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Touch of Ghosts

The Touch Of Ghosts - John Rickards I read and enjoyed the writer's cut version of this book. Despite the title it's not a ghost story - more detective fiction. Well worth a read.

The Laughing Policeman

The Laughing Policeman - Maj Sjöwall;Per Wahlöö A great book with a neat ending

The Late Greats (Joe Geraghty)

The Late Greats - Nick Quantrill This story has the traditional English detective novel as it’s backbone. There’s a limited pool of suspects – it isn’t a closed room so technically there are an unlimited amount of suspects, but Quantrill plays fair and doesn’t introduce any twin brother’s from Peru– and there is the detective, Geraghty, to solve the crime. We follow Geraghty around as he interviews suspects and finally resolves the case. I can get put off by books like this because I work out who did it very early on. The rest of the book from that point is seeing what extra smoke trails the author lays down. They also tend to have one-dimensional characters and every detail is either a direct clue or a red-herring.I didn’t get put off reading this book: I got sucked in. Perhaps that was because I wasn’t totally concerned by who did it. The characters were well-developed and the unfolding story was engaging. The band’s manager, the journalist, the Hull gangsters, the cops, the band members – girlfriends wives and would have been wives, they were all convincing portrayals. And so the story of their interactions, their own motivations and lives, was as interesting as the solving of the mystery.


Snapshots - Paul D. Brazill I like these stories – there’s a large cross-over from Brit Grit, which is no longer available. I did recommend you buy that book – if you didn’t, for whatever petulant reason you may have had, then buy this one. It cost 77p on Amazon.There are some who turn their noses up at cheap books. I’ll tell you now that price is not a signifier of quality. No doubt if you were to measure the total quality of every book selling for less than two-pounds against the total quality of every book above that threshold the higher priced books would win out. If you did all your book buying based on that cut off you’d end up with some real stinkers and you’d miss out on books like this. If you buy this book, read it, and decide that your 77 pence could have been better spent elsewhere then walk away now, for you are an ape.The humour is the thing which stands out most for me. A very dark humour lingers below the one liners and the smart repartee. You laugh and then wonder why – because death is not funny and neither is eating murder victims – then you stop wondering and read on. There is also the ease – this man, Paul D. Brazill makes it look easy. He’s the Velvet Underground of short noir. Who will read this book without picking up a pen and trying to emulate him.


Life - Keith Richards I listened to the audio version of this book. It was very well read by Johnny Depp, Joe Hurley and Keef himself. It was helped by my having to make a few trips back to The West Country – 9 hour round trips on my own. I was able to switch off an go into the story.I’ve previously read a couple of Brian Jones biographies where Richards is painted as the bad guy. This was mainly for stealing Anita Pallenburg and in one for some how instigating Jones’ murder. Richards’ take on it: it’s possible Brian annoyed the fuck out of the builders that one of them held him under the water – but it would have been manslaughter not murder.The story got a little less interesting as time went on. I suspect because Keith’s like got less interesting as time went on. As a young man, learning the guitar, living in poverty, forming the band, becoming famous – these are interesting and new. Even up to the 70′s, tours of America and drug busts are interesting. The later part was about recording albums, who wrote what, Mick becoming an arsehole, and Keith’s obsessive behaviour over food.Having said that, he’s an interesting enough person to keep me listening. During the course of the book he talks a lot about guitar playing – it is his job after-all. I found myself retuning my guitar to open-G to play Brown Sugar and open-D for You Got the Silver. I listened to Let it Bleed a lot over and over. Books that inspire you to do something, even if it is to repetitively listen to an album, are a grade above. They have caused that transportation or inspiration which makes live interesting, enjoyable even.I think this book will have worked better as an audio book. Joe Hurley, in particular, was very good at making you feel you were in a bar talking with Keith Richards. Or at least at a bar with Keith Richards talking at you non-stop for 24 hours. Actually, when put like that it was a very good book. It may have waned a little but 24 hours of non-stop talk and it was still listenable at the end, that’s an achievement.

