They’re coming fast and furious from Paul D. Brazill: it’s another cracking Near to the Knuckle novella from Mr B, the hardest working man in Brit Grit. This is #9 in the series and like the others a rip-snorter of mayhem and it’s got plenty of humour.
Big City Blues ranges across Europe and over to the colonies, or at least New York, which is a world of its own. Brazill always like a sprawling jumble of wild threads which he slowly knits together over the course of the unpredictable events and connections. Even his Seatown stories make the small burg feel complex. It’s not like wild coincidences either; it’s more like Six Degrees of Separation — or in this case, maybe only three degrees.
There’s a joyful abundance that teeters on the baroque: old cons, old cops, young geezers, unpredictable collisions of desire and convenience, and always sudden bone-crunching violence lurking around the next corner. Some of the jokes my grandfather would know but with a twist that makes them new again, and so many original observations that had me laughing out loud with surprise. And don’t tell anybody but hiding in between the laughs, the grimaces, the double crossing and the name dropping, you’ll find heart-searing observations about the walking wounded and some prose that will knock your socks off:
The night had draped itself over the city, and the moon bit into the sky. He stopped on the neon-soaked street to breathe in the sultry air. He could smell the lust, the sin and the decay.
A shard of sunlight sliced through the blinds, picking out specks of dust that floated in the air. An old electric kettle boiled in another room. A refrigerator hummed. A dishwasher chugged dully. A mangy black and white car strolled across the newly polished bar before curling up on a wooden bar stool and going to sleep.
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.
Too 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.
Hey, it’s the Duke of Brit Grit, that Paul D. Brazill! So what’s this new book of yours out this weekend?
Too Many Crooks is my latest Brit Grit novella and is published by Near To The Knuckle. It’s set in England and Poland. It’s a mix of pulp, farce and the grotesque. No change there, then. Though there is a bit of romance in this one …
The blurb says:
Too Many Crooks is a blackly comic Brit Grit romp from the author of Guns Of Brixton and Kill Me Quick!
When high-class fence Leslie Hawkins meets Peter Rhatigan in a sleazy London pub, he offers her the chance to get her hands on the Totenkopfring, a legendary piece of World War Two memorabilia. However, after a violent encounter with a member of a biker gang, things soon spiral wildly and dangerously out of control. Meanwhile in Poland, Dr Anna Nowak finds an amnesiac Englishman half-dead in the snow…
Too Many Crooks by Paul D, Brazill is a fast-moving and action-packed cocktail of bodies, bullets and death-black comedy.
How many crooks is too many? Is there a scientific basis for this claim?
Well there is a veritable cornucopia of crooks in Too Many Crooks. There are gangsters, a jewel thief, a biker gang, a mental neo-nazi politician. In fact there are pretty much only crooks! How they all collide is part of the fun, of course.
Are there more pop song references in this book or comedy classics?
Well the shadows of the Carry On films and Ealing Comedies hang heavy over the book, as per usual, and there are lots of top tunes from the likes of Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and The Flys.
Should readers begin at the beginning and read all the way through or can they jump about from tale to tale?
Well, it’s a novella, so there’s only one story so it’s best to start at the beginning or it may not make sense. It may not anyway, of course!
Are there really large American themed bars in Warsaw? What on earth for?
There are indeed though not as many as there are overpriced Irish pubs. A Polish pub was once spotted …
What’s next from your prolific pen?
My novella A Case Of Noir will be re-published by Near To The Knuckle in March and there should be another novella out a bit after that. And I have a story in the debut issue of Switchblade Magazine.
Pre-order TOO MANY CROOKS! here.
Paul D. Brazill‘s books include The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. His blog is here.
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.
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.