Black Moss by David Nolan: A Mystery that will Haunt You in a Stunning Debut Novel

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan


Kindle Edition, 291 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018

Read: Febryary 11 – 12, 2019

           Danny had never been out here before. He’d heard the moors were bleak, but he wasn’t prepared for the sheer unrelenting nothingness of the area. It was like the world had been horizontally cut in two –sky at the top, moor at the bottom, with nothing to provide any form of relief from the two themes. Not even a tree. Not one. In any direction. Bleak.

David Nolan’s debut novel is one of those that I’m having a hard time gauging how much to say about the plot. If I don’t keep a foot on the brake pedal, I know I could easily go on and on and quickly give away everything — and where’d the fun be in that for you?

Not that “fun” is a good word for about 96% of the experience of this book. This isn’t one of those books (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Half of this book is told in April of 1990. Rookie radio reporter Danny Johnston is assigned to cover a murder miles away from the story that he wants to cover (and that just about every other reporter in the Manchester area is covering), the real-life riot at Strangeways prison. As Danny is watching the police fight the wind, he sees the body they’re trying to cover with a tarp. It’s a young boy, clearly the victim of murder. A few days later, he’ll learn just how brutal the killing is — but it doesn’t matter. From the moment he saw the body, Danny was committed to making sure the killer is caught.

The other half takes place in 2016, when noted television report Daniel Johnston wraps his car around a tree. He’s drunk — he usually is, it turns out — and this is the last time. The iPhone video of his exit from the car and the drunken ranting and falling that ensues doesn’t do his image any favors. He’s facing criminal charges, the collapse of his career and therapy. Between some great medication, someone to listen and a lot of free time, he makes some progress on putting himself back together and decides to go back to Manchester to try to complete the quest he started so long ago. He also explores some of his own demons along the way — we don’t spend that much time with that, but enough to get a better idea what’s behind a lot of his own behavior.

In addition to Danny/Daniel, there’s a small-town newspaper reporter, three police detectives, several Radio Manchester employees, an MP and some residents of a children’s home and the woman who runs the place that serve as the major characters in 1990. In 2016, we still see most of these characters — just at new stages in their lives. Some of them have moved past this crime, others remember it as much as (if not more than) Danny. None of these characters are the kind of splashy or obviously entertaining individuals that many mystery novels are peppered with — they’re simply well-rounded people. Flawed, with obvious issues and strengths.

From the first chapter (see the quotation above) to the end — there is a bleak feeling pervading this work. Between the geography, the situation, and the weather that’s the best word for it. I don’t describe the feel of books often enough — but 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.

Which isn’t to say that this is a book you trudge through — you don’t. 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. You want to get to the bottom of things with Danny and his friends/allies.

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 had an inkling about part of it — but I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. Yet when the reveal is finished 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. You won’t be sorry if you give this one a shot, you’re not going to read a lot of books better — or as good — anytime soon.

—–

5 Stars

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Fahrenbruary Repost: Dead is Good by Jo Perry

One more Charlie and Rose book for you this week — and it’s a doozy. I hope you’re enjoying this stroll through these books as much as I am — I’m enjoying them so much, that for the last two days I’ve forgotten to mention something incredibly important — the fourth book in this series, Dead Is Beautiful comes out tomorrow — Fahrenbruary 14th! Go — click and buy. Then come back tomorrow for a special treat.

Dead is GoodDead is Good

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #3

Kindle Edition, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: August 3, 2017

Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.

Death is failure.

Death is loss.

Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.

Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.

When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we’re to believe him — and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art — deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.

Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey…that’s not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I’d care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it’s because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.

The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you’ve ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn’t work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place — which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.

This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together — Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.

Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there’s no character growth in death — that’s nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to — or at least acknowledge — a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.

I love these characters — even while we readers don’t fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don’t have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn’t). I love how while they can’t interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what’s happening. There’s something about that compulsion — and success they have in figuring things out — that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.

This wasn’t as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying — maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.

The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn’t anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that’s a crime against tact, right?

—–

4 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Russell Day

Yesterday I reposted a couple of personal highlights from 2018 (I’m talking about what I read, not what I said) — Not Talking Italics and Needle Song. Today, I get to share some A’s to my Q’s behind the brilliant writer behind them, Russell Day.

