We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker: Hunting for Hope (and Life?) in a Hopeless Place

Am glad to welcome the Book Tour for We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker today—it’s one of those books that I don’t feel quite adequate to talk about, but we’ll give it a shot. Be sure to check out some of these other blogs on the graphic below, as well. There’s some great blogs covering this one.

We Begin at the End

We Begin at the End

by Chris Whitaker

eARC, 464 pg.
Zaffre, 2020

Read: April 4-7, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


Thirty years after (the then minor) Vincent King was imprisoned for killing a girl, he’s released to a world he can only barely recognize. His childhood best friend, now Chief of Police, picks him up from prison to drive him back to the small coastal town they grew up in. Geographic changes, economic changes, societal drift, and other pressures have radically altered this community.

But some things remain—the high school jock who’s athletic future was derailed by an injury still drives the car his father bought while he was in High School, and works to recapture the physical condition he was in then. Chief Walker—Walk—is still hung up on his high school sweetheart (who moved away not long after King was imprisoned). And Star Radley, Vincent’s then-girlfriend, and sister of his victim, still lives in town, still shaped by the events of thirty years prior.

Star has two children—thirteen-year-old Duchess and her little brother, Robin. Duchess does most of the care-taking of Robin, feeding him, getting him ready for school, making sure he’s sleeping. She’s doing everything she can to raise Robin (and protect him from the world), and to keep her mother healthy for Robin’s sake. On the eve of Vincent’s return, Star tries to overdose on pills—and not for the first time.

Walk’s a constant presence in the lives of Star, Duchess, and Robin—but not a necessarily welcome one. Still, he’s the steadiest and most reliable adult in the children’s lives (and in some way, Duchess does depend on him and look up to him).

That’s the status quo that King’s release upsets. What follows is a chain of heartbreak, calamity, tragedy, violence, vengeance, and depravity. There’s a little glimmer of hope, too—but it’s hard to find, and there’s a lot of suffering surrounding it.

Whitaker delivers this in lean prose, without wasting a word. It’s almost as if he took Leonard’s rule to “leave out the parts that people skip,” and dialed it up to 11. The prose matches the emotions, the characters—beauty, ornament, sentiment have no place in their lives, and it’s largely empty from the novel. There’s not a word out of place, each one carefully placed for maximum impact and effectiveness.

Each character has a depth that you don’t always see. Whitaker doesn’t explore the depth too much, doesn’t explain it—but he shows that it’s there. Duchess, in particular, is a character so well drawn that I can practically see her. I won’t forget her anytime soon.

There are some problems, not many, but they’re there. The text in the ARC (and perhaps this will be addressed in the final text) contains a couple of sloppy Britishisms—terms that would be commonplace in the UK, but have no place in a US character’s mind. Particularly if they’re a poorly educated child. Whitaker’s language is so precise, so clear, that having something like that just takes me out of the text—ruining the spell.

Secondly, Whitaker’s sparse style occasionally works against him. Every now and then the prose works against him, making a scene difficult to parse. Just a few more words (judiciously placed, obviously) to flesh things out could help.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book—I really do. But I didn’t. I did fall under its spell, the stark, bleak outlook affected me (I wonder how I’d have reacted to a thing or two if Duchess’s and Walk’s plights weren’t in the back of my mind the last couple of days). This is not your typical Crime Novel. It’s not written in the typical fashion, with typical characters and motivations, with typical ends in mind. The terms “moody” and “atmospheric” seem like understatements. It is powerful, skillfully written—and will stay with you for quite a while.

Do yourself a favor, take the plunge.


4 Stars


My thanks to Tracy Fenton and Compulsive Readers for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided via NetGalley.


This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Pub Day Post: A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones: Now that’s a first day on the job

A Bad Day for Sunshine

A Bad Day for Sunshine

by Darynda Jones
Series: Sunshine Vicram, #1

eARC, 400pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2020

Read: March 31-April 4, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


We meet Sunshine Vicram on the first day of her new job, Sheriff of Del Sol, New Mexico. It’s truly remarkable that one of the state’s most successful law enforcement officers won the office in the small town she grew up in, if for no other reason than she didn’t run for office. Somehow, she handily defeated the incumbent and now finds herself living in a small apartment in her parent’s backyard with her daughter, leading a small force with her childhood best friend as her Chief Deputy.

