Review: Too Many Crooks by Paul D. Brazill

too-many-crooksToo Many Crooks
Paul D. Brazill
Near to the Knuckle Novella #7

I’m pretty much an easy mark when it comes to Mr B, as you’re doubtless already aware if you’ve read my enthusiastic reviews for his other publications. But I love writers I can count on (see also Liz Hand, the Abbotts, Tess Makovesky and some others I could name but why inflate all those egos?).

Too Many Crooks hits some of the familiar territory: colourful low lifes spread across Europe from Britain to Poland and points in between, salty language, implausible schemes and cataclysmic coincidences. It also has callbacks to other tales he’s written (fun if you know them, interesting hooks if you don’t).

But there’s something more in the wild kinetic machinations: dare I say a touch of the poetic? A lot of mad laugh out loud moments — the Mad Jaffa Cake Eater, a pruney face was so lived in squatters wouldn’t stay there, a Slippery Pole — and a whole bunch of references to classic punk tunes and venerable comedies, not to mention Fall lyrics.

You’d expect no less than offhand Carry On lines and knowing music choices for every mood. There’s a lot more, too:

He was also the world’s leading authority on the Klingon language, apparently and used speaking in Klingon as part of his radical therapy. Hattie had told him she wasn’t interested and had never seen Star Wars and he’d glared at her.

“If you haven’t made a fool of yourself at least once in your life, you haven’t lived,” said Anna.
“Oh, well, if that’s true, I’ve lived more lives than a cat, then,” said McGuffin.

He watched Leslie leave the café and put up her umbrella, which flapped in the wind like a black crow.

He was hungover from a bad dream, or maybe a bad life.

The old grandfather clock had just struck thirteen.

Obviously I could go on and on. Just the audacity of naming a primary character McGuffin (snort!). Get it. You need the laughs. Because all orange clowns should be fictional.

FFB: People Who Knock on the Door by Patricia Highsmith

9780349004976-usI started reading this on a transatlantic flight thinking I would be able to nod off get a little sleep. But it’s Highsmith, so of course I finally had to force myself to close the book so I could sleep a little. As Sarah Hilary’s astute introduction spells it out, ‘Her great skill was to make us, dear readers, complicit….Highsmith, let’s face it, is addictive.’

I’m not sure there’s a ‘typical’ Highsmith, but this one’s definitely an outlier. For one thing the protagonist is a high school kid. Written in the midst of the rise of the so-called Moral Majority in the Reagan years, her contempt is palpable for the grubby little hypocrites who trumpet ‘morality’ whilst using religion as a club to batter down any dissent.

But it doesn’t at once seem like a ‘crime’ novel. After a while I stopped waiting for something ‘criminal’ to happen and just settled in to the life of Arthur Alderman (oh, what a name) in a seemingly idyllic Midwestern town where everyone is a specifically odd reality and the sinister march of darkness creeps through the niceness everyone desperately struggles to maintain.

That unease: that’s Highsmith. That’s the art I struggle to put a finger on. How easily, how pervasively she develops it. I need to study her more closely. It feels effortless, but it’s got to be so carefully built. Into the maelstrom of religious tension, abortion controversies, money matters and always intimations of ‘morality’ that slowly drive a wedge into the ‘perfect’ family.

You always knew they were not perfect. But when it all explodes, it’s still a shock.

Her racism is much more on show here. Highsmith makes it a part of the small town outlook, a nodding us vs them mentality. The mindset that Arthur struggles against, both with his father’s closing mind after his ‘born again’ moment and with the ‘why not just settle’ message he gets from almost everyone else.

He comes to a conclusion, a philosophy that seems to finally bring him peace:

Take life as it comes. Enjoy and be grateful. Not grateful to God, but to luck and chance. Tread carefully, speak carefully, hang onto what you’ve got. Be polite to what you’ve got.

Of course that’s when, as they say, all hell breaks loose. Of course, this is Highsmith country.

Discover your new reads at Patti’s round up of overlooked tomes.

 

New Pledges @ Satan’s Sorority

Those devilish girls of Sigma Tau Nu — here’s a few portraits of ones who are new!

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Esther Panhandles

ss-chloe-fleur-devil

Fleur D’evil

ss-chloe-joccelina-van-de-chuff

Joccelina van de Chuff

Many thanks to the multi-talented Chloë Yates who swings a fine pen herself: check out her many publications here.

