I meant to get another book review done this week, but it’s been surprisingly hectic hereabouts. So here’s a little Zasu Pitts and Constance Bennett plus Basil Rathbone as a cad in Sin Takes a Holiday. Art Deco bonus points for design!
Here’s Zasu and Thelma Todd:
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.
A troubled, ageing hit man leaves London and returns to his hometown in the north east of England hoping for peace. But the ghosts of his past return to haunt him.
Last Year’s Man is a violent and blackly comic slice of Brit Grit noir. PRE-ORDER NOW! Available 06/22/2018
Praise for LAST YEAR’S MAN:
“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” —Paul Heatley, author of Fatboy
I was chuffed to receive a pre-publication ARC of the latest from Mr B. Always a pleasure to read one of my favourite contemporary authors. Rest assured this is exactly the kind of mordantly witty caper you expect. From blood-soaked shenanigans to effortlessly clever banter, there’s everything you’d expect and more. The motif of the hitman haunted by his past gets a fresh angle as disgraced Tommy Bennett returns to Seatown, the northern coastal city where his past awaits him. A wild mix of musical and pop culture references come at you thick and fast. I was chortling by the end of the first page.
But under the laughter there are a few dark threads (as with all great comedy). There’s a serious undercurrent dealing with age and regrets, of finding hope — but don’t let that put you off, crime fans. There’s plenty of mayhem gone wrong, drugs and drink, plus a pale gangster named Drella (who manages to be both ruthless and hen-pecked) and a wealth of murderous mistakes. The Hancock-esque hitman Bennett (he even wears a Homburg!) seems ready to shuffle off this mortal coil just give up the life of crime, but there’s a cockroach persistence to Brazill’s characters, who have the curiosity worthy of a cat to know what will happen next.
Some great lines:
I watched dark clouds spread across the sky like a cancer.
I placed a bottle of London Pride on the grave. My wife hated flowers because of her hay fever.
‘Then the world is your oyster.’ ‘Yeah, but I’m a vegetarian,’ I said.
‘We all have our own double-cross to bear.’
I woke up when someone stabbed me.
The carriage shook like a junkie in rehab and dragged me painfully awake.
The church clock struck thirteen as I crossed the road.
Patsy, the pasty-faced barmaid…
‘Sartre got it wrong, I tell you,’ he said. ‘Hell is IKEA.’
My advice to you is pre-order this and get your London Pride in now for some summer reading. I think I might just read it again. Now where’s that audio book version?
It’s been uncharacteristically sunny hereabouts. The suspicion aroused by so much sun on a bank holiday weekend in Scotland cannot entirely undo the pleasure it brings. Shine on.
I didn’t know what a Graham Gouldman fan I was until I made my way through this book. To be fair, I only have two speeds: not interested and totally obsessed. Unfortunately, the obsessions can be really off kilter and sometimes I’m running so fast after the thing that I think is interesting, I don’t stop to question the assumptions passed along the way.
Like 10cc=Godley & Creme. Ha!
10cc (and Godley & Creme) has been one of those fading in and out interests. Of course Consequences because of the Peter Cook obsession, but one of my top fave singles as a youngster was ‘I’m Not in Love’ and yet it didn’t really sink in that the song was ‘written by band members Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman.’ Ditto ‘Things We Do for Love’ which was the only 10cc record I bought at that time. I know: eejit.
But it goes back further. On my scratchy hand-me-down but beloved Herman’s Hermits LP the best song by a mile (much as I enjoyed all the bubblegum) was clearly ‘No Milk Today’ which of course is also Gouldman. So I’ve been catching up on his solo stuff and kicking myself for being obtuse.
Now about the rest of this book: there’s tons of reviews here and there, and some great interviews (including this new one with Real Gone), so I won’t drone on about the usual things. It’s an inventive angle (A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings) which really brings out the deliberate desire of many Mancunians to ignore London and its machinations as much as possible.
It doesn’t matter that this London isn’t entirely real. The fact that the elitist, greedy, insular, condescending Emerald City exists as much in the collective minds of the North as it does on the streets of the capital doesn’t make its rejection any less important.
The intimacy of the recording tradition in Manchester has a lot to do with it starting small — minuscule even — but also that it’s rooted in the musicians and sound folk wanting to give back to their community. Hanley contrasts this with the whole-hearted embrace of the capital by groups like The Beatles, who not only set up there but in the richest neighbourhoods, too. Savile Row and Mayfair certainly radiated ‘success’ but left them a little rootless.
It’s worth emphasising this again, when Eric Stewart first pondered the possibility of building a professional-standard recording studio outside London, he was completely alone. The thought hadn’t struck anyone else at all.
Strawberry Studios became a nexus of creative sound for the next three decades, an influence that’s still felt. ‘You could tell it was built with love rather than profit in mind,’ the studio’s first female engineer, Julia Adamson, told Hanley.
It’s a fascinating look at pop music, recording, musical influences and the history that binds together any given record made in the city in these formative years. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a terrifically funny book. I read most of it on the train then on a cross-Atlantic flight and I’m sure I annoyed the people around me by constantly chortling at Hanley’s mordant wit (cf footnote 161). What might have been a dull listing of names and dates instead sounds like the best pub conversation you ever overheard.
Thanks to Paul Hanley’s Leave the Capital I know a lot more about Graham Gouldman, whose music I have loved for years though I didn’t really know it. Review of that tome coming as soon as I get a moment to draw breath. Also, I need to chase down that whole episode of Arena.
‘And it felt like a kiss…’
‘Do it again, Johnny,’ Annette said wiping the blood from the corner of her mouth, but he had no intention of pressing his lips to hers again. ‘I can take it.’ She ripped the skirt the rest of the way off and lay on the bed.
God, he hated Norwich.
[Originally appeared in Blink|Ink 8 Noir Issue, Sep 2011]
Double barrel song inspiration:
I don’t know what it was, but there it goes again.