Her first day on the job is marred by an ominous basket of muffins (literally), a car crashing through the front of her headquarters, a threat from the mayor, a stolen (maybe?) chicken, escaped prisoners, and a runaway/kidnapped fourteen-year-old-girl. Not the most auspicious start, really.

The missing teenager is the Sun’s biggest focus—Sybil’s a quiet, socially awkward girl with no real friends. Sun’s daughter, Auri, had spent some time getting to know her, and she’s the closest thing she seemed to have had to a friend. It appears that she has been kidnapped (but Sun has to look into the alternative) and that the clock is ticking to find and rescue her.

Auri’s first day at the public high school is possibly rougher than her mom’s. Her mom has to deal with hardened criminals, but Auri has to deal with Mean Girls™ who seem to have taken a dislike to her before she even started school. Also, her one prospective friend seems to have gone missing. On the other hand, it’s not all bad—there’s a hot guy who might as well be named Byronic—brooding, poetic, soulful, with a penchant for physical violence. There’s also the bubbliest, cheeriest character this side of Sumi (from McGuire’s Wayward Children)—we didn’t get nearly enough time for her, and I hope that book 2 uses her for more.

It turns out that at Auri’s previous school, she basically was Veronica Mars—doing small investigations (which may or may not have used her mother’s police resources without Sun’s knowledge) for her classmates. She unleashes these tools in the hunt for Sybil and essentially has to fess up to her mother about what she’s done before.

Speaking of Veronica Mars, from the get-go (I was at 4% when I made my first note along these lines), I was comparing the relationship between Sun and Auri as a mix of Lorelai-and-Rory and Keith-and-Veronica (and that was before we learn about Auri’s extra-curricular activities). There’s a fantastic banter, the two clearly love each other with the kind of love that’s the dream of every parent, they both have intelligent and wicked senses of humor, and reading their interactions is probably the best thing in this really entertaining novel.* One of the first things that Sun tells Auri is a twisted first-day-of-school pep talk/warning about teen boys, that ends with a repeated call to ask herself WWLSD? What Would Lisbeth Salander Do? My daughter leaves for college in a few months, I plan on adapting this speech. That’s probably also the moment I decided I read the sequel to this book.

* As a sentence, that’s a mess, but I like it.

I wish I knew how to work in a mention of Sun and Quincy talking about why they couldn’t be K-9 officers, but I can’t blend it into one of these paragraphs. So I’ll just leave it hanging here awkardly. But man, I loved that part.

There’s actually a lot more going on in these pages—but I think there’s enough to whet your appetite. There is a lot of serious, dark, material here—child abduction, murder. Something happened to Sun, too, while she was in high school and the hunt for Sybil digs up some traumatic memories (and evidence). Yet, without once minimizing any of the dangerous, solemn qualities of what Sun, Sybil, Sybil’s parents, and others are going through—Jones makes this a delightful read.

Could I have lived without the three impossibly attractive men who are all into Sun (and vice versa, to varying degrees)? Yeah, it’s a bit much (but Jones made it endearing, actually). I hope future installments dial back a bit on that kind of thing. I’m giving one of those men short shrift, mostly because of time, but I know that in the next book (or the rest of the series), I’ll get plenty of opportunities to talk about him.

Similarly, Sun’s Chief Deputy, Quincy, and some of the other deputies should probably get a paragraph or three, but you’ll have to read for yourself. They’re plenty of fun, and really help to round out the cast (along with the rest of Del Sol’s residents). Jones’ Del Sol, NM is closer to Stars Hollow, CT than Neptune, CA (but you can find traces of the latter in there)—full of larger-than-life characters that you just want to hang out with. Or sit and watch from across the room (or street).

This is as much fun as you can pack into a police procedural without making it a comedy, but still full of grim, grisly, depravity and darkness. It’s a nice serving of literary comfort food. There’s a freshness to this voice that made me a fan, but my appreciation for this book (and the series it launches) goes deeper. I want to find out more about what happened to the teen-aged Sun (although I have pretty strong theories), but more than that, I want to find out what happens to Sun and Auri—particularly Auri—after this.

I strongly recommend this, you’ll have a blast.

