Ink to Ashes by Russell Day: The Least Likely Miss Marple Successor Dives into the Murky World of Motorcycle Gangs

I’d fully intended to post about this book last week, until I remembered that this was #IndieCrimeCrawl week. Who better to write about this week than Russell Day and Doc Slidesmith? I don’t think I can think of better representatives of Indie Crime Fiction than them. Last year Day made me into a near-raving fanboy, and this year’s work has only made me appreciate him all the more. There’s a realism as well as poetry to his prose that needs to be experienced to understand. I can’t encourage you enough to buy and read his work. This is one of the grittier works I referred to yesterday (when this was supposed to post, but life happened and I forgot to edit the intro), and so it might not appeal to as many people as other authors do — but for those whose taste run to the darker side of Crime Fiction, Russell Day is your man.

Ink to AshesInk to Ashes

by Russell Day
Series: Doc Slidesmith, #2

Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2019

Read: July 12 – 13, 2019

           For me, the why of it is always the point.

As much as we all like a good whodunit, generally, I’m with Doc Slidesmith — the whydunit is really what’s more interesting. You might have an incredibly clever criminal — and an equally clever sleuth (professional or amateur) — a twisty, turny plot with perfect reveals, and the rest — but if the motive behind the crime is non-existent or non-interesting, the novel just isn’t going to be that satisfying. Russell Day’s Doc Slidesmith novels are all about the why — he’ll pull the why out at the end and it’ll be something you don’t expect (but maybe should have), and it will be compelling as you could want.

One of Doc Slidesmiths’ oldest friends has died in a motorcycle accident and his widow has very unusual request, which I’ll leave for you to read about on your own. But it leads to one of the . . . strangest and most striking first chapters that I can remember.

For those that haven’t met Doc before — he’s your standard-issue doctor of psychology, who has embraced voodoo and tarot reading, rides a motor cycle and owns a tattoo shop, while solving mysteries that he stumbles into à la Miss Marple. You know the type. Yakky is his taciturn friend/colleague who works in Doc’s shop, and is a backup/wingman when Doc needs one (whether he wants one or not).

The widow has another request — her husband was one of the founders of a motorcycle club, and one of the newest members has disappeared. Can Doc track him down as a favor to the dearly departed? She can’t ask any members of the club so she’s counting on Doc to come through for her.

At the moment, things are really tense intra-club membership. There’s a move for the club to stop being a tighter association of motorcycle enthusiasts and become a full-fledged outlaw biker gang. This is causing problems in the ranks — there are many who don’t want anything to do with that, preferring to preserve the club as is — but there are many, typically younger voices who want to go all the way with this. Tied into this move are income streams and dissension about some of them, plus pressure to add in something more illegal than they currently have to worry about.

Doc’s not far into his search when he can tell there’s a lot of lies around the disappearance of the member, and before Doc can figure out who’s lying and why — the search becomes deadly. It isn’t long after that when Doc starts to question the official finding about the motorcycle accident. Leading to more questions and deceit. Yakky and Doc now have to walk through this minefield to find out what happened to the member (and why), what happened to Doc’s friend (and why) — oh, and maybe stop an all-out war between this nascent outlaw gang and an already established one. Just another day in the office for Slidesmith.

I was able to guess the who behind one of the lines of investigation pretty easily, but the why was something I just didn’t see. The other line was a mystery for me right up until the reveal, making that particular reveal quite satisfying. Coupled with Day’s ear for dialogue and evocative prose, the mysteries — and the darkness of the human psyche they explore makes this a compelling read — almost a must-read.

The various club members and those who come into regular contact with them are really well depicted — and several of them are the kind of character that you hope show up again in a future book in the series. But the core of the book is Doc and Yakky. Now, Needle Song was written from Yakky’s perspective, where this is written from Doc’s — and that makes so much difference. A lot of master detective types (amateur or not) need to be written about “by” a friend, associate or assistant. John Watson, Archie Goodwin, Chet, Danny Boyle do more than narrate the stories and relate the exploits of their partners/employers, they also help convey the proper sense of awe and wonder we’re supposed to have for the Great Detective. In Needle Song, we got that from Yakky — both the narration and we were given a proper sense of admiration in response to Doc. Here, we only get Doc’s narration — and he isn’t nearly as impressed with himself as Yakky was/is. Which makes it harder for the reader to be.