Without further ado…

What was your path to publication? What did you do to prepare yourself to this career in fiction?
I don’t think I ever consciously prepared for a career as a fiction writer (my default setting is pretty much: wing it). I started writing when I was a teenager, but it’s only been the last five years or so that I’ve taken it seriously. Before that, I’d make a lot of good starts but then get bored or, worse, sit around waiting until I was in ‘the mood’. That’s a recipe for a drawer full of unfinished manuscripts. Now I just sit and write and if it’s crap, I rewrite.

Getting published, for me, has largely been down to competitions. The first piece of fiction I ever had published appeared in Writer’s Forum Magazine, where it had won second prize in their monthly short story contest. It was a Doc Slidesmith story, called The Tattooist, the Tarot and Bang-Bang the Clown. Fahrenheit might be releasing a collection of my short stories this year, and hopefully The Tattooist will be included in it. I’ve got a lot of affection for that piece, it was the first time I saw my stuff in print and it was doubly exciting that it featured Doc.

The book deal with Fahrenheit Press came my way because of their Noirville competition. I entered two pieces for that, The Icing on the Cake and Not Talking Italics (another story about Doc). Both stories struck a chord with the judges, and Chris McVeigh offered me a two book deal on the strength of them. The Icing on the Cake, was included in the anthology and Not Talking Italics, was offered up as a teaser to introduce people to Doc.

What first hooked me with your story “Not Talking Italics” was the way you told that particular story — all dialogue, practically an extended monologue. Was there anything in particular that drove that choice, or did it just “happen”? Would you/have you consider writing a novel in that manner?
We’re back to competitions again. I wrote Not Talking Italics with a view to entering it into a competition that wanted stories told entirely in dialogue. In the end I couldn’t keep to the required word count, but I liked the story and thought it might be a good fit for the Noirville competition. One of Doc’s main features his the-gift-of the gab, so he lent himself to the style.

I don’t have any plans to write a whole novel using just dialogue. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I think that technique is best suited to pieces that can be read in one sitting. That said, I like my characters to talk a lot and I sometimes slip ‘transcripts’ into the plot. I do that in Needle Song in a couple of places and do it again in Ink to Ashes, the second Slidesmith novel.

Liking to hear the characters ‘talk’ is why I often write in the first person, I try to give the impression that the reader is being ‘told’ the story.

Doc Slidesmith has quite the interesting and varied résumé/CV — he’s clearly not your everyday fictional detective (amateur or not). Psychologists have been done, tattoo shop owners — not so much. Definitely no one’s put them together before — and then throwing in the Tarot reading has to make him even more distinctive. How did you stumble across that particular combination, and why would you go looking for it?
Just before I started writing Needle Song, I’d met a woman who practiced Voodoo and it caught my interest.  Doc’s connection with Voodoo and Tarot stemmed from that. After that I sort of built Doc, bit by bit, around the scene where we first see him reading the Tarot. Once I’d established him as a freak, albeit a clever one, I had to ask myself how he’d make a living. It had to be something that fitted his aesthetic and suggested a certain depth. Tattooist was an obvious choice.

The psychologist angle was almost accidental. I’d wanted a name that had a Voodoo flavour to it. For a while I thought about calling him Papa Slidesmith, but that made him sound too old. Doctor Slidesmith had a certain ring to it and, of course, someone would have to ask why he called himself ‘Doc’. Giving him a full-fledged PhD was a good way to show his intelligence and it also muddied the waters as to whether he’s reading the Tarot cards or the people around him.

(that’s one of my favorite answers I’ve ever received from an author . . . )

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?

I’ve been very lucky in terms of reviews and haven’t been roasted … yet. I don’t know how, or even if, harsh criticism will affect my writing. I’m pretty well tuned into my own sense of what does or doesn’t work, so I’ll probably stick with that.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I read many genres, but my first port of call is mystery/crime. I couldn’t write a historical novel, I’m just not good enough at research to get the details right.
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?
A lot of it’s down to Chris McVeigh’s enthusiasm. If you talk to the man for a few minutes it’s clear he wants Fahrenheit to publish books he believes in. Yes, it’s a money making venture but that’s not all it is to him, not by a long way. Another thing that makes Fahrenheit different is simply the selection of books.

Fahrenheit doesn’t think like a mainstream publisher. It doesn’t want to publish a reworked version of last year’s best seller. It wants to publish something else. And if that means colouring outside the lines a bit then so be it. THAT implies a certain trust in both the writers and the readers. That trust makes you a part of Fahrenheit. We’re not just numbers being told what to write this year or told what we’re going to read. With Fahrenheit we’re all in it together.

And they sell cool mugs.