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

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Classic Spenser: God Save the Child by Robert B. Parker

Classic Spenser

God Save the Child

God Save the Child

by Robert B. Parker
Series: Spenser, #2

Mass Market Paperback, 202 pg.
Dell Publishing Co., 1974

Read: February 25, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

He hunched the chair forward and wrote a check on the edge of my desk with a translucent ballpoint pen. Bartlett Construction was imprinted in the upper left corner of the check—I was going to be a business expense. Deductible. One keg of 8d nails, 500 feet of 2×4 utility grade, one gumshoe, 100 gallons of creosote stain. I took the check without looking at it and slipped it folded into my shirt pocket, casual, like I got them all the time and it was just something to pass along to my broker. Or maybe I’d buy some orchids with it.

A nice bit of description, a bit of wit and a Nero Wolfe reference. Not a bad start.

I’m not certain, but I think this was the first Spenser novel that I purchased, and I’d read a handful before then (my then local library started with book 3). It was a new copy (an extravagance for me then), and justing by the state it’s in, I may have to buy myself a replacement copy after one or two more reads. Actually, it may not survive another whole read (that back cover is holding on by strength of will).

Which is just a long-winded way to say that it’s not like I read this with fresh eyes.

Roger (call him “Rog”) and Marge Bartlett have come to Spenser for help finding their fourteen-year-old son, Kevin, who has seemingly run away from home with the clothes on his back and his pet guinea pig. He’s been gone a week, and the local police haven’t been able to do much. Spenser assures them that unlike the police, the only thing he has to focus on his hunting for Kevin—not breaking up fights, ticketing speeders, arresting drunks, etc.—”Also, maybe I’m smarter than they are.”

During their initial consultation, we see that the couple is also a bit more focused on other things than Kevin. Marge is sure to work in references to her acting and cooking classes, she’s a self-described creative person who has to express it. Rog seems a bit more focused on the bottom line (which he might need to be, since Marge seems to spend money like it’s going out of style). By the end of the book, my impression is that Rog is trying to do the right thing for his family, has some real concern over Kevin, but maybe doesn’t know how to show it. Marge is too self-involved for my taste and doesn’t come across very well (and has some other problems I won’t get into). But when the chips are down, both will selflessly and reflexively react to help their son. Their daughter, Kevin’s younger sister, is practically ignored throughout and I always feel bad for her. We’ll see an echo of this couple (with significant variations) in Promised Land in a couple of months.

The Bartletts live in Smithfield, which a fictionalized version of Lynnfield, MA. There are some pretty good reasons that Parker probably had to change the name in this novel, but as Spenser spends time in almost every novel since in Smithfield, I wonder if he ever regretted it.

Police Chief Trask is this close to being a tough-guy cartoon of a cop. He’s far more concerned with making sure that Spenser knows that he’s running the show than he is in anything Spenser has to say on their initial meeting (and he doesn’t improve much after this). He’s done some checking on Spenser and the two banter a bit about Spenser’s record. Well, Spenser banters and Trask tries to push him around, anyway.

Before Spenser can do too much on his own to find Kevin, a very strange looking ransom note shows up. Which brings the Massachusetts State Police, in the person of Lt. Healy, into things.

Healy I knew of . He was chief investigator for the Essex County DA”s office. There were at least two first-run racketeers I knew who stayed out of Essex County because they didn’t want any truck with him.

Healy said, ‘Didn’t you used to work for the Suffolk County DA once?”

I said, “Yes.”

“Didn’t they fire you for hotdogging?”

“I like to call it inner-directed behavior,” I said.

“I’ll bet you do.” Healy said.

Healy is tough, smart and ethical—and has little respect for Trask. He and Spenser work together pretty well, and Healy will appear or be mentioned in another dozen Spenser novels before making regular appearances in the Jesse Stone books.

From this point, things get strange—the ransom note is just the beginning, and a strange kidnapping will evolve into a murder case, a drugs and prostitution ring, and . . . well, more things. As with The Godwulf Manuscript the climactic fight involves two people who have no business engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Unlike last time, Spenser’s not sidelined for this fight and gets involved as well—it’s one of my favorite fight scenes in the series. Parker shows off his knowledge of and affinity for boxing here. Spenser’s motive for engaging in the fight isn’t necessarily pure, and I kind of like how honest Parker and Spenser both are about that.

As nice as that scene is, that’s not the end of the story—and whatever victory Spenser enjoys, it’s empty. Which is a nod to Spenser’s noir lineage and something that will show up again and again in the series.

