The King of the Crows by Russell Day: Prescient. Gripping. Haunting. Unpredictable. What stories should be.

King of the Crows

King of the Crows

by Russell Day

Kindle Edition, 456 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2020

Read: April 28-May 9, 2020

… for me at least, the first week of the Lockdown was the worst.

Knowing it had happened to me. I hadn’t escaped, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Lucky to be safe or lucky to be dead. Take your pick. I was neither.

That right there gives you a pretty good idea what kind of light and fluffy read this is going to be.

There are two timelines in this story—the primary focuses on a post-pandemic London, while the other shows what happened to a couple of the characters mid-pandemic (with plenty of material describing what the pandemic was like for others). In the primary timeline, Europe is a disaster—a “wasteland”—and eight years after the Outbreak, it’s beginning to put itself back together. But it’s going to take a long, long time to recover from this. Don’t let the fact that “eight years after” this fictional outbreak is 2028 bother you at all.*

* Good luck with that. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

I’m not going to try to list all the various ways that Day uses to tell this story: I’m certainly going to forget several. So here’s a partial list: here’s a third-person 2028 narrator describing a police investigation, a first-person perspective on the same investigation; a first-person account of that same detective’s life during the Outbreak; selections from a screenplay made about a group of Londoners during the Outbreak; selections from the Outbreak-memoir of one of those Londoners; and third-person narration of the same (N.B.: these three will vary in telling ways); redacted 2028 prison correspondence about the Outbreak; excerpts from scholarly works on aspects of the Outbreak (including a very illuminating work on the slang of the time); graffiti from 2021; internet message boards. Day weaves these together to tell his story, build the world, and help you to understand it. Frequently, I read something from the 2028 timeline, and understood it—only to find a new depth to it several pages later after getting another piece of the puzzle from 2020/2021. It’s hard to juggle that many narrative forms/voices/perspectives/calendars as a reader or a writer—Day pulled it off better than I did (any problems I had following things I attribute to myself, and it was pretty easy to clear out my misunderstanding with a minimum of backtracking*). It definitely helps paint the picture of the scope and variety of effects the sickness had on the world more efficiently than a consistent first- or third-person narrative would be able to.

* This would be easier in hardcopy than on an e-reader in my opinion. But that’s just a guess.

There are times (several of them) when I felt that the characters were getting lost amongst the plot and worldbuilding and sickness. But when I stopped and thought about it—and eventually got to the point where I didn’t have to—I realized I had a pretty solid idea about who these people were and was more invested in them than I expected. I thought there was so much going on that the people were getting hidden, but really, Day’s work was subtle—working in the characters into my subconscious like you give a dog its medicine. Normally, this isn’t something I require (or would like)—and it’s not Day’s usual M. O. (quite the opposite), but I think this approach really fit the novel and the story/world.

“They weren’t zombies,” he says, softly. “Don’t call them zombies.”

No one who was involved in the Outbreak for real uses the zee word.

So exactly what was the sickness?

I remember reading a couple of years ago about these ants that would succumb to a fungus which would short-circuit their brain and make them do certain things before killing them—or something like that, vague memories here. Then there were stories about parasites controlling the host’s actions—both of these stories had their 15 seconds of fame on social media around the same time (I may be messing the details up a little bit, but I’m not writing history here).

In Day’s world, one of these kinds of parasites will reside—asymptomatically, I should stress—in cats, who would pass it on to humans. Skipping the details, the humans would get very sick and then, survivors would maybe succumb to a psychosis that would make them violent. This sickness, HV-Tg (Human Variant-Toxo gondii), in a little more than a year would kill more than 20 million in Europe (at least 33% of France’s population) Et voilà!—an easy to believe pandemic that results in Zombie-like people wandering around.

Now, if one of those who’d “switched” and become violent infected you during an assault, well, you were likely to succumb. There were enough of these (“psychos” or “Gonzos”), and the sickness was so widespread, that the police and military couldn’t keep up, that civilians were forced to take action and defend themselves, their family and neighbors. People quickly forming into gang-like associations for mutual protection. It was a literal kill-or-be-infected (and likely killed) situation.

One such association became known as The Crows or The Kings of the Crows. They developed a legendary status mid-and post-Outbreak—and are the subjects of the memoir and film mentioned above. One of their number who happened to survive (and gain notoriety enough to get a publishing deal for a memoir) is the subject of the 2028 investigation. They survived the worst of the worst in one of the hardest-hit cities. They did so via means and methods that many (including their own) would find deplorable, but under circumstances that not only permitted, but required, those actions.

We also see what happens to an American in Paris for work when the Outbreak reaches the point that International travel is canceled (particularly to the U.S.). Her allies will never be considered the Kings of anything, and the contrast between how she survives to what the Crows do is pretty striking.

In 2028…eh…you know what? You should read that for yourself. I’m going to say something I’ll regret.

The biggest killer in those days wasn’t the disease or the psychos, it was stupidity.

However, it has been pointed out by many historians, logic was one of the first casualties of the Outbreak.

Some of the best moments of this book have nothing to do with advancing the plot, they’re little bits showing what the world of the Gondii-pandemic looks like. The man telling the story about taking his girlfriend to the ER because of a burn—how they were treated, and how she became infected. The soldiers coming back from a Middle East deployment being completely unprepared for what had happened to their home country. The mother and son who traveled with the Crows for awhile.