On the other hand, Needle Song was in many ways, Yakky’s story. This is absolutely Doc’s story, so who else could tell it to us? And Day is able to get across the kind of guy that Doc is — like in this testimony from his departed friend:

           “Do you know what Dago used to say about you? He said, if you followed someone into a revolving door, you’d walk out in front of them. He thought a lot of you.”

Don’t let the fact that I’m not raving give you the impression there’s something wrong with this book. Rather, it just reminds me how impressed I was with Needle Song. I wondered if Day could live up to expectations, and I don’t think he did. Many will disagree with me (which is a good thing), but while this was a solid, compelling read featuring characters that I can’t get enough of — it didn’t knock my socks off. Russell Day remains one of the strongest new voices I’ve come across in the last couple of years. I know his next novel will be completely different from this, but I hope he comes back to this world soon. In the meantime, go, go get this.

—–

4 Stars

Advertisements

In the Eye by Robert Germaux: Barnes hunts for a missing woman in a solid PI novel

If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said that this was the third book featuring the private eye Jeremy Barnes. Apparently, it’s the second. I’d have insisted I read two others, however — but my archives, Amazon and Germaux’s website tell me I’m wrong. I’ve also read one of the two books he’s written about Pittsburgh Police Detective Daniel Hayes. With both series, you almost instantly feel like you’re returning to a beloved series that you’ve been reading for years. Already this week, we’ve seen the grittier side of Indie Crime fiction — but here’s another side, light, action-driven, character-oriented, dialogue-heavy. Or, to put it another way — fun.

I read another author last week complain that when his work is characterized as “light” it’s frequently taken as a criticism — so I want to stress that I don’t mean it that way at all. I mean it as a compliment — pleasant, quick, entertaining.

I’m getting off topic and this intro is now far too long — so I’ll shut up now and get on with talking about this particular Indie Crime novel.

In the EyeIn the Eye

by Robert Germaux
Series: Jeremy Barnes, #2

Kindle Edition, 272 pg.
2018
Read: July 12 – 13, 2019

           I hung my jacket on the brass coat rack in one corner of the loft, then sat at my desk for a few minutes going through the snail mail that had accumulated since my last time there. There were three checks for services rendered, all of them for background checks I’d run on job applicants for local business owners. The background checks hadn’t taken me very long, which was reflected in the fees I’d charged. Still, three checks in one day. Maybe I should hire an accountant. I glanced down at the checks again. They totaled a little over five-hundred dollars. Maybe hold off on that accountant thing awhile.

Pittsburgh PI, Jeremy Barnes (call him JB), is in the office this day to meet a prospective client. The love of her life is missing, and she assumes — insists it has to be — foul play. JB (like his mentor) doesn’t like missing persons work — it’s too easy for things to go very wrong. But something about this woman’s plight moves him to accept the case. It doesn’t take JB long to reach the same conclusion — she didn’t leave on her own, and she’s not coming back on her own either. As this is a lesbian couple in a pretty conservative small town, JB doesn’t expect a lot of police help (especially once he learns a little about the Chief) — there’s one officer who is doing everything he can, his hands are tied. It’s all up to JB.

JB, a former high school English teacher, is a pretty good character. He’s got the right balance of smarts, toughness and wise cracks to qualify as a PI protagonist. His girlfriend and friends are as charming and interesting as he is. Basically, they’re characters you want to read about. Either hanging out after work or on the job, they’re a lot of fun. I do think the criminals in this book — and those who think like them — are depicted shallowly, and are largely unfair stereotypes. Far too much time is devoted to JB taking cheap verbal shots at them (in the narration or to their face). But the rest of the characters — witnesses, other police officers, friends of the victim — are well done, and add to the story rather than slowing things down or detracting from the pacing.

