Fab Review for Satan’s Sorority!

Many thanks to Dr Nicola Parry!

2019-02-15 04.45.19

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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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It’s #Fahrenbruary!

Thanks to all the book bloggers and Fahrenistas who have taken the Great Grey Beast and transformed into ‘Fahrenbruary’ fun. Check out Fahrenheit chief Chris’ post that will gather all the links as they happen. Reviews, interviews and more coming your way.

Cheers to the folks who made this work! Kudos to all the Fahrenhistas!

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.

FFB: Ripley Under Water by Patricia Highsmith

41jcpvzb2ml-sx160-sy160I’m not sure why I always had it stuck in my mind that there were four books in the Ripliad. The fifth and final (thought I have an idea for a sixth, oh estate of esteemed writer) is Ripley Under Water. Released in 1991 more than a decade after The Boy Who Followed Ripley (which deserves a post of its own at some point — so much to dissect there…noting that down for yet another future project I guess: a long consideration of the Ripliad in my abundant free time), the novel has a distinctly different feel to it. No surprise, there. Much had changed in the meantime, especially going back all the way to the original novel in 1955.

Clearly Highsmith loves Ripley just as much thirty five years later. All of her sympathy is with him and concealing his crimes. She allows him to meditate on subjects near to heart (‘Were women masochists? Did that make sense? Child-birth, a stoic tolerance of pain?’). In our world of doxxing and trolling, Ripley Under Water has additional resonances. After making a successful life for himself with all the trappings of wealth he’s always wanted, achieved with really very few murders he thinks, Ripley is suddenly beset by the horror of Americans with wealth, some random facts and a grinding air of self-righteous belligerence.

In short, he has terrible new neighbours. They play loud music, they photograph his house, and they start to blackmail him about his two most important murders. The sanctuary that the little village of Villeperce offers and the fortress of Belle Ombre are besieged by Janice and David Pritchard, who seem to embody every ugly thing about Tom’s homeland — all he has sought to leave behind. His own life is a careful veneer of appearances, so it’s easy to threaten. He cannot comprehend this pair: after they exchange mock blows,

They played little games, Tom saw. And made it up in bed? Unpleasant to contemplate.

Like the toxic fans who stalk celebrities, they pingpong between wanting to befriend him and wanting to expose him. Their insistence on digging up the past unsettles the careful web of lies and deceit that Ripley has built into comfort. They threaten to unravel everything.

Sometimes his imagination was as clear as a remembered experience. And some remembered experiences faded, he supposed, such as that of killing Dickie, Murchison, even the couple of well-fed Mafia members around whose throat he had pulled a garrotte…There was indeed a screen between facts and memory, Tom realised, though he could not have given it a name. He could, of course, he thought a few seconds later, and it was self-preservation.

It’s impossible not to wonder if Highsmith gave herself the same out. She gives him musings that seem to carry the author’s own. Ripley reads Ellman’s excellent biography of Oscar Wilde, which he sums up as,

a man of goodwill, of talent, whose gifts to human pleasure remained considerable, had been attacked and brought low by the vindictiveness of hoi polloi, who had taken sadistic pleasure in watching Oscar brought low.

She then has Tom compare Oscar to Christ, with poetry, then returns to thoughts of his own persecution by the Pritchards (Highsmith has hilariously petty fun with Tom’s wife Héloïse and the other French folks mangling their name). Pritchard has too much money and too much time on his hand and too much bile. He relentlessly hunts the waterways for a body he suspects Tom has discarded.

Perhaps the oddest thing about this book is that Tom, the eternal loner, finally makes use of the friendships he has built as part of his camouflage. Flummoxed by this perverse persecution, he discovers the value of community and almost seems to take an unexpected pleasure in it. Highsmith wraps up this improbable story in a grotesque, bizarre and hilarious way — which I suppose is the only way she could end it. Don’t worry: Tom is still up to his tricks right to the last page.

See all the overlooked books at Patti’s blog.

Review: Sunburn – Laura Lippman

I inhaled this book. What a great tag line: She has nothing to lose. And everything to hide. The cover is slathered with glowing reviews from big names, big papers (and the Daily Fail) but you know that Lippman’s got a career that has more than earned those plaudits.

This is neo-noir yet as fresh as summer rain (I say with relief that we’ve finally got some this morning — a hot Scotland is just unnatural). Sure it’s got a sexy woman with secrets, private investigators and all kinds of people out to get something and damn the consequences. Lippman takes these sometimes self-conscious tropes and plays with them. Polly actually discovers noir during a bad marriage and it’s literally a lifesaver for her. Adam is no Sam Spade and hurrah for that, but he’s no Walter Neff either.

It’s an irresistible joy to watch two people fall for each other when they’re not sure they can trust each other and everything is against them — but you’re not sure what’s true and neither are they. Lippman alternates between a variety of characters from chapter to chapter and you learn things you didn’t know as well as wrong assumptions they’re making about others. Sometimes you just want to shout at the characters (or maybe that’s just me).

Some quotes:

The problem is, when a man wants her, he usually won’t stop trying to get her. They wear her down, men. She starts off by taking pity on them, ends up feeling sorry for herself.

It’s a special art, asking people to do things, yet making it seem as if you never asked at all.

How had she even figured out what he was planning to do? A witch, that one. She’s a witch.

Sometimes he used to wake up in the middle of the night and find her looking at him. The light from the streetlamp threw a stripe across her eyes, and it was as if she were wearing a mask that allowed her to read his every thought.

Maybe she should write an advice book for men, one that tells them everything they want to hear, as opposed to all those books for women, which tell them to be the opposite of what they are, no matter what that is.

I could keep quoting but this gives you a great idea: lean, mean, addictive — up to the last pages you won’t be sure how things will go. What a pleasure.

FFB: The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith

9780140101171-uk-300I suppose it’s hard to make a case for it being ‘forgotten’ but considering the 2014 film likewise faded away without much fanfare, perhaps this novel has been overlooked as well. Yet it’s of a piece with all of Highsmith’s work, which of course means it sinks its hooks into you and you keep turning the pages to find out where it could possibly go.

I woke up with Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’ in my head which was my subconscious at work as usual. The love/hate relations of parents and children often figure in her books (no surprise). It’s key to this one and the relationship between the two male characters: the conman Chester MacFarland and the wanna-be poet Rydal Keener. Colette MacFarland is sexual allure and all the problems it causes. She reminds Keener (what a name, eh?) of his adolescent love for his cousin Agnes — a situation that divided his family and set him on the path to reform school, shaming his Harvard professor father.

He notices MacFarland because he strikingly resembles his father, whose funeral he’s recently missed by staying in Athens. Keener helps the pair conceal a body and then they’re friends — maybe. Because maybe Keener’s really after Colette and maybe MacFarland isn’t the father figure he sometimes thinks. Of course Highsmith is delightful in detailing MacFarland’s elaborate Ponsi schemes and his habits to maintain the various faces he shows the world.

When violence comes, like a lot of Highsmith, it’s sudden, brutal and stunning. Things unravel and so quickly, so strangely — the paranoia of the characters is completely understandable. The POV shifts between chapters. Highsmith, as always, masterfully manages to give you all the information from very different slants. It’s genuinely surprising right up to the end when you think, well this is how it has to go. Good stuff.

Check out the other overlooked books at Patti’s blog.

Best Review So Far!

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Thanks, Matthew! See for yourself buy picking up Satan’s Sorority over at Fahrenheit Press — along with a wealth of other noir, crime and wild new classics.