Ultimately, it’s not the story you think you’re getting…or is it? The marketing tag line is, “Ocean’s Eleven meets 28 Days Later.” It is, all things considered, a good, catchy line. I’m not sure it’s all that accurate a description of the novel (but it’s not inaccurate). What it is, really slides up on you—and when you see it it feels like it was obvious all along (even if you wouldn’t have said that 20 pages earlier). There’s a straightforward crime story at the heart of this novel—it’s just surrounded by so many layers, that you can miss it—there’s the sickness, there’s the horrible social and political context (both mid- and post-Outbreak), there’s what the characters are going through otherwise—and the whole thing is drenched in social commentary about 2020 society, e.g., sexism, economics, medical care.

And that’s not even touching the context we’re reading it in now. I truly wonder what I’d think of this book if I’d read it last Fall. I’d still like it, I’d still be impressed by it—but I don’t know if it would resonate with me the same way. There’s almost nothing about Gondii that’s comparable to COVID-19. But the way that people and governments respond—well, that’s pretty different, too. but if you can’t see what’s going on around us reflected in this novel? You’re not paying attention. That Day appears so prescient says something about his skill and observation (and a lot about Western culture, too).

I can see why people cling to the idea that the Gonzos were trying to tell us something. Something’s out there trying to get a message through: there’s a plan. Compared to the idea that it was all just chance, it’s a comfort of a type. Chance doesn’t care and can’t be appeased and can’t be reasoned with. Chance means it could all happen again.


5 Stars

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2019

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I even looked at my reading log. After my first cut (which was pretty hard), I had 20+ candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was difficult, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad—most were really good and worth the time (sure, a handful should be missed, but let’s forget about them). But these are the crème de la crème.

Not all of these were published in 2019—but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

I should say that I was a little worn out by the time I composed a lot of this and ended up borrowing heavily from my original posts. Hope you don’t mind reruns.
(in alphabetical order by author)

Deep Dirty TruthDeep Dirty Truth

by Steph Broadribb

My original post
Lori is kidnapped by the same Mob that wants her dead, giving her basically two choices—do a job for them or else they’re coming for JT and Dakota. Nothing about this book went the way I expected (beginning with the premise), it was all better than that. I had a hard time writing anything about this book that I hadn’t said about the first two in the series. Broadribb’s series about this tough, gritty bounty hunter (who is not close to perfect, but she’s persistent, which is easier to believe) started off strong and remains so.

4 Stars

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh

My original post
One of the best serial killer antagonists I can remember reading. A breakneck pace. An intricately plotted novel. An already beloved protagonist. Genuine surprises, shocking twists, and a couple of outstanding reveals make this fourth Eddie Flynn novel a must-read (even if you haven’t read any previous installments).

5 Stars

Black SummerBlack Summer

by M. W. Craven

My original post
It’s hard to avoid hyperbole in a Best-Of post like this, it’s harder still when talking about this book. But I just did some math, and Black Summer is in the top 1% of everything I read last year—the writing, the plot, the pacing, the tension, the protagonists, the villain(s), the supporting characters are as close to perfect as you’re going to find. The first note I made about this book was, I’m “glad Craven gave us all of zero pages to get comfy before getting all morbid and creepifying.” It’s pretty relentless from there—right up until the last interview, which might elicit a chuckle or two from a reader enjoying watching a brilliant criminal get outsmarted. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and it’s so much fun to read.

5 Stars

An Accidental DeathAn Accidental Death

by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson (Narrator)

My original post
Grainger’s DC Smith couldn’t be more different than Craven’s DS Poe if he tried, and these two books feel so different that it seems strange to talk about them at the same time. What’s the same? How easily they get the reader invested in their protagonists. How easily they get you plunged into their world and caring about what they care about. Grainger has a nice, subtle style (with even subtler humor) that made this novel sheer pleasure to read (well, listen to, in this case).

4 Stars

Dead InsideDead Inside

by Noelle Holten

My original post
When I was about halfway through this novel, I wrote, “While I’m loving every second of this book, I’m having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel…Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you’re not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate—like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.” This is not an easy read thanks to the characters and circumstances, later I wrote, “This isn’t the cops dealing with a larger-than-life genius serial killer—rather, it’s the everyday reality for too many. Just this time tinged with a spree killer making a grim circumstance worse for some. It’s a gripping read, a clever whodunit, with characters that might be those you meet every day. As an experience, it’s at once satisfying and disturbing—a great combination for a reader. You won’t read much this year that stacks up against Dead Inside and you’ll join me in eagerly awaiting what’s coming next from Holten.” I can’t put it better than that.

5 Stars

Deception CoveDeception Cove

by Owen Laukkanen

My original post
I heard someone describe this as Laukkanen writing fan-fic about his dog Lucy. Which is funny, and pretty much true. From the setup to the execution and all points in between, Deception Cove delivers the goods. Anyone who read just one of his Stevens and Windermere books knows that Laukkanen can write a compelling thriller with great characters. In these pages, he shows that in spades—you take a couple of characters that could easily be cardboard cutouts and instead makes them three-dimensional people with depth, flaws, and a relatability—and throw them into a great thriller. What more could anyone want? A wonderful dog. Guess what? He’s got one of those, too. Leaving the reader wanting little more than a sequel.

4 Stars

HackedHacked

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
Duncan MacMaster is a new (for me) go-to author if I need someone to break me out of a gloomy mood because of books like this. Clever, well-plotted, and filled with more laughs than some “Humor” books I read this year. It also features what’s probably the best secondary character from 2019. Take out the humor (for the sake of argument here, don’t you dare do that really) and this is still a smartly-plotted and well-executed mystery novel. Adding in the humor makes this a must-read.

