Aidan Thorn: Tales from the Underbelly

Aidan Thorn’s got a new book out and it’s something a little bit different from him. Typically Aidan’s been a short story writer or a novella man – this time he’s putting all that into one book. Tales from the Underbelly is a series of linked stories of varying length centered around a few criminal characters but more importantly it’s about the people that get caught up in their world, some willingly, some unfortunately and innocently, and some without ever realising it.

Tony Ricco and Jimmy O’Keefe are rival gang leaders running the streets of a gritty UK city. Throughout Tales from the Underbelly the reader follows the lives of those touched by Ricco and O’Keefe through Chinese takeaways, gyms, run down council estates and fancy suburban houses – the places you and I visit daily – but hopefully never encounter the underbelly that’s never far away.

Aidan’s linked collection includes six short stories, a novelette and the second half of the book is a novella, Worst Laid Plans. Throughout these stories we learn about the world in which Ricco and O’Keefe operate and their reach and influence over the city that they vie for power over. In many ways this collection is the British Pulp Fiction – 20 plus years after that Quentin chap came up with the idea, but you can’t blame Aidan for that, he was just a boy at the time.

Tales from the Underbelly is available now: get it here.

underbelly

Advertisements

Copped It @ A Twist of Noir

My little tale of a heist gone wrong is over at the brand-spanking-new A Twist of Noir. We’re all glad to see ATON back sharing stories — and surprise, I’m following on the heels of Mr B, who’s got a fine little black diamond, ‘Things I Used to Like’ (and he gets to be #007, too). You won’t be surprised to find ‘Copped It’ is another title stolen from The Fall. I can’t help being inspired: originality is overrated anyway 😉 besides, you might catch a few other references in the tale.

Thanks, Chris!

2016 Books: Round-Up

I’m woefully behind on reviews, having more or less come to the conclusion that I will never catch up and therefore must stop agreeing to try. Here are a few in brief that I can’t help mentioning.

IT’S ALL TRUE (ALTHOUGH IT MAY NOT HAVE HAPPENED): Bratkovič has a collection of stories that offers a noir take with a lot of mordant humour. His protagonists usually manage to cock things up through their best efforts to succeed and by wanting more than their abilities can produce. My favourite is probably ‘The Tribe’ in which a messianic leader wreaks havoc in a mental institution. ‘The Tie’ and ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ make the most of the blackest of black humour. Check it out.

BUFFALO AND SOUR MASH: Richard Godwin, known best for his sleek and sexy thrillers tries something new here: a Western! Well, sort of a western because the rodeo comes to Surrey. Now if that doesn’t already intrigue you, there’s also his usual mix of psychotic violence and sexual obsession as well. Murphy has a single-minded plan to bring the rodeo to the UK until he finds a new obsession to get racy Rhona to be its star — but Rhonda has plans of her own. If you like Godwin’s style, you’ll be intrigued by his appropriation of the western.

DARK MINDS: I’m only a few stories into this collection but I wholeheartedly recommend it. Solid quality and a good cause: All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to Hospice UK and Sophie’s Appeal. There are forty authors here, some the top of the field, many are exciting newcomers (and yeah, folks I know but then I only hang out with quality). In hard times we turn to crime: at least keep it fictional, right? Because we have enough crime to deal with in the government 😉

RAISE THE BLADE: Tess had a fab story in an anthology I edited so I was really pleased to see her publish a novella with Caffeine Nights. Then I decided to save it up for when I could savour it — and forgot! So I’ve cracked it open and it’s just as terrific as I knew it would be. In fact it’s been hard to tear myself away from it to do the things I need to be doing, but I highly recommend it. Tess has a great style that’s deceptively easy-going until WHAM! Pick this up.

FFB: Build My Gallows High

buildmygallowshigh-illusbyharrybarton-1BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH
Geoffrey Homes (1946)

Probably best known as the text for Out of the Past, the classic noir film with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas (and how much better a title is the book than that?), this novel written under a pseudonym by screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who also worked on the script for Invasion of the Body Snatchers and dozens of others, has much less cultural currency than the film it led to (I’d forgotten Against All Odds was a remake: I just cringe automatically on hearing in my head the Phil Collins theme song).