Bullets For A Ballot (Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles)

Bullets For A Ballot (Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles) - Nik Morton Unlike many other Laramie and Miles tales, this one doesn’t focus on the bringing back of an outlaw. Cash Laramie is sent out to protect a woman who’s running for mayor. Turns out it’s the same woman Cash had had to protect once before when she was campaigning for votes for women.We get some of Cash’s back-story here – during that first meeting he kills his first bad-guy and looses his virginity to the widow woman he’s protecting. The hero of the tale is the widow woman herself. A strong independent woman who is perhaps forced along the road she has taken be circumstance. We also have a very interesting bad-guy (although that might not be exactly what they are). This is a Cash Laramie tale with Gideon Miles making a timely appearance.We’ve seen racial prejudice against Gideon Miles in these tales before. This time it’s misogyny’s turn. Where Miles has been able to face down the racists the victim here, the widow woman, finds herself in serious peril. At first it’s pure ignorance driving the men on. Later it goes further, the prejudice is used as an excuse. We find out as the story goes along that there is something more sinister at the heart of the trouble. It’s sad to say that women are still treated in this backwards way in some parts of the world. Sad also that victims of racial prejudice don’t have Gideon Miles’ ability to defend themselves.I’ve been trying not to give anything away but this is a very exciting tale – with a bitter-sweet ending. David Cranmer has made some seriously good choices in loaning out his characters. Despite having placed them in different hands – and each author producing very different tales – they maintain a consistency of both atmosphere and character. These books could have been written by the same person while benefitting from the Third Mind William Burroughs used to talk about – the something else you get when two people work on a project, something which neither of them bring to it directly.This book (as of March 2012) is selling for 77p on Amazon UK. In fact you could get the 2 volumes plus the three stand alones for less than £5. You could lose £5 on your way home and not feel too bad about. A bit miffed but it’s not the end of the world. Lose £5 on these tales and you get back than £5 worth of writing– you’re quids in, go buy!
Scale of Justice - Dani Amore There is a lot of humour along with violence and vengeance in this short story. There’s also a nice twist at the end. Dani Amore has a twisted imagination, you may not want her as a babysitter, but as a writer of Noir she’s spot on.

Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, No. 1)

Killing Floor - Lee Child Reacher arrives at a small southern town where he is promptly stitched up for a murder. The book is written i the first person. There were a few juvenile parts of this book – mainly in the prison early on. There were also a few week sections in the writing. None of these got in the way of the story – and these problems weren’t there in the tenth book. I felt the co-incidence levels in the book were too high. The icing on the cake came when we learnt how Blind Blake was killed. I did like the levels of conspiracy and the lack of trust involved. The main purpose for taking out the bulk of the police was to allow Reacher t start killing. If he couldn’t go to the police you have to take matters into your own hands, don’t you? The villains are more psychotic than Reacher, although not so efficient. The story is a straight forward revenge tale. There are compelling reasons why Reacher doesn’t leave the area – and the reasons to stay grow to match the reasons to stay.Early on Reacher is arrested and thrown into jail. We learn a lot about his personality and abilities during his arrest and jail time. He is calm and confident. There is nothing anybody can throw at him that Reacher can’t handle. He doesn’t suffer from self doubt in any degree. In jail he is confronted by two different gangs of attackers. The first attack is a jail status attack. Reacher leaves the leader with a fractured face and gains cell block kudos. The second attack is different – the guys are there to kill him. The results are higher – one dead and one blinded. Jack comes out with a sore arm.Outside of the violence I liked the fact that Jack arrived in town to see where Blues man Blind Blake died. He uses blues music throughout the novel – listening to music in his head, singing over tunes during a stake out. I also liked the drop out nature of the man – although I’m not so keen on the anti-government weirdo drop outs who live in the woods preparing to fight the armies of the UN. And Jack Reacher is travelling pretty close to that in this book. I don’t think this is what was intended, I think he is more of a man seeking a shadow away from Big Brother’s omniscient eye.