A quick aside — I appreciated the way that JB’s girlfriend Laura asks about getting too absorbed with a missing persons case and his answer. I wanted to ask her question of JB myself (and a few other PIs, too). More than that, I really liked his answer.

Robert B. Parker’s shadow is a long one in contemporary American Detective Fiction, as I’m sure is news to no one. Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Craig Johnson all are clearly influenced by Parker (even Jim Butcher’s work had RBP’s fingerprints all over it) — but few show their indebtedness to him as obviously as Robert Germaux. This is not a bad thing, this is just an observation. If you’re going to be standing on someone’s shoulders, might as well be the best. It was easy to see in Hard Court, but there are times in this book where I felt I was being hit over the head with it. If I was feeling uncharitable, I could describe this as a watered-down update of Looking for Rachel Wallace with a tiny bit of God Save the Child thrown in. But it’s a pleasant-enough read that I don’t want to be uncharitable — so I’ll just say that the novel wears its influences on its sleeve.

And it is pleasant to read, sometimes with crime fiction, it’s hard to remember that this is a hobby I pursue for pleasure. But with JB’s narration, it’s all about enjoying the ride. I wish more people could pull that off. In the Eye is firmly in the P.I. vein, but isn’t so hard-boiled that someone accustomed to reading cozies couldn’t slip right in. While it’s the second in the series, you don’t have to read them in order — you can (and I’d encourage you to) jump right in anywhere. This is a fun read with a cast of characters you want to spend time with — I’m willing to bet it’s re-readable, too. It inspired me to give the first JB book another read (not sure when I’ll find the time, but I want to).

For a fast, easy read that’s sure to please, In the Eye is just what the doctor ordered.

—–

3 Stars

#IndieCrimeCrawl — Highlights from July 16

I wasn’t able to get anything I liked ready for today — I do think I figured out what I wanted to say about one book, though. Hopefully that goes up tomorrow. But Day 2 saw another good number tweets with the hashtag #IndieCrimeCrawl today — primarily all sorts of great deals from Indie Publishers — some new today — that really made me regret not having a book budget this month. You really should go check them out.

Beyond that, there were some posts and reposts of reviews of Indie Crime Fiction — a lot of good stuff to read. There werw a couple I wanted to be sure I passed along. two blog posts about Indie Crime Fiction that I wanted to make sure got put in front of a few more eyeballs:

  • Yusuf Toropov- Jihadi: A Love Story — from Raven Crime Reads. I don’t know how I missed this book during the tour (especially this post), but I did — and regret it. This looks like a heckuva read. Great post.
  • Changeling (Six Stories) – Matt Wesolowski — For some reason, I’ve resisted jumping onto this bandwagon — I like the way these novels are told; I’ve heard an interview with the author who seems like a pretty clever guy; I’ve not heard/seen a solid negative thing about the novels. But for some reason, they’ve stayed off of my TBR. But this post from The Beardy Book Blogger just might have sealed the deal for me.

Can’t wait to see what’s in store on Day 3.

Pub Day Repost: Bark of Night by David Rosenfelt: Another winner of a case for the lawyer who’s gone to the dogs

Bark of NightBark of Night

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #19

eARC, 304 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019
Read: July 3 – 4, 2019

I know it’s practically de rigueur for me to start off talking about how difficult it is to talk about yet another Andy Carpenter book, but I’m going to try to resist this time (no promises that I won’t resort to it next time).

Instead, I want to focus on people who read this blog and haven’t picked up a book in this series — let’s see if I can help you come to the light. Andy Carpenter is a defense attorney — thanks to some high profile cases, some lucrative lawsuits, (and some other things), he’s an independently wealthy defense attorney (see the first couple of books for details). He’s also lazy. These two traits generate a lawyer/protagonist who doesn’t want to take on clients who doesn’t want to go to work (he’s the anti-Lincoln Lawyer). He’d rather watch sports, hang out with his wife, kid, friends and dog (especially the latter) and maybe check-in on the dog rescue he runs with a former client. He only takes on a case when he likes the potential client, he feels an injustice is being done, his wife talks him into it — or the life of a dog lies in the balance (there’s a strong link between the first reason I listed and the last). This time out, it’s pretty much a combination of those motivations. Nevertheless, when he takes on a client, he pulls out all the stops for him or her. Much like with Perry Mason, you have to wonder why prosecutor’s don’t just drop charges when Andy shows up in court — you can bet his client will be exonerated.