Can’t argue with that last line — love my Fahrenheit mug. 🙂

Thanks for your time, sir. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming next.

Fahrenbruary Repost: Needle Song by Russell Day: Great characters, strong writing, and a clever solution to the mystery made this one of 2018’s best.

Could. Not. Put. This. Down.
And now I get to repost this — one of my Top Ten from last year. This is what Fahrenheit does best: unusual protagonists, a great deal of panache, and a crime that’ll make an impression.

Needle SongNeedle Song

by Russell Day
Series: Doc Slidesmith, #1

Kindle Edition, 380 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: July 2 – 4, 2018

He’d changed again in some way. Like he had the night in The Jericho putting out The Jive. But this was different again. The Jive was showmanship. The good Doctor Slidesmith in full sail. This was more intense. I’d see him like thus on occasion in the shop, absorbed in the ink and the song of the needle. I wouldn’t say lost in what he was doing. Lost implies lack of control.

For the first time that evening, it struck me he needed an audience, not to watch him but for him to watch. Like a dial on a machine, not part of the process, just a way of monitoring it.

Back when I posted about the short story featuring Doc Slidesmith, Not Talking Italics, I said that if Needle Song was anything like it, “I’m going to have to go down to the superlative store this weekend to stock up before I write anything about it.” I’m fully stocked (now) and ready to go.

I was disappointed — somewhat — and relieved to see that the all-dialogue, no narration, no other description approach of Italics was nowhere to be seen. I could’ve read 380 pages of that (see my love for Roddy Doyle), but I know it’s not that approachable and will turn off some readers.

Now, I don’t know if anyone but Karen E. Olson has envisioned a tattoo shop as a hotbed of crime fighting — or the staff of such to be the source people would turn to for help with legal difficulties. But it works — all because of the owner of the shop, former psychologist, current Voodoo practitioner and Tarot reader, Doc Slidesmith. On the surface, you see a rough-looking — striking, I think, bordering on handsome — but your basic leather-glad biker type, covered in ink — and will underestimate him. Only those who’ve been in conversations with him, those who’ve given him a chance will see the charm, the intelligence, and the indefinable characteristic that makes people come to him for help in times of trouble. In many hands, Doc’s…peculiar resume, shall we say, would end up this cartoonish mish-mash of quirks. But Day is able to make it work — there’s a reason that Doc ended up where he is, we don’t need to know it, but it makes him the man (and armchair detective) that we want to read about.

Andy Miller — known to many as “Yakky” (he’s not a chatty type, his tattoos are all placed so that he can hide them all with this clothing, like a member of the Yakkuza), is the tattoo apprentice to Doc Slidesmith. He lives with his father — a thoroughly unpleasant and manipulative man, that Yakky feels obligated to care for. While clearly appreciative for Doc’s tutelage, and more in awe of his mentor than he’d care to admit, he’s also more than a little skeptical of Doc’s interests, beliefs and practices that aren’t related to his tattooing. He’s our narrator. He’s not your typical narrator — he’s too frequently angry at, dismissive of and unbelieving in the protagonist for that. Which is just one of the breaths of fresh air brought by this book. Yakky is singularly unimpressed by Doc’s playing detective — but in the end, is probably as invested (maybe more) in the outcome.

Jan is brought by Chris Rudjer (a long-time client and friend of Doc’s) for a Tarot reading, which brings her some measure of comfort/reassurance. So that when, months later, her husband kills himself, she comes looking for another reading — which turns into seeking help in general. Not just for her, but for Chris, with whom she’d been carrying on a not-very-secret affair for months. While it seemed obvious that her husband had taken his own life when she found his body, there were some irregularities at the scene. When the police add in the affair Jan was having with someone with a record for violent crime, they get suspicious. Slidesmith does what he can to help Chris prepare for the inevitable police involvement, and enlists Yakky to help, too.

Yakky takes Jan home to stay in his spare room. She can’t stay at home — the memories are too fresh, there are problems with her husband’s family, and (she doesn’t realize it yet) there are people following her and Doc and Yakky are worried. The dynamic between Jan and Yakky, and between Jan and Yakky’s father, end up providing vital clues to her character and psychology. This will end up proving vital to their case.

As Doc and Yakky begin digging around in Jan’s life, it’s immediately obvious that very little is as it seems. Now, if you’re used to reading Crime Fiction featuring serial killers or organized crime, you’ll think a lot of what they uncover is pretty small potatoes. But it actually seems worse — it’s more immediate, more personal — serial killers have their various pathologies, mobster’s are after profits and power — these people are just about hate, cruelty and control. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems worse in comparison.