It’s a tight little book that feels very much like an adapted screenplay. There’s no wasted words in this slim volume though it fleshes out the backstory of the novel quite a bit more. The action pretty much hurls through the events non-stop. Nonetheless Homes/Mainwaring offers some moments worth lingering over, throwing in scraps of poetry (‘When I am dead and over me bright April shakes down her rain-drenched hair’) and some description that offers a bit of poetry of its own:

Lloyd Eels was a tall man who hadn’t come off the assembly line.Somebody had found some spare parts lying around and had put them together carelessly, not bothering to get the bolts tight so that they seemed almost ready to come apart. He had black, sad eyes and a black mustache like an untrimmed hedge. No amount of combing would help his shock of hair.

‘You’re getting fat,’ Red said. ‘It doesn’t become you.’
‘You come up here to tell me that?’
‘No, I hate to see a man let himself go. They’ll get you back in shape in Alcatraz.’
‘Always the jester,’ Whit said acidly.
‘But the cap is getting pretty shabby and the bells lose their merry tinkle.’

Jim Caldwell’s eyes saw nothing in the drab domestic scene to wonder at, nothing to make him consider even momentarily the thought that people got old and people took each other for granted and presently there was no magic in the world. Jesus, she was beautiful standing under the hard, white light, her head tilted a little, her cheeks flushed, her dark eyes full of stars.

See all the overlooked books over at Patti’s blog.

Adaptation: The Handmaiden & Nocturnal Animals

220px-the_handmaiden_filmTwo films I caught recently in a fit of end-of-term madness (when I ought to have been grading) were both adapted from novels. As I’m thinking of adapting a couple of my things into scripts, I’ve been musing on the technique involved.

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is a twisty-turny tale that from the start tells you that things are not what they seem. Sook-Hee, daughter of a family of thieves has been hired by a con man masquerading as ‘Count Fujiwara’ to work for Lady Hideko, the heir of huge fortune, kept more or less prisoner by her uncle, the creepy Kouzuki. The plan is for Sook-Hee to use her intimate position to sway the twitchy lady to romance with the fake count, but to her surprise, Sook-Hee begins to feel first protective of her lady and then unexpectedly to feel something much stronger.

I thought I’d had a plot twist spoiled for me but there was so much more going on that I was captivated the whole way by the layers exposed. Yes, Park’s male gaze leers at the lesbian sex a little too obviously, but Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee are so magnificent and joyful that they are magnetic. It made me want to go read Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith which ought to be the point. And to see the film again. Gorgeous. Dark.

nocturnal_animals_posterTom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals has been repeatedly called noir, so let me tell you: it’s not noir though it traffics in some of its trappings. It shocks at the start with indelible images that offer a great litmus test: I’ve heard people call them disgusting. I thought they were mesmerising and beautiful. However, since the movie begins by telling us how jaded Susan (Amy Adams) is about crap art, I guess we’re supposed to hate it. The ‘art is horrible’ subtext is completely undone by Ford making everything look beautiful and sad. I actually found a new appreciation for works like Koons’ balloon dog (was that the one recently broken?) which suddenly looked like a fragile attempt to hold onto a childhood happiness, or Hirst’s Saint Sebastian which, relegated to a stairwell in the tony gallery, gave me a sudden stab of sadness for its hidden pain.

I’m not going to be able to write about this without SPOILERS, so don’t look if you’re planning to see it. Sad Susan is sad; smarmy Armie Hammer is clearly so over her from the first moment he appears and is completely uninterested in her distress that you wonder why it takes her so long to catch on to his affair. There’s distracting stunt casting of Michael Sheen as half of the Holt power couple, with Andrea Riseborough as the other half, perpetuating the myth that women aren’t really interested in sex (just the women who are willing to marry wealthy gay men, Mr Ford) because they’re BEST FRIENDS! ‘You never really had that,’ Alessia tells poor Susan.

