — if you have a black heart and even blacker humour. Some quotes because Mr B is eminently quotable with a boatload of absurdities, musical swipes and clever allusions:

Yeah, and I used to like Benny Liens. He used to be my best mate. My mucker. My partner in crime. Until he screwed my missus, that is. I sharp went off him then, I can tell you. Which is why I killed the fucker.

They used to say he had more tarts than Mr Kipling. He looked as rough as toast now, though. Hair like straw, face like a blackcurrant crumble, wearing a shabby grey shell–suit. The booze and the divorces had certainly taken their toll on George.

“I met him on a Monday and although my heart didn’t stand still, per say, it certainly skipped a beat or two, I can tell you,” said Martyna.

In the beginning was the sound. The light came later. The sound was a horrifying wail that skewered its way deep into my unconscious brain, until I awoke, drowning in sweat, my heart smashing through my ribcage, my head about to burst.

Truth be told, my most vivid and powerful memories of childhood were always in black and white. The monochrome serials that were shown at the Saturday morning Kidz Klub at the local Odeon cinema, and the Hollywood films on afternoon television, when I was throwing a sickie from school. It all seemed so much more vibrant than anything that real life could come up with. As you would expect of someone who grew up living more fully in his imagination than in the day–to–day, adulthood proved to be a series of disappointments and non–events.

“Hope is the real opium of the masses, Peter.”

I could go on and quote the whole damn book, but just buy it for yourself already. Five stars, shining accolades, Ladybird cover, the Kingsley Amis hungover prose award etc etc. Do yourself a favour.