While we’re introduced to Spenser in the previous novel, it doesn’t feel quite like a Spenser novel. But God Save the Child does. The same flavor, pacing, and approach to the story that are here are in almost every thing that Parker does with the character from this point forward. The character will evolve from novel to novel, but the series really starts here.

Possibly the biggest reason for that is that it’s in these pages we meet Susan Silverman. She’s the guidance counselor at Smithfield High School and after the Assistant Principal demonstrates that he’s useless for giving Spenser any insight into Kevin, she’s who Spenser turns to. Spenser’s described quite a few women prior to this, but from the first paragraph, Susan’s different.

Susan Silverman wasn’t beautiful. but there was an intangibility about her a physical reality, that made the secretary with the lime-green bosom seem insubstantial. She had should-length black hair and a thin dark Jewish face with prominent cheekbones. Tall, maybe five seven, with black eyes. It was hard to tell her age, but there was a sense about her of intelligent maturity which put her on my side of thirty…When she shook hands with me, I felt something click down the back of my solar plexus.

I said hello without stammering and sat down.

Parker’s not quite as blatant about it as Henry Fielding is about Sophie (for those who’ve been reading my Fridays with the Foundling series), but he’s fairly obvious in the way he portrays Susan in this scene (not to mention the several that follow) that she’s different. Exceptional. She ends up being the love of Spenser’s life and shows up in every book hereafter. But for now, they’re just meeting, but there’s a spark between the two of them and Spenser soon asks her to dinner.

I had just finished washing my hands and face when the doorbell rang. Everything was ready. Ah, Spenser, what a touch. Everything was just right except that I couldn’t seem to find a missing child. Well, nobody’s perfect. I pushed the release button and opened my apartment door. I was wrong. Susan Silverman was perfect.

It took nearly forty years of savior faire to keep from saying “Golly.”…

“Come in,” I said. Very smooth. I didn’t scuff my foot; I didn’t mumble. I stood right up straight when I said it. I don’t think I blushed.

During their date, Susan makes the following observation about Spenser,

So, sticking your nose into things and getting it broken allows you to live life on your own terms, perhaps.

Spenser is impressed with this insight—and it’s a recurring theme for the two of them to talk about for the next few decades—with each other or when Susan tries to explain Spenser to others. The choices he’s made in his life—relational, vocational, lifestyle, what have you—are all about living life on his own terms. There’s a lot to be commended in this approach, and some problems (in two books we meet a more extreme version of someone living this way…but that’s for another day). Another frequent thing that comes up in their conversations appeared for the first time when they met.

“Why do you want to know?” [Susan asks]

“Because it’s there. Because it’s better to know than not to know in my line of work.”

If I had a quarter for every time the two of them said this (sometimes he does the set up), I’d be able to buy my replacement copy of this book.

It’s not just because they say the same things in almost every book (wow, it sounds dull when I put it that way—it’s not, at least not for several years), it’s the effect that Susan has on Spenser that changes the series. It made Spenser stand out from the rest of the genre’s tough guys. I could go on and on about Susan or Susan-and-Spenser, but I’ll hold off on it for now.

As chapter two begins, we’re treated to four long paragraphs (about two pages in my edition) describing the route between Boston and Smithfield, with commentary from Spenser on the scenery, traffic, businesses, etc. that he comes across. This is something that Parker excels at—and doesn’t do nearly often enough (but at least once a book). I’ve never been in that part of the world, I defiantly can’t go to the version of that area that existed in 1974—but I walk away from this description feeling like I know the area.

As far as recurring characters go (other than Healy and Susan), Frank Belson makes a quick appearance, and we meet Henry Cimoli—who runs the Harbor Health Club, Spenser’s gym. Henry’s importance will ebb and flow (as will the frequency of appearances) over the rest of the series, but he’s a constant enough presence that it’s good to meet him for the first time here.

There’s a lot more that could be mined from these pages, but this has gotten too long. I may pick up a strand or two in the future, but we’ll see. God Save the Child seems to be a story about a runaway (or a kidnapping?), but really it’s about a young man struggling to understand his place in the world, parents who aren’t sure how to parent, and a detective starting to change his place in the world. There’s a lot of wit, some good social commentary, some decent detecting, and a great fight scene—all expertly and (seemingly) effortlessly written. That’s a reductionistic way to look at it, but that’s a Spenser novel in a nutshell. I loved revisiting it, and can’t wait to get to the next book.