4 1/2 Stars

The ChainThe Chain

by Adrian McKinty

My original post
There was enough hype around this that I can see where some of my blogger acquaintances were let down with the reality. But McKinty’s breakout novel absolutely worked for me. The tension is dialed up to 11, the pacing is relentless, the stakes are high enough that the reader should make sure their blood pressure prescriptions are filled. The Chain is as compelling and engrossing as you could want. It’s a near-perfect thriller that doesn’t let up. Winslow calls it “Jaws for parents.” He’s right—I can’t imagine there’s not a parent alive who can read this without worrying about their kids, and reconsidering how closely to track their movements and activities.

4 1/2 Stars

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan

My original post
This is one of those books that the adjective “atmospheric” was invented for. There’s an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling. You really don’t notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. The mystery part of this book is just what you want—it’s complex, it’ll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it’s fantastic—I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. But afterward you’re only left with the feeling of, “well, of course—what else could it have been?” And then you read the motivation behind the killing—and I don’t remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There’s evil and then there’s this. This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could’ve been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan’s first novel delivers everything it promises and more.

5 Stars

The Power of the Dog The CartelThe Power of the Dog / The Cartel

by Don Winslow

My original post about The Power of the Dog, The Cartel should be up soon.
There’s simply no way I can talk about one of these without the other, so I won’t. This is a fantastic story about a DEA Agent’s obsessive drive to take down one of the most powerful, deadly and successful Mexican Drug Cartels around, as well as a devastating indictment of the U.S.’s War on Drugs. Despite the scope and intricacy of the plot, these are not difficult reads. Despite the horrors depicted, they’re not overwhelming. In fact, there are moments of happiness and some pretty clever lines. Which is not to say there’s a light-hand, or that he ever treats this as anything but life-and-death seriousness. They’re not easy, breezy reads— but they’re very approachable. I don’t know if there’s a moment that reads as fiction, either—if this was revealed to be non-fiction, I would believe it without difficulty. I will not say that he transcends his genre to be “Literature,” or that he elevates his work or anything—but I can say that Winslow demonstrates the inanity of pushing Crime Fiction into some shadowy corner as not worthy of the attention of “serious” readers.

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight, Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice, Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg, Going Dark/Going Rogue by Niel Lancaster (can’t pick between the two), You Die Next by Stephanie Marland, The Killing State by Judith O’Reilly, Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry, Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin, Paper Son by S. J. Rozan, and How To Kill Friends And Implicate People by Jay Stringer.

Hacked by Duncan MacMaster: A Smart, Fun Sequel that Topped the One that Went Before

Hacked

Hacked

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Jake Mooney, #2

Paperback, 258 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2019

Read: December 10-11, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“You’re a very different kind of man Jake Mooney,” she said. “It’s almost like you belong here, but don’t belong here.”

“How is that?”

“Your life is like a movie,” she said, “and I think the last thing you want is to live your life like that.” …

“This is my second go-round for this sort of thing,” I said, “and the problem with sequels is that they always have to top the one that went before them.”

I remember really enjoying Hack, our introduction to Jake Mooney. But, I didn’t remember exactly why I did (I guess I could’ve read my post about it, but that sounds too much like research). It took almost no time at all to remember once I dipped into this Hacked (and many of the details about Hack came back to me straight away, too). Hack had a strong voice, fun characters, a clever mystery, with a satisfying conclusion to wrap things up. Hacked gives us more of all that.

For those of you who haven’t met Jake Moody, he’s a former journalist turned ghostwriter. Two years before this novel, he rose to fame by solving multiple homicides. He then finished ghostwriting the autobiography of one of the murder victims. He then writes his own account of what transpired (see Hack for details), as well as a fantasy novel. Now he’s been talked into coming to LA to sell the movie rights to any/all of his books.

Before his days of ghostwriting, Jake lived in LA and still has plenty of friends there and touches base with a couple of them. One of the things everyone is talking about there is the hacking of a movie company and the release of private date from them—supposedly, this is a North Korean retaliation for the portrayal of Kim Jong Un in one of that studio’s movies. A legendary agent who Jake knew years ago inadvertently puts Jake in the middle of the investigation. Not long after that, a P.I. friend of his asks him to consult on the same topic.

When Jake arrives at his friend’s home, however, he finds his friend brutally murdered. The assumption has to be that the people behind the hack are the people who killed his friend. So while he really is content to leave the investigation into the hack to the proper authorities, seeing his friend’s body sets Jake inexorably into finding out who committed the murder (and the hack while he’s at it).

Jake’s assisted in this hunt by his agent friend, his new agent, an accountant turned security guard, a former FBI agent, a ride-share driver who’s always wanted to be up to escapades like this, and an attractive studio exec. Help comes from other directions, too, but I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you.

It’s not long before someone tries to kill Jake, he’s kidnapped more than once, assaulted, and . . . you know what? You wouldn’t believe me if I listed all that happens to this poor writer (also, why ruin the surprise?)—I couldn’t help imagining MacMaster asking himself, “What else can I do to Jake? A tiger attack? Nah, not sure how to get him in the cage, but I do know how to ….”

The LAPD is eager to pin all of the death and destruction on Jake, but the more they press him, the more adamant he becomes that he won’t leave. Given the strong cloud of suspicion that North Korea is behind the hack, and presumably the murder of his friend, the FBI is involved, too. They’re less inclined to suspect Jake of having anything to do with the murder, but they’d like him away from the case.

There are more than the requisite number of twists and turns to this case, none of them feels forced or gratuitous. And even when you’re faster at putting the pieces together than Jake is, you should probably take a beat before criticizing him, because you’re probably not as right as you think you are.