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East - James   Barr The blurb above gives you a good all-round picture of the scope of this book. The first thing I should point out is that this book reads like a well written novel. Any history book holds the possibility of killing a subject with a dry regurgitation of facts. The skill lies in presenting them in such a way as to make them interesting, relevant, and memorable. James Barr has achieved this with consummate ease. I don’t say that lightly – I’ve always read quite a lot of history books and some of them tried to write in a novelistic way and failed miserably. They tend to indulge two serious errors: they get too flowery, using a lot of adjectives and pointless description; they write as if the historical figures are characters in a book – and so start telling us what they were thinking (without and evidence to back it up) Many’s the history book I’ve flung across the room after a few pages of twaddle like that. Anyway, I only mention it because this book reads like a novel – but in the good ways. Barr does not claim to know what a character was thinking – unless there is a diary or letter to back it up. He does not sink into the mire of purple prose. He keeps it moving. He kept me interested.This was a little like one of those crime novels where we know who dies and we just want to find out who did it and why. There must have been countless points where it could have turned out differently. Moments in history where the Middle East could have developed into a peacefully place – even with a Jewish homeland integrated there somewhere. For that to have happened there would have had to have been no oil and no Suez. Even with the British holding on to Suez it might have been OK – had the British politians really been interested in peace and the handover of power. However, once oil entered the equation there never was going to be a peaceful solution. The British of the time played the part of the modern day Americans: lots of talk about liberty and self-determination but only if that meant getting or keeping the oil. There were one or two noble figures along the way, along with a few sad victims. Like today the real victims are the people who live in war torn lands because the people around them want more; more land, status, oil, power…If you are interested in this period of history or this region you should buy this book (or borrow it from the library). If you want to get an idea of why there are so many problems in the Middle East today – read this book. The period covers the incubation, birth and nursery of the present day struggles. It feels impartial, perhaps with a very slight English bias. You don’t need any prior knowledge (I didn’t really have any) and the book is pretty much jargon free. It is also an entertaining read.

Manhunter's Mountain(Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles)

Manhunter's Mountain(Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles) - Wayne D. Dundee I prefer the character of Cash to Miles. Just to make it clear this preference has nothing to do with the writing: this preference came out in my reading of Vol1 of the Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, which all written by Edward A. Grainger. In fairness to Miles he could probably have done all the things Cash did in this novella – except, being black, he might not have made it out of the remote mining town alive.This novella sees Cash riding into a remote town on the trail of a wanted man. The town is remote, in the mountains, and many trails are closed off by the snow. It’s a gritty and enjoyable tale. There are a fair few moments where it looks like Cash won’t survive the town itself. His escape is made with the town’s two remaining whores (the only women in town): something the town’s folk – rough and ready silver miners – are not too pleased about. A few of them decide they are going to tack Cash down and bring the women back. If that wasn’t bad enough a bounty hunter turns up and he is after the same man Cash has in his custody. Now it looks like Cash Laramie is standing between one of the nastiest bounty hunters around and his bounty. Add to this the mountains in winter and you have the elements of Manhunter’s Mountain. It’s a great little tale – as is Miles From Little Ridge by Heath Lowrance.

Miles To Little Ridge(Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles)

Miles To Little Ridge(Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles) - Heath Lowrance This is a short tale about Gideon Miles riding out to a frontier town to bring back a wanted man. I like the way this one plays. Miles encounters some serious bad cases – along with out-and-out racists. Miles handles it all: the Sheriff who calls him ‘boy’, the outlaws who happen to spot him and want revenge, the restaurant owner who doesn’t want blacks in his place. I don’t want to spoil the story by going into detail but I did like the way the outlaws were with each other: especially at the end. That was a nice touch.Lowrance uses this story to demonstrate Miles’ integrity. It’s Old School integrity, where a man will obey the law he has sworn to uphold despite not agreeing with it. You get the feeling with Gideon Miles that, had he been born white, he might have become a lawyer before going on to a State Governorship somewhere. Miles is out there because he is black. Being a fast-draw and handy with a knife allows him to survive. He’s a loyal friend and a reliable man. Cash has an element of the unpredictable – as shown in the story Michelle from The Adventure’s of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. This gives him the edge over Miles.