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Pub Day Repost: The K Team by David Rosenfelt: A New PI Trio Takes a Bite Out of Crime

The K Team

The K Team

by David Rosenfelt
Series: The K Team, #1

eARC, 304 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2020

Read: March 13-16, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!


After 20+ books (and counting!) in a series, what’s an author to do? Well, if you have the dog food bills that David Rosenfelt must have (seriously, check out the photos on his website or Facebook page of the dogs he and his wife shelter), you create a spin-off. I found myself comparing the books a lot in the paragraphs that follow—I won’t make a habit out of it as the series progresses, but I kept comparing them as I read, so that’s how I think of the book. I hope it doesn’t get too tiring.

In 2019’s Dachshund Through the Snow, we met Former Paterson NJ police officer Corey Douglas and his German Shepherd partner, Simon Garfunkel. At the end of that novel, Corey had decided to join forces with Laurie and Marcus to form a detective agency. This is their first case—and what a way to start!

Longtime Andy Carpenter antagonist, the harsh, yet fair, Judge Henry Henderson (aka Hatchet) hires the team to look into a blackmailer trying to pressure the judge into something. He doesn’t know what the blackmailer wants yet, but he knows there’s enough to damage (probably fatally!) his career. The arrangement they enter into means that Andy won’t be able to try a case before Hatchet again—which bummed me out, he wasn’t a constant presence in those novels, but a frequent one—probably the only judge’s name I recognized. I enjoyed watching Andy squirm around the judge.

But now, it’s Hatchet’s turn to squirm. The blackmailers (well, potential blackmailers—he’s quick to note they haven’t actually broken the law yet), have some manufactured evidence to make it look like he’s crooked. He’s not, and has enough of a reputation and goodwill to weather the storm. Probably. But the hint of scandal would taint his record and probably force him off the bench.

So, Corey, Laurie, and Marcus get to work—looking into cases the judge presided over and could be alleged to have influenced. Before long, the threats get more real and bodies start appearing (or, disappearing, in some cases). And well, that’s really all I can safely say. But fans of the Andy Carpenter books will be familiar with the way things play out—and new readers will be entertained by it, too.

Marcus doesn’t do much more (especially on the dialogue front) in The K Team than he does in a typical Andy Carpenter book, he’s basically an unintelligible superhuman (yeah, the jokes about the protagonist’s inability to understand him are of the same genus as the ones in the Carpenter novels, but they’re a different species coming from Corey—I was surprised at how refreshing that was). I think he probably gets a little more space devoted to him than he typically gets, but he does basically what we’re used to seeing. There are a couple of exceptions, including what I believe is the longest hand-to-hand fight scene we’ve seen from him.

Even Laurie isn’t featured as much as I expected. Actually, that’s an understatement. I assumed that this would be Laurie’s series with a couple of sidekicks—or maybe an equally Laurie and Corey series with Marcus showing up to do his thing every now and then. Maybe a third person kind of thing alternating between focusing on each character. But no, this is first person from Corey’s POV—so we get a lot of Laurie, but most of what she did was off-screen, only teaming up with Corey for bigger moments or to discuss what they’d done together. It’s not what I expected, but I can live with it (I just wish she’d get to shine a bit more).

So, Corey…we get to know him a bit better here than we did in his first appearance, obviously. He’s single—deliberately—and very devoted to Simon (but not the same way that Andy is to Tara), they worked together and are now shifting to a new career together. Corey’s a bit more willing to leave Simon out of some of the action than say, Bernie Little is (eager, occasionally, for Simon’s safety). He’s a movie buff—a little bit of a nerd about them, it seems—and I look forward to seeing this more. He’s good at his job, still a straight arrow (the kind of cop he was), but is discovering that he’s more willing to color outside the lines than he thought. I’m looking forward to getting to know him better.

The humor is a similar style to the one employed in the Andy Carpenter books, but it’s not Andy’s voice in a different body. Corey is distinctive, but fans of the one will tend to enjoy the other. That’s half the point (maybe 70% of the point) of a spin-off, right? Similar, but not equal—that applies for the voice, the humor, and the story.