The tone is what separates this from similar mysteries. This is not a comedy —there’s a brutal murder, including signs of torture to start things off. There are threats of violence, actual violence, and more deaths to come. But the way that MacMaster tells it makes it become one of the funniest and most enjoyable reads of the year. Think Marshall Karp’s Lomax and Biggs Mysteries for tone. That’s probably not the most helpful comparison, come to think of it, because I’m not sure how many people are familiar with them (too few for sure). Okay, think of this as a Shane Black story—just a novel instead of a script, and there’s no tie to Christmas. MacMaster’s Kirby Baxter books are more overtly comical than his Jake Mooney books, but both are just flat-out entertaining and laugh-filled.

Typically, in books/TV/movies, Hollywood Agents are not depicted sympathetically. Which is probably a bit of an understatement, really. But Jake’s old friend and new agent are both depicted as decent people that he can rely on. That’s not really a plus or a minus when it comes to evaluating, but it’s so strange that I felt compelled to mention it. I can’t remember another fictional Agent who wasn’t some sort of duplicitous, manipulative, weasel.

The story, Jake and the other characters, the fun had a Hollywood’s expense, the twists, etc. would’ve been good enough to make me rave. But there’s a Chinese gentleman that plays a big role in the novel—I don’t want to say much about him, because you just have to meet him yourself. He pops up repeatedly throughout the novel, yet we really don’t spend that much time with him altogether. But he steals every scene he’s in. He’s one of my favorite new characters of 2019. If there’s a Hacked Again or Hack Harder or whatever, I hope MacMaster can come up with an excuse to use him again.

I just had so much fun with this one (a common theme when it comes to MacMaster)—I can’t think of a single reason why someone shouldn’t read this (you don’t have to read Hack first, by the way). Jake was right in what he said before, the problem with sequels is that they have to top the one that went before. Hacked easily does that. It’s smartly-written, cleverly-plotted and just fun to read. Go run and grab it!


4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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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

The Definitive (for now) Irresponsible Reader’s take on Charlie and Rose Investigate/Jo Perry

I was a little bummed, I have to admit, when Damppebbles Blog Tours approached me about doing this tour — I’d already said my piece about Dead is Beautiful, so what can I do to help spread the word about this wonderful series. The only thing I can do at this point is make it easier for you to find out more about the boks, so you can order them yourselves. So here’s everything (to date) that I’ve had to say about the series in one handy spot. Hopefully this helps.

(for those that I’ve posted about more than once, I went with the more recent posting, just because I’ve edited and commented on them).

I know you aren’t supposed to use modifiers with words like unique, but I have it break the laws of language with this series: they simply are the most unique books in Crime Fiction. You will not read anything like them – every other Crime Fiction novel I’ve read in the past 6 years (and that’s a lot) can be compared to at least 6 others without breaking a sweat or resorting to my reading logs to aid my memory. The only things I can compare the Charlie and Rose books to are other Charlie and Rose books.

These are special novels, but don’t take my word for it — go learn for yourself.

Dead is BetterDead is Better

My complete take
“This is a fast and lean read — Perry doesn’t waste a word. . . You’ll grow to like Charles, you’ll want to adopt Rose, and you’ll want to finds out what happens to them next.”

4 Stars

Dead is BestDead is Best

My complete take
“Funny, poignant, all-around good story-telling. Plus there’s a dog. You really can’t ask for more than that.”

4 Stars

Dead is GoodDead is Good

My complete take
“For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.”

4 Stars

Dead is BeautifulDead is Beautiful

My complete take
“…this is one of those series that improves as it goes on. These unique protagonists get us to look at life and events in a different kind of way, while reading very different kind of mysteries. I hope I get to keep spending time with them for a long time to come — and I strongly encourage you to join in the fun.”

4 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Jo Perry

My Q&A with Jo Perry from February.
“…despite all that I am very late bloomer when it comes to fiction. My first novel, Dead Is Better was published in 2015.

As for a ‘career in fiction,’ I’m not there yet”

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry

Today I’m excited to welcome the Book Tour for the funny, clever, tragic and engaging Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry. I already posted about the book back in February, so along with this spotlight post, I’ve been given a great excerpt to share here in a bit as well as a page that indexes The Irresponsible Reader’s Jo Perry/Charlie and Rose content in one easy to use post.

But first, let’s focus on the book in question here: Dead is Beautiful

Book Details:

Book Title: Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry
Publisher: Fahrenheit 13
Release date: February 13, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 268 pages

Book Blurb:

DEAD IS BEAUTIFUL finds Rose leading Charlie from the peace of the afterlife to the place he hates most on earth, “Beverly Fucking Hills,” where a mature, protected tree harboring a protected bird is being illegally cut down.

The tree-assault leads Charlie and Rose to a to murder and to the person Charlie loathes most in life and in death, the sibling he refers to only as “his shit brother,” who is in danger.

Charlie fights-across the borders of life and death–for the man who never fought for him, and with the help of a fearless Scotsman, a beautiful witch, and a pissed-off owl, Charlie must stop a cruel and exploitative scheme and protect his beloved Rose.

About Jo Perry:

Jo PerryJo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and published articles, book reviews, and poetry.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry. They have two adult children. Their two dogs are rescues.

Jo is the author of DEAD IS BETTER, DEAD IS BEST, DEAD IS GOOD, and DEAD IS BEAUTIFUL, a dark, comic mystery series from Fahrenheit Press.