Enter to Win SATAN’S SORORITY

Satans Sorority Promo Image SLJ

 

This Halloween pledge Sigma Tau Nu! Never mind black cats — you don’t want once of these sisters to cross your path. Sexy, violent and a little bit mad, this racy crime novella is for adults only!

See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: Satan’s Sorority. https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/98596c22807400fd NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Oct 25, 2016 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.

Pledging Sigma Tau Nu

Occult Crime: The Dain Curse

In Satan’s Sorority, I wanted to explore the idea of crime that uses occult connections even if there’s nothing supernatural happening (it’s open to interpretation, of course — the characters certainly believe something diabolical occurs). Admittedly my forthcoming story Elf Prefix, which again mixes up crime and the occult, is a little more beyond acceptable reality, but I’m interested in the ways the occult has been used to cover up or shield crime.

You don’t think of Dashiell Hammett as a ‘fantasy’ writer, though he did pen a short supernatural tale of a magician and his assistant (‘Magic’). But he was aware of how the occult could be used to con people — he was always interested in how people manipulated one another. After all, many cults are just a way to swindle folks — another big con.

The Dain Curse has a fascinating occult motif in the middle of it. California has long been the hotbed of strange cults so it’s not surprising the Continental Op would run up against one. The Temple of the Holy Grail supposedly resurrects a sort of druidic practice of Arthur’s Britain. While guarding Gabrielle Leggett, inheritor of the curse, the Op discovers her blood-soaked with a dagger in her hands, confessing to murder.

Entering the temple itself through a ‘small iron door’ he sees ‘dim stars in a night sky’ as they walk over ‘a floor of white marble, or pentagonal tiles that imitated white marble…The light glittered and glistened on a wide altar of brilliant white, crystal and silver.’ The victim lay upon the steps pooling blood.

Later as the Op tries to protect Leggett in her room, he’s aware of the persistent smell of dead flowers intensifying. Then he sees something weird:

Not more than three feet away, there in the black room, a pale bright thing like a body, but not like flesh, stood writhing before me. It was tall, yet not so tall as it seemed, because it didn’t stand on the floor, but hovered with its feet a foot or more above the floor. Its feet—it had feet, but I don’t know what their shape was. They had no shape, just as the thing’s legs and torso, arms, and hands, head and face, had no shape, no fixed form. They writhed, swelling and contracting, stretching and shrinking, not greatly, but without pause.

The Op figures things out eventually–and as you might suspect, the cause of the seemingly supernatural vision has a lot to do with the strange smell and suggestibility, but it’s worthwhile thinking about how even the hard-nosed Op can be thrown off kilter by what appears to be inexplicable. You might breathe a sign of relief when the Scooby-Do ending gets revealed, but for a time even the hard-boiled reader might be willing to suspend disbelief for a time.

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

 

Review: Cold London Blues

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COLD LONDON BLUES
Paul D. Brazill
Caffeine Nights Press

I know: you’ll be shocked to hear that I loved this. I’ve been champing the bit waiting for this book to drop because there are few writers who genuinely entertain as much as Brazill. And this is no exception.

If you’ve read Guns of Brixton, you’ll recognise some of the folks here. The tune has changed from the Clash to the inimitable Vic Godard and this offers the chance to slip in a little — dare I say it? — poetry between the mayhem. There’s a confidence here that allows some audacity. The first line: ‘The morning that Father Tim Cook killed Aldo Calvino the air tasted like lead and the sky was gun-metal grey.’ Mood and mayhem plonk down on a bar stool next to you. You’re not going anywhere until you find out how it all shakes out.

As always it’s laugh out loud funny between bouts of wincingly painful chaos brought on by characters who are as unlikely as they are vivid: gangsters who are feeling their age, hitmen who miss, hoods who want to go straight, and an actor so far up his own arse he thinks he’s god — or maybe just Batman.

I love the expansion of the Brazill world: both the London stories and the Seatown tales feed into the history of Cold London Blues. You don’t need to have read all his other books but it helps. There’s a mad world of lowlifes, cops and random walk-ons — no innocents though. Everyone has their demons — but they’ve got music too.

And I love the idea of the Roman Dalton P.I. series: TV people, make it so!

Some quotes (I’ll try not to post everything): just go buy it now.

A face so lived-in squatters wouldn’t stay there, as his old gran would have said.