If you’ve never read an Andy Carpenter book, don’t worry. Just think of this as the good idea it is—a team of PI’s working together instead of a lone operator with an occasional side-kick. A trio is so rare in the PI fiction biz that I can’t wait to see it at work more in future installments. I enjoyed this enough that I’m ready to read the next two at least. There was so much set-up to The K Team that Rosenfelt almost had to shoe-horn the plot around it. This was a good intro to the series, but I’m looking forward to seeing what Rosenfelt has in store for the team now that he’s been able to establish things.

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


3.5 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prize by Marco Ocram: Metaficton, Murders, and Tom Cruise, Oh My!

The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prizhttp://tattoolit.com/e

The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prize

by Marco Ocram
Series: The Awful Truth, #1

Kindle Edition, 346 pg.
Tiny Fox Press, 2019

Read: March 17-20, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

With notable exceptions—among whom I would include you, my friend—writers are the most egotistical of all humans. The desire to be published is a desire for attention. When one writer draws less attention than another they suffer a humiliating insult to their psychological ego centres.

After compiling last Saturday’s Miscellany post, and thinking about this book, I’ve decided that I really should have read The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker before starting this one. Just what I’ve gleaned online about this book makes it seem like Denis Shaughnessy Marco Ocram was fairly influenced on it for at least the backstory and a couple of the character names for this present novel. I’m curious about how much more than that I’d have picked up if I’d read Dicker before the palindromic Ocram, but it’s not a necessary pre-requisite.

I have, however, read Mark Leyner’s Et Tu, Babe, which this novel also reminded me of. I’m pretty sure I haven’t come across anything in Crime Fiction that I could compare to Leyner before, so that’s saying something.

The Ocram that’s the narrator of The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prize, like the protagonist Leyner, is a mega-selling author and celebrity, master of multiple disciplines. One thing that Ocram can do that Leyner couldn’t* is he can shape the course of the novel—or a scene he’s in the middle of—because he’s writing his reality. Which I hope makes sense. (Think of the movie Stranger than Fiction, but Will Ferrell’s character is calling the shots).

* As I recall, anyway. It’s been a couple of decades since my last re-read.

In an attempt to get out of watching sports with his friend, the Chief of Police Como Galahad, Ocram invents a body down at the port. The two go to investigate and end up in dealing with criminals from around the globe in a scheme that defies reason (but makes a lot of sense when the details are revealed).

Most of the book is truly outlandish and implausible, but it fits this tour of absurdity better than you could imagine.

The weakness of this book comes from its strength and premise, the novel is so clever and adheres so much to the conceit that it gets in the way of telling a good story with some depth to the characters. It’s still a decent story with amusing characters—but I think if the writer had pulled back a little from his commitment to the premise it’d be a better novel. Of course, if he had, I’d probably complain about him pulling his punches. So take this with a handful of salt.

“I heard six shots. You didn’t get him with any of them?”

“No, but they think I hit his car.”

“Good shooting. Next time I need to hit a barn door from ten paces I’ll ask you along for advice.”

“It’s easy to be sarcastic, but don’t forget I’ve never used a gun before.”

“That’s true. At least you worked out which was the shooty end. Could have been messy otherwise.

The humor is sometimes as subtle as a sledgehammer attacking a watermelon. Then within a sentence or two, something will be slipped in so cleverly that I had to re-read it a couple of times to make sure that what I thought was funny was supposed to be. I generally preferred the latter, but some of the obvious jokes were so well done that I don’t want to knock the frequent lack of subtlety. I’ve gone back to this next line so many times over the last couple of days, and still chuckle at it:

He’s meant to be one of the most intelligent people in the world. An autodidact too.”

“He can spout as much about cars as he likes…

The metafictional aspect of the novel is largely used for humorous ends—although sometimes it’s a tool to progress the plot, too. Sure, sometimes it’s used for loftier ends (à la Leyner’s work), but the emphasis here is for entertainment value. Which saves it from becoming a self-indulgent, pretentious mess rather than being what it is: self-indulgent fun. Here’s a few lines (I could produce many more) as illustration:

Which left the agency driver—just as I’d suspected when I made him up.

It was the oldest plot twist in the book (so far, anyway). I wagged my head at the thought of how predictable it all was.

Back in the car park, I made a convenient continuity error and climbed into my black Range Rover, hoping my readers wouldn’t remember that I’d left it at a burnt-out warehouse three chapters ago.