Andy’s vet calls him to his office to talk about something — namely, this dog that had been brought in to be euthanized. Before he did that, someone in his office scanned the microchip in the dog. The man who paid for the euthanization, wasn’t the owner f the dog — because he’d been murdered shortly before the dog appeared. After some digging, Andy discovers that the man who brought the dog in is very likely connected to the murder (especially when they look at his rap sheet). No one’s sure why he wanted a vet to take care of destroying the dog rather than doing it himself. But someone completely different has been charged with the crime, and Andy knows that this man is innocent — he has to be, there’s no other explanation how the would-be dog killer got involved.

From there, Andy and his team (his PI wife, her PI friend/Andy’s bodyguard, Andy’s CPA/hacker, his associate attorney) set out to defend their client, figure out why anyone would want to kill the victim (a documentary filmmaker, and not a particularly successful — or good — one), and maybe answer a few questions about the victim’s dog. Like most Carpenter novels, the mystery is just twisty enough to keep you guessing to the end. Andy’s courtroom antics are pretty subdued this time, but watching him in action is fun — particularly as he battles the Assistant D.A.

Andy’s team — and his friends who aren’t on the team — are as enjoyable to spend time with as ever. With some long-running series you stick with it because the characters are so near and dear to you. With some, you put up with characters because the author puts out great mysteries/adventures/whatever. It’s with the best series that you get both — a good mystery (in this case) and a cast of characters you look forward to seeing again. That’s definitely what we have in the Andy Carpenter books, and Bark of Night is a prime example of it.

As a capper, if the last few paragraphs don’t provoke a warm fuzzy or three in you, there’s something wrong with you and you should probably seek professional help. Rosenfelt is good at the heart-warming stuff, and he’s at the top of his game here.

Newcomers will get enough information along the way to hop on board here — there’s no need to feel like you need to go back to Book One (Open and Shut) and read them in order to catch all the nuance. Start here, and you’ll easily see why this book has charmed and entertained audiences enough to last for 19 books (and counting!). It’s a clever mystery, featuring characters that are reliably comfortable and funny — with just enough moments of seriousness and displays of skill that you can believe they’ll be defending someone and bringing a killer to justice at the same time. This is one of the better installments in the last few years (both for being enjoyable and for the mystery) and should move right to the top of your TBR (note that a “lesser” Andy Carpenter book is still fun, engaging and entertaining).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.

—–

4 Stars

#IndieCrimeCrawl — Highlights from July 15

Wow, there were a lot of tweets with the hashtag #IndieCrimeCrawl today — primarily all sorts of great deals from Indie Publishers that really made me regret not having a book budget this month. You really should go check them out.

Beyond that, there were two blog posts about Indie Crime Fiction that I wanted to make sure got put in front of a few more eyeballs:

  • A Time to Write: Crime Fiction and the Independent Press — from Pen & Ink Reviews
  • What is Indie? — from It’s an Indie Book Blog. Yeah, sure, it’s a little over the top — the Indie scene/market likes to think of itself as inclusive and welcoming and where everyone can “be ourselves” but there’s a strict orthodoxy and orthopraxy to it, just as much as everywhere else. Beyond that, though, it’s a good post (and isn’t it pretty to think so).

Wonder what tomorrow will bring . . .

Finest Sh*t!: Deviant Stories by Nick Kolakowski: This collection of short fiction is a great display of Kolakowski’s strengths #IndieCrimeCrawl

I’m going to be kicking off my involvement in #IndieCrimeCrawl with the latest from Nick Kolakowski. About a year ago, he emailed me to take a peek at his novel Boise Longpig Hunting Club, a fast, energetic, visceral read. Then came his Love & Bullets Hookup Trilogy — which was as entertaining as you could want. Now it’s time for his new short fiction collection, which I pre-ordered the instant I heard about it. One of the best things about Indie Crime Fiction is the depth of strong voices with perspectives you don’t find every day. Nick Kolakowski is a prime example of this. Check out all of his work, you’ll be in for a treat.