There’s a depth to all of these characters that I could spend a lot of time thinking/writing/reading about — for example, our narrator, Yakky. I have at least a dozen questions that I feel I need answers to about him. At the same time, I think at least eleven of those answers could ruin the character for me. Ditto for Doc, Gina (another artist in the shop), or Chris. It’s a pretty neat trick — one few authors have been able to pull off, creating a character that you can tell has a compelling backstory, but that you don’t really want to know it (see Parker’s Hawk or Crais’ Pike — or the other mercenary Crais has had to create now that we know too much about Pike). I know who these people are now, and look forward to seeing what happens with them — and that’s good enough. It’s hard to tell, always, just why Doc’s working on this — is it for fun, is it out of a sense of obligation to Chris, does he feel bad for Jan, is it some of all three? Yakky will frequently talk about The Jive — the showmanship that Doc brings to Tarot readings, conversations, and dealing with difficult witnesses — it reminds me frequently of B. A. Baracus’ complaining about Hannibal’s “being on The Jazz.”

The plot is as intricate as you want — there are twists, turns, ups, downs — both with the investigation and in the lives of those touched by it. This doesn’t have the flair of Not Talking Italics, but the voice is as strong, and everything else about the writing is better. It’s a cliché to say that Day paints a picture with his words, so I won’t say that. But he does etch indelible patterns with the tattoo-gun of his words — which isn’t a painless process for all involved, but the end result is worth whatever discomfort endured. Day doesn’t write like a rookie — this could easily be the third or fourth novel of an established author instead of someone’s talented debut.

I’m torn on what I think about the details of the ending, wavering between “good” and “good enough, but could have been better.” It’s not as strong as the 94% (or so) before it, but it’s probably close enough that I shouldn’t be quibbling over details. I’m not talking about the way that Doc elicits the answers he needs to fully explain what happened to Jan’s husband (both for her closure and Chris’ safety), nor the way that everything fits together just perfectly. I just think the execution could be slightly stronger.

Whether you think of this as an amateur sleuth novel, a look into the depravity of the suburbanite, or an elaborate Miss Marple tribute/pastiche, the one thing you have to see is that this is a wonderful novel. I’m underselling it here, I know, this is one of those books that you best understand why everyone is so positive about it by reading it. You’ve got to expose yourself to Doc, Yakky and Day’s prose to really get it. One of the best books I’ve read this year. My only complaint with this book? After reading so much about the “song of the needle,” the shop, the work being done there — I’m feeling the pressure to get another tattoo myself, and soon.

—–

5 Stars

The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair: A Bond Girl à la Amy Sherman-Palladino leads this entertaining action story.

Finally, some original Fahrenbruary content!

The Barista’s Guide to EspionageThe Barista’s Guide to Espionage

by Dave Sinclair/a>
Series:
Eva Destruction, #1

Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: February 4 – 6, 2018

All her adult life, she’d dated men who were bad for her. Men who treated her dreadfully and undervalued her worth. She knew that, she’d always known that, and yet she failed to break the cycle. There had only been one man who’d treated her with respect and as an equal. It was a shame he’d also threatened every government on Earth and drawn UN condemnation.

Eva ran her finger around the rim of her pint. Why were all the best kissers hell-bent on tearing down the world?

This is just your typical story of a feminist, stripper-turned-barista, who falls for an super-rich aspiring super-villain, and ends up holding the fate of the world in her hands. I’m going to stop right there — my attempts at synopsizing this just aren’t paying off. Here’s some of the back of the book blurb:

Meet Eva Destruction, the only thing quicker than her mouth is her talent for getting into trouble. It’s true she’s always had an eye for a bad boy but when she falls for billionaire super-villain Harry Lancing, it seems that even Eva may have bitten off more than she can chew.

Eva hurtles headlong into terrorist attacks, assassinations, car chases and the occasional close encounter with a dashing spy who seems as determined to charm Eva into bed as he is to thwart Lancing’s plans to bring down every government on earth.

As the odds begin to stack up in Lancing’s favour the fate of the world lies in Eva’s hands. Luckily for the world, Eva Destruction isn’t the type of girl to let a super-villain ex-boyfriend with a massive ego, unlimited resources and his own secret island get the better of her.

Eva, Horatio Lancing and the MI6 agent are entertaining characters — the action scenes are exciting. There’s a car chase that’s remarkably good. But the banter, verbal sparring and jokes are where the real fireworks are found. It’s almost like Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote an action film.