Jo Perry’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ https://www.instagram.com/noirjoperry/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Instagram

Purchase Links for Dead is Beautiful:

Fahrenheit Press ~ Amazon UK ~ Amazon US


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

A Few Quick Questions With…Ian Patrick

I won’t say that I saved the best for last — but I’ve saved one of the best for last. I’ve reposted my takes on his two gripping thrillers this week and now it’s time to hear from someone you can trust a lot further than DS Sam Batford. Not only is Ian Patrick a heckuva writer, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve interacted with online — always gracious and encouraging to me personally. That generous spirit is evident here, in addition to some of the best responses I’ve ever received to things I’ve asked. This is a great way to wrap up my involvement in Fahrenbruary.

Enough of my blather, on with a few questions for Ian Patrick.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist, or was this a later-in-life desire (“well, I’ve got to do something when I retire . . . “)?
It’s been a journey in excess of twenty years. I never planned to write novels and certainly not crime novels but circumstances, thankfully, led me to do so. I had to retire two years shy of my thirty year service as a detective with the police. About seven years ago it was discovered I had a very rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. It mainly affects my legs but there’s some upper body proximal weakness too. Not ideal when you’re in law enforcement! I know there are officers with disabilities within the police and it’s a fantastic thing that there are, but for me I couldn’t do the desk job side and decided it was time to leave and spend what mobility I have left with my family.

We relocated to Scotland from London and had a house adapted so I can use my wheelchair and also shower! Prior to moving I’d entered a short story competition with No Exit Press and got down to the final three. I figured I could write and the short story became the opening chapter of Rubicon. I submitted my work to Fahrenheit Press as I’d read their criteria, looked at my subject matter and just knew it was a great match. At the same time various agents were liking the writing but it wasn’t for them. Thankfully Chris discovered my submission on the pile when he was taking timeout for the weekend but wanted something to read. He’d read the first three chapters and took a punt on the rest entertaining him while he relaxed. I was a lucky man as he said yes.

Any road to publication isn’t easy, no matter what route you choose to do. It’s a path of: rejections, self doubt, challenge and introspection. However if the will to write is present it won’t leave you. I’m not of the ‘everyone has a book in them’ school of thought because of this feeling. If that were the case there’d be many more books out than there are now.

To write takes dedication, self belief despite the nagging doubt, discipline, tenacity and courage. Whether that’s a novel, blog, essay or diary, you’re putting a part of you out to the world. A world that’s a very harsh judge. Since publication Rubicon has gone on to be optioned by the BBC for a six part TV series that’s currently in development. I have also shared a stage with Val McDermid and Denise Mina at Bloody Scotland. Not bad for a guy who left school at 16 with nothing more than a, ‘good luck,’ wish from the head.

Your novels are so full of of rich and interesting characters, outside of Sam Batford — which character in Rubicon or Stoned Love was the most fun/rewarding to write and why?
Thanks for saying so, that’s an encouraging thing to read. I loved writing Stoner or Zara Stone. She was a wonderfully rich character to write. Full of self doubt yet coming across as confident in her criminal company. When I worked in London you met young women like her who were trapped by violent relationships, poverty and drugs and couldn’t escape the cycle as it was the only thing they knew and had grown up with. Their cycle of life just became the same as it was so tough to break the mold that circumstances and environment continued to create. As a society we can be too quick to judge those less fortunate and apathetic to wanting to instigate any real change. Change must start at an individual level in order for a wider community to see the benefits.
Batford seems to be an inherently unlikable/despicable character — he’s the kind of police officer that other detectives would work to bring down. I want to ask why you’d design someone like him — but instead, let me ask how much of a challenge is it to get into (and stay in) the mind of a character like that? And, how do you approach depicting a character like that in a way that you’ll get readers to want to spend time with him?
This is a very intuitive question. You’ve picked up on a real issue for me when writing about Batford and what he is capable of as a cop and human being. I can’t tell you how he came to be the way he is but that’s how he panned out as soon as I’d finished the first chapter. The protagonist could’ve been anyone but my mind ended up writing the last paragraph of chapter one with me sitting back thinking, “Hello, where the hell did you come from?”

It was as much of a shock to me as I don’t plan any of my work I simply write and see where it takes me. Once he was there I couldn’t go back no matter how I tried to soften his character it just didn’t work (and I did try it) I’m glad it didn’t as I think he’s a complex individual that readers have a love hate relationship with but they don’t despise him and strangely want him to carry on. At least that’s the feedback I’m getting from the reviews I’ve read.

He is tough to be with on a day to day basis though, even though he’s fictional. I was trained to see corruption and vetted to a very high level to make sure I wasn’t susceptible to turning by criminals. So writing about a corrupt man goes against all my core values. This is also what makes him a challenge to write and strike that balance where the reader has some empathy for him. I’m a believer in the principle of loathing a person’s actions rather than the whole person. Maybe that’s what’s coming out in my writing that makes him ‘acceptable’ enough to readers that they’re happy to read more. I guess that’s a question you could answer or throw out for debate, as I’m guessing!

Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I enjoy the works of Philip K Dick. I think he was a genius of his time and his writing still resonates today. I couldn’t write science fiction though as my mind isn’t creative in that way. I read widely across genres as you know from Jo Platt’s Rom-Com! It’s vital, as a writer, that I read widely as there’s some incredible writing out there. Just take a look at any Fahrenheit book and you’ll see that. I do love the writing of Ed McBain, Chuck Palahniuk, Cormac McCarthy, Saira Viola, Mike Grothaus, Jane Issac, Derek Farrell, Tony Cox, Seth Lynch, Paul Brazil and Jo Perry, to name a few. They all bring a unique voice to their work.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
Rubicon isn’t my first novel. My first novel was read by someone I know, who’s an editor and author who absolutely slated it. I mean, there was no shit sandwich, it was a brutal destruction that could’ve maimed a writer, other than me, to the point where they wouldn’t write again. I’m not made like that though and twenty-four hours later I was writing Rubicon the short story.