 Finest Sh*t!Finest Sh*t!: Deviant Stories

by Nick Kolakowski
Series: Loose Rounds, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 202 pg.
Final Round Press, 2019

Read: June 14 – July 3, 2019

           With a feral yelp, Raoul worked the dial until he landed on a station thundering drums and guitar, a solid backbeat for Luis and Jesus slicing and shoveling mounds of peppers and onions and pig. The music blasted the asphalt amphitheater of the parking lot, signaling that the truck was officially open for business.

The first customers drifted toward them. Give me your hungry, your nearly broke, your masses yearning for lunchtime deliciousness, Jesus thought as he wiped his hands on his apron and prepared to meet the first of the lunch rush. And I’ll give you two tacos for three dollars.

That’s from “Taco Truck,” one of the ten short stories that appear with a novella in Nick Kolakowski’s latest collection, Finest Sh*t!: Deviant Stories. There are tales of revenge, heroism, thwarted revenge, and people driven to extremes no one should be driven to — even some SF. Essentially, like with the best of Crime Fiction (no matter when it’s set) we have people in desperate situations (sometimes of their own making, sometimes out of their control) doing what they needed to.

As with every short story collection, there are some of these short stories that really, really worked for me, and others that didn’t do much for me at all — that’s just how it goes. But even the stories that I didn’t appreciate had that Kolakowski quality that I’ve really come to enjoy.

The novella, The Farm takes up about half of the book. It begins in 1931 and ends in 2008, following one farming family through the generations. This family goes through wars, violent crime, financial hardship, betrayal — and more than a few of the more positive parts of life, too. There’s some poetry, too. I guess that qualifies as one of the more positive aspects, but I’m not always sure. In the end, I really liked this novella — but it took some effort to get into it. That’s probably on me. Kolakowski fits a novel’s worth of a family saga into this roughly 100 pages — which is quite a feat. There’s part of me that would like to see it developed into a 350-400 page novel to flush out some of the details, but I think he’s right to keep it brief. It alone is well worth grabbing the collection.

This collection covers all sorts of tones, topics and perspectives. As I’ve come to expect from Kolakowski, I wouldn’t have predicted anything that I found in these pages. My rating may be on the low side, but that’s just because I couldn’t really sink my teeth into anything — I typically rate short story collections low. But there’s gold in here — a little dross (but what I think is dross will probably appeal to others). If you’re not familiar with Kolakowski, this is a great way to introduce yourself to one of the strongest voices in Crime Fiction today. If you are familiar with him, you don’t need me to tell you how good these stories can be.

—–

3.5 Stars

#IndieCrimeCrawl — Coming next week!

As the graphic indicates, I’ll be part of the Indie Crime Crawl happening over this wee Internet thingy next week. (BTW, isn’t that the best graphic I’ve hosted here? Makes me look a lot tougher than I can hope to be). It was organized by Eric Beetner and IRR favorite, Jo Perry and promises to be a great time.

I’m not going to promise what will be here, but I have many plans, we’ll see what time and energy levels are up to as far as seeing them through. Regardless, what I’ll be chipping in will be just a drop in the bucket — both Indie Crime Fiction Publishers and Bloggers are participating in this celebration of some of the most fantastic Crime Fiction around! There’ll be reviews, guest posts, special offers and who knows what else from Publishers and Bloggers.

Check in here, I’ll be trying to share some of the highlights, but the best thing to do is track the Twitter hashtag #IndieCrimeCrawl. Probably too much for any one person to read — unless they put their books down for a week (who’d be that crazy?) — but it’s worth trying (and isn’t that what Pocket was invented for?)!

Here’s the Publishers involved:

and (at least some) of the bloggers:

(why they put me with these luminaries and heavy hitters, I’ll never know)

This looks like a blast — and TBR fodder for months! Join in the fun!