A few caveats I should issue for some of the regulars around here: Early on, there’s a sex scene that is entirely too graphic, and unnecessarily so. I liked what Sinclair achieved with it and the aftermath. But He could’ve achieved the same (or practically the same) result with a little less detail. There are further references to sex if you can get past this one, but nothing that comes close to the detail of this one scene. It’s probably PG-13 afterwards, actually. Additionally, Evan utilizes some of the more creative swearing you’ve read. It’s not anything you’d care to repeat anywhere near a mother armed with a bar of soap mind you. But creative nonetheless.

Eva is smart, witty and determined — it’s easy to see why men are fawning over her (even without the looks). She’s the kind of character you like reading — she’s sure of herself, and yet really, really not. I love reading about someone who is just awesome with zero self-confidence in certain instances. But when push comes to shove, she comes through in a way worthy of Jason Bourne or Frank Martin.

This book is essentially a cartoon — it’s over the top, exaggerated, and entertainingly hyperbolic. But Lancing . . . I tell you. For a would-be global dictator, there’s something appealing about him. He’s described as “Snowden with an agenda and Assange with charisma,” and truly (often) seems to only want to hold governments/government officials to their word. “You promised the voters X,” he essentially says, “deliver X, or I’ll release the videos of you in a compromising situation with a 14-year old.” A motivation that many people would agree with, and a capability that doesn’t seem that outlandish — especially compared to the rest of the story, Lancing seems realistic — realistic-ish, anyway.

There are so, so many quotable lines in this book — it’s practically impossible to pick one to focus on. This is like early Evanovich — just with the sex, swearing and violence turned up a bit. I think it went on a bit too long, and could use maybe 50 fewer pages. But it was so much fun, I don’t want to complain too much. The Barista’s Guide to Espionage is a big explode-y ball of entertainment and Dave Sinclair is someone to keep an eye out for.

—–

3.5 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: The Song of The Swan by Michael RN Jones: Locke and Doyle’s triumphant return is sure to please

The Song of The SwanThe Song of The Swan

by Michael RN Jones
Series: The Victor Locke Chronicles, #2

Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: September 13 – 14, 2017

On ending the sentence, his face dropped. “Oh,” he exhaled, “that’s it. I’ve just had one of those TV detective moments.”

“What d’you mean?”

“You know. When some tiny and unrelated fact, like a car door slamming or an answerphone machine flicking on, makes the whole case drop into place. It happens to Jonathan Creek and Adrian Monk all the time…”

In The Accidental Detective, we met Victor Locke and his court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Doyle — a modern-day Holmes and Watson in a collection of stories that were partially a tribute, partially a pastiche, partially an update and entirely entertaining. This second episodic novel/short story collection continues in that vein.

This book opens with Doyle and Locke being arrested for bank robbery, which is not really what I’d expected. It’s, as is the case with many of the stories in this book, a chance for Doyle to stretch his investigatory skills and do a lot of the work. The two are not equal partners in any sense, but it’s nice to see that Doyle is more than just the sidekick (see Archie Goodwin and Joan Watson for other examples of this kind of relationship).

Not only is Doyle on his way to becoming a proper investigator, his write-ups of the cases are gaining him a greater degree of notoriety. I particularly enjoyed watching various characters go out of their way to fawn over him — or try to work their way into his writings.

At the same time, Doyle is wondering how well he actually knows his friend — and frequently discovers the answer is, “not that well.” At the same time, everyone (including Locke himself) regards him as the world’s expert on Victor Locke. Locke is just fun to watch in the varied situations he places himself in. As much as I appreciated Doyle’s larger role in things, I missed Locke when he wasn’t “on screen.” There’s a greater depth to the character than we’ve seen previously (or maybe I just missed it last time — that’s possible)

I’ve talked a lot about the characters and not much about the cases — there are two reasons for this, primarily, you read things like this for the characters. Secondly, Jones can tell you about the cases in a much more interesting way than I can. I’ll just say that they’re clever, enjoyable and Holmesian (in the best sense).

I’ve gotta say, I didn’t like the ending. I thought it was well done, it flowed organically from the events leading up to it, it fit the characters, it was earned — and so on. I just didn’t like it.