The Man on the Balcony

The Man on the Balcony - Alan Blair, Per Wahlöö, Maj Sjöwall I read this not long after Unwanted. I didn’t realise that the themes were related until after I pulled it off the shelf and decided to read it. If I had I might have gone for something else – I can only stomach so much child killing in a month. Instead I read it over a weekend and “enjoyed” it. The first few pages sent shivers down my spine – not metaphorically but literally. I felt a surge of tingling energy as I read because I knew I was reading something special. This specialness had put me off reading this book – the first two in the series were so good I was afraid they couldn’t keep up the pace. I think I can accept that all ten are going to be in the zone even if they do vary in quality. It’s been a while since I read books one and two so I can’t remember if they did this but there were a few points in this book where the quality dropped. Not a big deal, I’m talking about three or four times where a word annoyed me (eg, he said angrily – where I’d delete angrily). Those trivial points are the only gripes I have about an excellent book.Martin Beck seems to be in a transitional state during this book. He no longer has his old team around him – although for this case he did work with a few of them. His wife, normally a nagging influence in the background, was hardly there at all. Beck has also been promoted. There were a few pointers back to the previous two books too.This story is about a child serial killer. The killings are unpleasant and provoke vigilantes to start beating people up in case they are the killer. You get the feel of the fear which haunts the parents of children in the city. You taste the sanctimonious recriminations when another child is killed: how could anyone let their child out when they know a killer is on the prowl? What Sjöwall and Wahlöö portray is a city in the grip of fear. The killer doesn’t is going to kill and if the kids are kept away from the parks he’ll take them from your yards.There are a lot of other nice touches in this book. The influence of drugs on the youth – while Beck is searching for a man who sexually assaults children, a girl in her late teens offers to sell him photographs of herself naked. Beck assumes this is so she can buy drugs. There are also the people who turn up during the increasing police rides: the people who have no where else to sleep other than a park bench, the mentally ill who roam the streets, the victims outside the scope of the book: a woman found naked and tied up in a flat. These are images flashed across the page in the course of the book. Pictures of a waning society.If you haven’t read the Martin Beck books yet – start today.

Brit Grit

Brit Grit - Paul D. Brazill I liked reading some modern English noir for a change. I’ve read books like Brighton Rock but the England there is a very foreign place. America produces an abundance of the stuff, some bad some supreme. This was unashamedly English, and I liked it for that.I liked it for a lot more too. The stories have the feel of gritty realism, laced with a deep sardonic humour. This is Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels crime, fast paced, knowing geezers, neat one-liners (I wouldn’t touch him with Roman Polanski, or any other five-foot Pole). Then they begin to sink in, the realism fades and a surrealism prevails. This is a collection of dark parables where criminals eat their victims and gangsters dress in drag to rob diamond stores. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t fairy tales, the characters are realistic, flawed, broken people populating a world where hope is only a smash and grab away. These tales, with a small twist and a stretch, could probably be found in the court records. Mostly likely they are found in back-street pubs – a grain of truth mixed in a pint of exaggeration.The writing itself is compelling – Brazill has had he work published all over the place and it doesn’t surprise me. There’s quality here. Some of these tales were better than others but there were non duds, no fillers.I got to the end and thought I’d like to read a Brazill novel. Then realised I’d fallen into a trap, he doesn’t need to write a novel any more than Maupassant needed to write one (although he did). Brazill is mastering a different craft – the craft of the short story. A few years ago it was a dying skill: here we have the wool dyer, the roof thatcher and over there the short story writer, ain’t they quaint? Now we have the kindle, the nook, and any number of other eBook devices and with them a renaissance in short story writing. This time last year I’d read few modern short stories (I read Gogol, Maupassant, O Henry, writers from a lot of generations back.) This year I’ve read quiet a few quality collections: Dig Ten Graves and The Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles are both reviewed on this site. I’m most of the way through Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled and Off the Record.Most of these collections – including this one are 86p on Amazon. Why not give them a try?