Here’s the thing.. I haven’t had a negative review in two years of publication! Don’t tell anyone, though! If I’m honest I don’t think I’d be the type of person to dwell on it. After all there’s plenty of books I haven’t got on with but that doesn’t mean the writing’s crap. It just means it wasn’t the book for me. That’s the beauty of words, in that everyone’s different.

This one’s not about you directly, but what is it about Fahrenheit Press that seems to generate the devotion and team spirit that it does (or at least appears to)? I don’t know that I’ve seen as many authors from the same publisher talk about/read each other’s books — or talk about the publisher — as much as you guys seem to. Is it simply contractual obligation, or is there more?
Definitely not contractual obligation! If it were I wouldn’t have signed as I don’t worship anyone! What you have with Fahrenheit is an indie record label vibe within publishing. So a core group of people will buy what the label produces as they know they don’t produce shit. From that word of mouth spreads and others join in. I’ve found crime writers, in particular, to be a friendly and supportive group of people. The type of people that can hang out together and have fun. You’re right, not every publishing house has a vibe like Fahrenheit. Orenda books is the only other that springs to mind but is totally different. Fahrenheit is unique in what they have created.

For me, what Chris has done is create a publishing house BUT let the readers and authors create the brand. Now that’s not easy for a man who likes to be in control. He’s expressed his core concept and beliefs and put that clearly on his website, much to the chagrin of some, but they wouldn’t be Fahrenheit people in the first place. Punk doesn’t mean aggression, hard, ruthless or conceited. Punk means freedom of expression, liberation, heart and voice. Everything Fahrenheit is becoming. What other publisher has Fahrenhista equivalents getting together to talk books from their publishing house? This isn’t me making it up, just ask Chris.

Thanks for your time — and thanks for the Batford novels, I can’t wait for #3 and hope you find continued success with them.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the support you’ve given me and the thoughtful and open minded reviews you’ve written. Without good people like yourself indie presses wouldn’t exist. We can write as much as we want but it’s down to people like you to get the word out.

Finally you the reader. If you’ve got this far you’ve given up your precious time to find out a little bit more about what I think. But it’s just my opinion and you must feel free to take or leave as you wish. In a world of billions to have your time to listen is a very rare privilege. One I don’t take for granted. Many thanks for all your support.

Fahrenbruary Repost: Stoned Love by Ian Patrick: No Sophomore Slump in Sight with this Thriller.

Stoned LoveStoned Love

by Ian Patrick
Series: Sam Batford, #2

Kindle Edition, 246 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: September 14 – 15, 2018

I need to blend in where I shouldn’t belong. The best undercover officers have no air of ego or the appearance of a police mannequin. After all, one sniff of pig and your ass is bacon. I’ve no intention of being served up at any criminal’s barbecue.

How do you follow up 2017’s Rubicon, the twisty, morally ambiguous (at best) tale of an undercover cop? Well, if you’re Ian Patrick, you do it by bringing that shady cop back and putting him in a tighter spot with threats (physical, legal and career) on all sides.

Sam Batford has had a little time off to recuperate and get his head on straight after Rubicon — hopefully giving the heat on him a little time to cool down, and maybe give Big H time to move on from the setback Batford dealt him.

The Met has a new assignment for him — working with the same DCI as he did last time, DCI Klara Winter. During the last assignment, she wasn’t sure she could trust Batford — now she’s convinced that she can’t. In fact, while she wouldn’t mind taking down the criminals that Batford infiltrates, her main objective is to arrest Batford and his Superintendent Mike Hall, a pair she’s convinced are dirty. She’s right, of course, but that’s beside the point.

Ostensibly, Batford’s assignment is to infiltrate a group that’s supposedly planning a major armed robbery and will need a driver of some sorts. But the clock is ticking so he doesn’t have time to do this carefully. Winter has someone already embedded with the crew giving her information, and their primary purpose is to get dirt on Batford and Hall. Which sounds good, but when you get a couple of guys as cagey and wily as this pair, that’s no easy task.

At the same time, Hall’s told Batford that between family and work stresses, this is his last hurrah. Now, he’d like to start his retirement with a sizeable bankroll, and trusts that Batford will find a way to make the both of them some money from just whatever it is that this crew is up to. The crew’s leader, who goes by the cuddly moniker of Razor, is a long-time “unauthorized informant” of Hall’s. And now, he’s sending Batford in to get him arrested. Which seems odd, but it does give Hall enough of an inside track to help Batford.

So, essentially, Batford needs to find a way to get rich off these criminals, hopefully get enough evidence for some arrests, stop them from pulling off whatever they’re trying to — and avoid getting arrested himself (not that he knows he’s being targeted for that). Oh, yeah, and Big H hasn’t moved on, forgotten or forgiven him — in fact, he has an active contract out for Batford’s life, and there are people trying to collect on that. Sounds like a pretty rough time for him.

In Rubicon, there was a question (at least for me) throughout — just how bent is Batford? Will he actually do law enforcement, or is he just out for himself? What are the limits for him? Will he have any success in either his criminal or police activities? In Stoned Love, the questions are different — we know he’s bent pretty far. So it’s just will Batford survive? Will Winter arrest him? Will Hall use him to save his own skin? Will Razor do something to him? Will Big H’s killers eliminate him?