I enjoyed The Accidental Detective and if The Song of the Swan had been more of the same, I’d have been satisfied. But, Jones kicked everything up a notch — Locke was stranger, more clever, and funnier; Doyle was a better version of the guy we’d met previously, and the crimes were more interesting. All in all, a fun read, a great way to spend a few hours and one of those sequels that delivers on the promise of the first. Heartily recommended.

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: The Lobster Boy And The Fat Lady’s Daughter by Charles Kriel

Here’s the first book I read from Fahrenheit Press. It left an impression. In addition to the Kindle copy I bought, I have two paperback versions of this — and ordered the Hardcover last year (not sure what happened there…oh well). I wonder today if I’d given it more stars, I think I would’ve. It’s just weird enough that I didn’t know how to judge it. I’m still not sure I do, but I wish I had time for a re-read, I think I can appreciate more of it now that it’s percolated in the back of my mind for 3 years and change.

More than anything, I really hope that Kriel gives us another book with these people some time.

Be sure to check out the music video of the song FP commissioned to accompany the book.

The Lobster Boy And The Fat Lady's Daughter The Lobster Boy And The Fat Lady’s Daughter

by Charles Kriel
Series: Mel Barry Investigates, #1Kindle Edition, 250 pg.

Fahrenheit Press, 2015

Read: October 31, 2015


I can’t give this one the discussion it needs with my standard spoiler-free stuff. So…after the break below, I’ll talk about my spoilery-beefs with this book. If you don’t want to read them (I’m not sure I’d blame you for skipping) read on. Otherwise, you can stop when you get to the stars.

Carnival/Freak Show owner Charlie “Lobster Boy” Koontz is being framed for murder, and given his physical appearance, an already ugly situation promises to get much, much worse. So he does the unthinkable — he calls his adopted daughter for help. You’ll have to read to find out why this is such a dumb move. Mel comes to town, starts asking questions, kicking some butt — occasionally getting a name — all while reconnecting with her carnie roots and learning a bit more about her family.

Mel’s a combination of Jack Reacher and Charlie Fox with a more mysterious past than either. Which Kriel teases us with frequently, but doesn’t give us much to go on. I’m fine with that, if we get a sequel that actually explains what happens to Mel post-carnival, otherwise, it’s a problem (one that’s not Kriel’s fault, really). Anyway, she’s good with a gun, good with hand-to-hand, crafty as all get-out and determined to get Charlie out of jail no matter what.

We don’t get much of an idea about the town that the murder takes place in, we get a flavor of some of the leadership — we see that Law Enforcement is a racist joke, and that there’s a strip joint. That’s pretty much it. Kriel comes close to playing the stereotype card, but somehow avoids it. We see almost nothing of the populace, no characters that we can remember longer than the sentence that they’re (outside of the villains, obviously)

We get a good look at The Lobster Boy’s Mermaid Parade, on the other hand. It’s a not just a group of coworkers, it’s a family — admittedly, a strange family. They live together, travel together, perform together, play together — it’s enough to make you want to run off and join them. But you should probably bend a law or two first, so you can fit in. And it’s filled with characters — almost none of which we get adequate time with, but enough to make them people, enough to remember in a couple of cases, at least.

Early on, there is a rape scene that I found to be gratuitously graphic. I get that occasionally for reasons of plot or character, you’ve got to have a scene along those lines — and while I don’t appreciate them, I can accept them. But they need to serve a purpose, this one seems to do little more than demonstrate that the man is a creep, a misogynist, violent with a twisted idea that he’s connected to Mel. Now we already know everything except the violence before things got graphic, and there’re other ways to show that. I’m not saying the guy can’t rape the girl to illustrate this stuff if that’s what an author thinks is best, but we don’t need the details. The fact that he rapes someone alone says that. The details don’t add to that. A couple of chapters earlier, there’s an attempted rape scene (different perpetrators, different victim) — I had no problems with that at all, because it accomplished things that served the story and the characters.

The first two chapters of this were interesting, yeah, but there was something about it that made me think this wasn’t going to be a book for me — no matter how well-written it turned out to be, there was just something that didn’t appeal. I’m not sure if I finished Chapter 3 before I decided I was wrong — I liked Mel, straightaway. I still wasn’t sure about anything else in the book, but if this was her book, I was in.

This was a fast read, a compelling read, and a fun read — and were it not for graphic elements in the rape scene and the stuff coming up below, I’d have rated it higher. Still, Mel Barry is a character I want to see more of, and I’m sure Charles Kriel is an author I will see more of. Especially at a Kindle price, it’s worth the read — would be for twice what Amazon is asking, too.

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3.5 Stars
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