Unwanted: A Novel - Kristina Ohlsson This book starts of like a classic Swedish crime novel in the mould of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck novels, and Henning Mankell’s Wallander series. It lost a lot of this feel early on – because this book does not focus on a solitary, depressed, detective, but on a small team. Mainly upon three of the team: Recht and Bergman as mentioned in the blurb and Peder, another member of the team. In this way it is a little more like the original series of The Killing. And there is a sticker on the book which reads “for fans of The Killing.” It also deviates from those other two in that it is not so well written. I feel a bit harsh saying that, this book is not badly written (there are a few parts which could be tidied up) it just hasn’t reached those heights, yet. I have a good feeling that Kristina Ohlsson will improve with each book she writes.I don’t want to spoil the story beyond the publicity text above, so I won’t give much of the plot away. This is a bleak tale of a killer who kills young children – and babies. It makes for uncomfortable reading in parts. The children are targeted, which means the mothers didn’t stand a chance. The first abduction was engineered so that the mother and child were separated, and the child then abducted for a crowded train. And if she hadn’t been taken then she would have been taken later, perhaps when playing in the park – or at any time when the opportunity arose. And then we see some of the parent’s grief – although not to the extent of The Killing.I couldn’t have read the book if it dwelt too much on the abductions – I have two young daughters and it is left me feeling panicky. Instead we focus on the three main detectives – with occasional scenes from other points of view: including the killers accomplice, and another detective. Fredrika Bergman is a female and a civilian, which makes her unpopular. She is also an intellectual, the final nail in her coffin at work. Because she is different she sees the case differently. The routine and experience which allows the elder male detectives to do their jobs well is of no help here – children are normally abducted by someone close to them. They are not normally the targets of a serial killer.The characters are well-developed, although I could have done without some of that development. Bergman is thinking about adopting, which would make her a single parent. She is in a relationship with a married man who won’t leave his wife and doesn’t want children. Peder’s marriage is breaking down and his has a mentally handicapped brother. Recht’s family is almost on the level but he has a wayward son who has emigrated to Colombia and not been seen since. Not every character needs a dysfunctional background – I think everyone in this book has one. Sometimes the ordinary, balanced family, can make for drama in unusual situations like working on a case such as this one. It doesn’t need the added dimension of x,y or z. This would have also worked well as a balance to the other character’s home life. Given what we got, it does work well. The main focus is Bergman and although not wholly sympathetic I was on her side throughout. Peder was handled well. He came across as a bigot and misogynist at first. Although he may have still been so by the end we’d seen enough of his other sides that it was toned down and he gained some sympathy along the way. It would have been easy for Ohlsson to have played Peder as a straight villain – the foil to Bergman’s hero. She didn’t do that, although she let us think she would – which is a nice touch.There were a few annoying niggles in the text. There were a few paragraphs were almost the same line was repeated. There were a few lines like “he said angrily” which began to grate on my a bit. There were also some well handled sections. The Mother of the abducted child had not been overly helpful with one aspect of the case. Fredrika Bergman goes to visit her, angry that her holding back may have delayed finding the killer. She plans to have a real go at her until the mother answers the door:“Sara opened the door at Fredrika’s second ring. She looked pale and haggard, with such dark rings under her bloodshot eyes that all Fredrika’s anger and frustration melted away…This was a woman who had just experienced her worst nightmare in real life. Criticism had very little place here.”