This changed the dynamic of the book for me, and made it a lot easier for me to enjoy this novel and cheer on Batford. There’s no moral or legal gray area any more. Like Michael Corleone or Hannibal Lechter, Sam Batford is a despicable character that the reader wants to find success. Thankfully, he’s nervy enough and clever enough, that there’s a pretty good chance that he will. At least for a while.

Winter is manipulative, deceptive and devoted more to her career than anything else. But she’s, technically, the good guy here. Everyone else is the kind of criminal that the police are supposed to stop, not become. But because we’re in Batford’s head, and Winter’s primarily seen as an obstacle for him to overcome, the reader roots for him and against her — knowing the whole time that it should be the other way around.

There’s frequent and repeated commentary on the effects of Brexit, budget cuts, personnel cuts and other moves by the British government that are impacting the police services throughout the novel. Patrick is a former police officer and if these aren’t his actual views coming forth through Batford, he’s a better author than I think. If Batford’s diagnosis of what’s going on with the police in Britain is accurate, it sounds pretty frightening.

It’s a minor thing — I only noticed this as I started to write this post, and I’ve recently had a bad experience with reading a novel that couldn’t pick a verb tense, so I was primed — but Patrick’s use of the present tense for these books is a subtle, and incredibly effective way of cranking up the tension, propelling the action forward, and pushing the reader to keep up with the pace of the book. I should’ve picked up on it with Rubicon, and am a little annoyed with myself for taking this long to notice.

I enjoyed Rubicon, but I appreciated what Patrick was doing and how he was doing it more. With Stoned Love, I still admired and appreciated his skill and aims, but I enjoyed the story more — I resented things like work and family for preventing me from finishing this as quickly as I wanted to, and absolutely relished an airline flight that meant I had uninterrupted reading time*. I think Stoned Love is an all-around better effort (which is saying something) and makes me very excited to see what comes from Ian Patrick next.

Not everyone enjoys reading books where the police are just as dirty as those they’re supposed to be stopping — and I understand that — but if you’re someone who can embrace a tarnished knight, someone who seems to be law enforcement malgré lui, you don’t want to waste any more time, get your hands on Rubicon and Stoned Love and prepare to be impressed.


* I also really appreciated having this to focus on rather than the fact that I was in a giant metal tube that has no business being that far off the ground, but that’s another story.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard: A Promising Introduction to a series about crime fighting in the Czech Republic


The Tainted VintageThe Tainted Vintage

by Clare Blanchard
Series: Dvorska & Dambersky, #1

Kindle Edition, 159 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: September 11, 2018
In the first chapter, we’re treated to a better synopsis than I could cook up, so let me just borrow it. One night in the little town of Vinice, in the Czech Republic, the mayor dies during his birthday party:

Dvorska was sure that she and Ivan had been sent there for the sake of appearances, because a dead mayor was by definition high profile, and of course because no-one else wanted to touch it. She wondered why they had been called out at all, so soon. The fat feminist and the misogynist – what a team. And of course Dambo, as the senior of the two, would call the shots, so her hands would be tied. Perfect. The sudden death of a rich and powerful local figure was hardly a magnet for rising-star detectives.

Dvorska picks up a clue or two that convinces her — and then Dambersky — that this death was not due to natural causes. The Powers That Be don’t want to hear such a thing, and rule otherwise. So this very unlikely duo has to embark on an unauthorized investigation — not just unauthorized, but prohibited — into the murder.

Finding the murderer of a man who died of natural causes isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, obviously — it’s hard to ask too many questions without a “Hey, he wasn’t murdered, why are you asking?” coming up. So the partners have to be wily — not just with their superior officer, but with witnesses, possible suspects, and everyone else they encounter.

The investigation takes them to various cities, a variety of social classes, and even ends up giving them a few history lessons. The mayor’s home has ties to significant (at least to Vinice) historical movements, going back to World War II, the Communist takeover, and then once the Republic took over. This really helps the reader — particularly the reader who knows almost nothing about the Czech Republic — find themselves, not only in the geography but the history (cultural and otherwise). obviously, I’m no expert on the Czech Republic,, but I can understand a little more than I used to. Just the first couple of usages of “Perv” to indicate an illegal drug threw me — but between the narrator finally calling it Pervityn and a search engine, I got a little lesson in drugs during WWII.

It doesn’t take long for the book to try to get the reader on the side of these two characters — maybe there’s more to them than the “fat feminist and the misogynist.” I really found myself enjoying them as people, not just as detectives. We spend — for reasons that will become clear when you read this — more time with Dvorska than her partner, and she is a charming, dedicated detective, fully aware of her limitations and sure how to overcome them.

The writing was good but I thought it could be sharper — there’s an odd word choice or two (early on, the detectives start talking about the mayor’s death being an execution, not a murder); there’s a lot of recapping/rehashing something that was just done/considered/decided a page or two earlier — the kind of thing that makes sense for serialized novels, but this doesn’t appear to be on. Still, the voice is engaging, as is the story — and you get caught up enough in it that you can easily ignore a few things that’d normally bug you.

I was caught totally off-guard by the ending. I didn’t expect that to happen at all — my notes toward the end feature short words like “what” and”why?” But primarily my notes consist of question marks, exclamation points, and combinations thereof. This is a great sign for mystery and thriller novels. Blanchard did a great job setting things up so that there’s a dramatic reveal and one that isn’t seen chapters away. I do think some more ground work could have been laid early on so that it didn’t seem quite so out of nowhere. But it was effective enough, that I really don’t want to complain about it.