Then she gets her ex’s galley of his novel that he’s finally finished after twenty years (wow) and she begins reading it and is totally captivated, flashing back of course to why she left him and her mother Laura Linney predicting it. Maybe the best thing in the film, Laura Linney with gigantic Texas hair (as Angela says, the higher the hair, the closer to god): it made me immediately wish that 1) she had more to do in this film and 2) that there could be a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Linney and Adams because it would be magnificent.

Because of course the ex, Jake Gyllenhaal, is a weak man. And like all weak men in recent years, he dreams of being an uncaring raping, murdering psychopath because that’s strong, I guess. The novel within the movie that Susan is riveted to and disturbed by is really the kind of ‘literary crime novel’ Guy in Your MFA would write. Gyllenhaal’s character says something to the effect of ‘all writers write themselves’ at which I nearly shouted at the screen, ‘But the good ones disguise that rather well.’ His novelist doesn’t. The novel-within-the-film has him play the role of the protagonist as well. He has a wife and daughter who are only there to be killed and raped to provide him with a crisis and pretty, well placed corpses on a photo op ready sofa.

Because that’s what violent mad killers do. Town & country horror films have made much of the wild locals going after city folk at least since Texas Chainsaw Massacre or maybe Spider Baby or before. I think what has made people overlook the clichéd form of the tale is Michael Shannon, giving incredible life to the clichéd cop-with-nothing-to-lose and Aaron Taylor-Johnson channeling Tom Hardy into the clichéd amoral killer. Both work hard to bring some freshness to tired tropes.

But tired they are. Some belated attempt to make this a crisis of faith with the sudden importance of clutched crosses at the end, the ‘horror’ of the break-up having something to do with the abortion Susan had at some point with smarmy Armie and her emerging from the hospital at the exact moment when Gyllenhaal appears horrified (apparently there’s only one place to get the procedure in the whole metropolitan area. I was confused because after reading of the mother and daughter’s demise in the novel, Susan calls her daughter to make sure she’s alright. She is of course filmed sensuously naked in the same pose as the daughter in the novel. And never mentioned again.

So Susan robbed him of a child is supposed to be the thing for which he needs REVENGE (which of course I hear in K-K-K-Ken’s voice), but she had a child? Was it with smarmy Armie? Is that why he kills her in the novel too? Perhaps. I like the REVENGE painting, explained by stunt-cast Jenna Malone as something Susan bought months ago.

I do like the punch in the gut ending. Several people around me vocally did not. But it totally fits the childishness of the character who would write this novel. So, yeah, not interested in reading the source novel. But I didn’t hate the film: it was rather interesting but not in the ways I suspect it was meant to be.

Save

Out Now: You Left Your Biscuit Behind

OUT NOW!

As Aunty Fox says:

Our first crime themed anthology featuring crime, fantasy, horror, humour and baked goods. It’s basically just like one of our events.

10 stories, by ten authors, all with a crime at their heart, some of them with biscuits. Whether that is the stories or the authors I leave to you.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000448_00024]

Contents
Elf Prefix by Graham Wynd
Between Love and Hat by Jay Eales
Ghost Signals by James Bennett
No Mercy by K.D. Kinchen
That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles by Penny Jones
Feeding the Fish by Carol Borden
Mermaids in Cape Town by Mame Diene
Patron by E.J. Davies
The Price of a Biscuit by Kate Coe
The Princess, The Pekingese and the Ivory Box by R.A. Kennedy

Buy You Left Your Biscuit Behind / Amazon.com

Coming Soon: You Left Your Biscuit Behind

New crime coming atcha soon: from Fox Spirit Books it’s You Left Your Biscuit Behind. Here’s a teaser from my noir story with a twist, “Elf Prefix”:

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-07-56-26

Yes, of course that title’s a nod to a Fall song. Did you expect any less?