Tim wasn’t sure when it was that domestic drudgery like cooking and gardening had become elevated to the level of the works of Beethoven and Chaucer but it was another sign of what was wrong with the modern world, the country.

‘Consistency is the city hobgoblin of little minds.’

‘If you gaze into the abyss’ said Marty, with a lop-sided smirk. ‘The abyss also gazes … and sometimes winks at you and blows you a kiss.’

The winter night bit like a savage beast.

A murder of crows scattered and sliced across the white moon, as the purr of an approaching Mercedes grew to a roar.

‘I blame America for it … well, I blame America for everything …The United States of America is a cancer. A poisonous virus that has fatally infected its host’…‘They say you shouldn’t make your home on an Indian burial ground but when you think about it, the whole of the United States is a bleedin Indian burial ground. Think about it.’

Marty hated high places. He got vertigo in thick socks.

Guest Post: Patti Abbott

Shot in DetroitI’m happy to host Patti Abbott today to talk a little bit about the writing process behind her second novel SHOT IN DETROIT. The book has been generating a lot of buzz, building on the fine reputation of CONCRETE ANGEL.

BLURB: Violet Hart is a photographer who has always returned to cobble out a life for herself in the oddly womblike interiors of Detroit. Nearing forty, she’s keenly aware that the time for artistic recognition is running out. When her lover, Bill, a Detroit mortician, needs a photograph of a body, she agrees to takes the picture. It’s an artistic success and Violet is energized by the subject matter, persuading Bill to allow her to take pictures of some of his other “clients,” eventually settling on photographing young, black men.

When Violet’s new portfolio is launched, she quickly strikes a deal, agreeing to produce a dozen pictures with a short deadline, confident because dead bodies are commonplace in Detroit and she has access to the city’s most prominent mortician. These demands soon place Violet in the position of having to strain to meet her quota.

As time runs out, how will Violet come up with enough subjects to photograph without losing her soul or her life in the process? A riveting novel of psychological suspense, Patricia Abbott continues to cement herself as one of our very best writers of the darkness that lies within the human heart

Do you consider genre when you write? Did you write SHOT IN DETROIT as a crime novel? How about CONCRETE ANGEL?

I lack calculation, or perhaps better phrased as control, which is probably a bad thing for someone trying to find success in writing. I am a pantser rather than a planner. And when I sent Shot out for the first time (it was initially titled Raising the Dead) the very kind editor who agreed to read it, said, “My God, woman, forty pages have gone by without a body?” This was from Hard Case Crime and I clearly did not understand the demands of that genre. The body count in the their books is high and the bodies fall quickly. I should have been aware of it after reading many of their books. I should have calculated or exercised control over what I needed to succeed with them. But instead I went merrily along writing the book that I seemed to only work out on a subconscious level.

And as someone who does little planning or outlining, I also never think, “Hey, it’s time for another murder.” It may happen, but I never planned it. I am as surprised as a reader might be when it does, wondering when my character came up with that idea. When did he get so angry?

Getting back to the question of genre, when and how does a story find its way into genre fiction? If there is any murder at all in a novel, is it then crime fiction? Well, that would widen the gates considerably. We’d have to usher in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, THERESE RAQUIN. I would instead say that crime cannot be incidental to the plot in genre fiction. It has to be the focus of it. What we are most interested in, maybe even to the diminishment of character.

With Mr. Ardai’s critique in mind, I decided to begin the second novel, CONCRETE ANGEL, with a murder. But it’s a bit of a cheat because Eve Moran is not your typical murderer, and her first and only murder was an accident. But throughout the book she engages in most other crimes. A crime novel? I was not sure and called it domestic suspense. In many ways, her crimes are the result of mental illness. And if I was able to control or even outline a novel, I probably would have added another murder along the way. Her father might have made a good victim. Her husband?

Shot in Detroit veers even further from the definition of genre. We are not much interested in who killed the people who die in the book. Hopefully we are interested instead in what being around murder or death, in even being invested in it as a photographer, does to a woman like Violet Hart. How it both softens and hardens her over six months. But if twelve men die, it can rest easily on the shelves of crime fiction for me.

So have I written two genre novels? Are both crime novels? I would say yes.

Visit Patti’s blog for all kinds of interesting discussion, including her weekly round-up of Friday’s Forgotten Books.