This is a pleasant read — it’s close enough to being a cozy that I could recommend it to friends who predominately read those, and twisted enough that those with more grizzled tastes can sink their teeth into it, too. The characters are winning, charming and the kind that you want to spend time with. It’s a good introduction to a series exotic enough for most English readers to feel “alien” and yet full of enough things so you don’t feel cut off from what you know. There are obviously future cases for these two in the works, and I plan on getting my hands on them when I can.

—–

3 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: Rubicon by Ian Patrick: A thrill-ride that will stay with you long after the action ends.

I bought this shortly after it was released, and then let it collect e-dust on my e-reader, and pretty much used Damp Pebbles’ Book Tour for this as my excuse to read it. I wasn’t over the moon with this one, but I liked it a lot. And then I spent months thinking about it until the sequel came out. Batford’s the kind of character that will not move out of your headspace like any respectable character does when you start a new book. Rather, he’ll take up residence — scratch that, he’ll squat there, not allowing the lease holder to get comfortable sharing the space with him…. I think this metaphor has gotten out of hand, so I’m going to shut up and get on with the post.

RubiconRubicon

by Ian Patrick
Series: Sam Batford, #1

Kindle Edition, 232 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: May 31 – June 2, 2018

. . . there’s no money in policing unless you cross the line.

But that doesn’t mean that Sam Batford isn’t going to try.

Batford is an undercover police officer who’s after a kingpin of some repute and his guns and drugs importing. DCI Klara Winter is a no-nonsense head of a task force going after the same kingpin, Big H, more directly — phone taps, applying pressure to associates, interrogations, etc. Batford is assigned to her task force to supplement their intelligence. Neither want this assignment, and work to undermine it immediately. They do actually help each other out — but it’s almost despite their best efforts. Their mutual dislike, distrust and antagonism is one of the more interesting dynamics that I’ve run across lately.

We see most of the novel through Batford’s eyes, with the occasional glimpse from Winter’s perspective. It doesn’t take much to get a strong sense of Winter’s personality and thought process. Just from the volume, the reader ends up seeing things Batford’s way — whether or not they should.

Batford infiltrates Big H’s organization — at least to a degree — for one job. A large one, no doubt, one that would secure Winter’s career (and would do his own some favors). Like most undercover officers (especially in fiction), he cuts many legal and ethical corners to do so. There’s some question — as there should be — whether or not Big H really trusts him, and the constant testing, evaluation and insecurity makes for great reading — it’s an atmosphere you can almost feel through the words.

So Batford is doing what he can to get enough information to take down Big H, to gain his trust (and therefore access), to disrupt the flow of drugs and guns — and mostly to stay alive. If he can find a way to make a little money while he’s at it . . . well, he might as well. Winter just wants enough evidence to make some arrests — and maybe some headlines — so she can get the budget to keep her team working.

This is not a book for the squeamish — there are a few scenes I know that would cause some of my friends and readers to throw the book down in disgust (the same scenes will cause other friends/readers to fist pump their excitement — I’m not sure which of these bothers me more). There’s one scene in particular that made me think of the dental scene from Marathon Man (I’ve never watched the movie just in case they nail that scene from the novel).

There were two . . . I don’t want to say problems for me, but things that kept me from going over the moon with Rubicon: Batford works his way into this assignment by worming his way in to the trust of one Big H’s associates while they’re in Bali. Do Metropolitan Police Undercover Officers really get to globe-trot the way that Batford does? Is that a bit of Artistic License? Is it a sign of just how far outside the lines that Batford colors? Does it tell us that he’s not just a Metropolitan Police Officer? It’s a minor point, I admit — and it’s really easy to accept as kosher (but that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder), because watching Batford’s machinations there is fascinating.

Secondly, Batford displays a very particular vocabulary — I’m not sure if it’s London slang, or Ian Patrick-slang. I could believe either. I will admit that there were periods that the slang got in the way of the story. That’s probably on me — and some of it is Shaw’s two countries separated by a common language phenomenon. With a little bit of work, and a small amount of guesswork (and a willingness to go back and revisit a passage later), it was all accessible enough and perspicuous.

There’s a lot about this book that I’m not sure about — I’ve been chewing on it for a couple of days, and it’s going to take a few more at least. Patrick’s characters take a little chewing, I think. It’d be easy to put Batford in the “murky anti-hero” category and move on — but I’m not sure he fits there; I’m even less sure where Winter fits — she’s not the straight-laced cop you’re at first tempted to label her, nor is she just the figure that makes life difficult for our anti-hero to do what he wants (although she functions pretty well that way). But even if/when I decide how to categorize these two — then I have to decide what I think of them as these characters — are they good people? No. That’s easy. Are they good fictional beings in their particular roles? My gut says yes, and my brain leans that way, but I’m still working on that.

Either way, I’m enjoying chewing on the novel and these ideas — and I’m definitely getting my money’s worth out of this book, just having to think about it this much.

There is part of this evaluation that’s easy — the writing? Gripping. The pacing? Once it gets going, it’s a runaway train that you’re just hoping you can hang on to long enough to get through to the end. The narrative voice is as strong as you could ask, and even when you’re thinking this cop might be more deserving of a being handcuffed on his way to a long incarceration than his targets, you’ll need to hear his singular perspective on the events around him.

Strong writing (some of my favorite sentences of the year are in this book), characters that demand thinking about, a plot that you can’t wrap up in a tidy bow — this isn’t your typical thriller. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, it’s one that you won’t forget easily.

—–

4 Stars