There are a couple of instances where the author switches from past tense to present because the events being described are so intense. I found myself grinning while reading each time it happened. It’s a delightfully inspired choice.

I chuckled, I looked up a couple of words, I wondered about the author’s sanity and really enjoyed myself while reading this. Sure, I wanted a little more depth, a little more reason to connect with any of the characters or the story—but I knew I wasn’t supposed to. The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prize is an impressive novel, clever and amusing—and if you can embrace the absurdity behind it, you’ll be glad you read it (and you’ll probably still enjoy it if you don’t fully get on board with the absurdity, but you’ll have to work harder for it).


3.5 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prize by Marco Ocram

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Tour for the absurd metafictional humorous Crime Novel The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prize by Marco Ocram (did I get all the adjectives in there?). Following this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?


Book Details:

Book Title: b>The Awful Truth About the Sushing Prize by Marco Ocram
Release date: June 4, 2019
Format: Ebook
Length: 346 pages

Book Blurb:

Should I tell him about Sushing or play dumb?

Sticking in my comfort zone, I played dumb.

Writer Marco Ocram has a secret superpower—whatever he writes actually happens, there and then. Hoping to win the million-dollar Sushing Prize, he uses his powers to write a true-crime thriller, quickly discovering a freakish murder. But Marco has a major problem—he’s a total idiot who can’t see beyond his next sentence. Losing control of his plot and his characters, and breaking all the rules of fiction, Marco writes himself into every kind of trouble, until only the world’s most incredible ending can save his bacon.

Fast, funny, and utterly different, welcome to the weird world of The Awful Truth.

About Marco Ocram:

Marco Ocram is the world’s first self-written author-cum-protagonist. First imagined in 2015, he has gone on to infect the world of literature with two awful anti-thrillers which subvert the tropes of mainstream fiction. Heavily dosed with nuanced intertextuality, the books make little literal sense, and will strike you either as hilarious spoofs or utter nonsense, depending upon your taste in such matters.

Social Networks:

Twitter ~ Website

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ Waterstones ~ Book Depository

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

COVER REVEAL: Death in Smoke by Barbara Elle

Welcome to The Irresponsible Reader’s part in the Cover Reveal for Barbara Elle’s Death in Smoke! Thanks to Time Zones and whatnot, this isn’t so much a Cover Reveal as much as it is a Cover Confirmation at this point, but that’s being a little pedantic. There’s a spiffy looking cover down below, but before the picture, I’ve got a few words to share about the book.

Book Blurb

She stumbled on a bloodied body buried in a snowbank. Will a cold case in Kansas lead her to the killer?

Against a canvas of crime and murder, artist and detective Leila Goodfriend investigates two brutal murders that happened a thousand miles—and decades apart.

As she unravels the truth about these two violent killings, she tracks a trail of blood and revenge, littered with smoke screens and stone relics of a perilous past. From Cape Cod to a casino in Kansas, Leila has to trust her instincts. And her developing relationship with Detective John Grace is put to a new, dangerous test.

Despite the detective’s warnings, Leila puts her life at risk, obsessed with proving her friend’s innocence, at least of murder.

She exposes new suspects and clues, and in the end, reveals a dark, deadly secret from her own past.

Death In Smoke, the new psychological thriller from acclaimed author Barbara Elle, takes readers on an inner and physical journey across time, challenging your assumptions about what is truth—what remains a mystery.

Buy Link

https://amzn.to/2SRgVYd


The Author

Barbara ElleIn her stunning debut thriller, Death In Vermilion (The Cape Mysteries Book 1), acclaimed author Barbara Elle paints a clever and twisted picture of women and sisters, whose lives are entwined by a brutal murder in a Cape Cod town. Who can you trust?

Now, Death In Smoke (The Cape Mysteries Book 2) asks what’s the connection between a bloodied body buried in a snow bank on a remote island off the Cape and a cold case in Kansas? Can artist and amateur sleuth Leila Goodfriend solve this new mystery?

Barbara Elle fell in love with books and writing at a young age, honing her writing chops as a copywriter at major publishers and as a freelance journalist.

Growing up in Boston, but she became a New Yorker as an adult. Her writing draws on people and places she remembers, setting The Cape Mysteries on Cape Cod, a place of memories.

Barbara Elle continues collecting characters and plots, often traveling the world with her touring musician husband, bass player and musical director for rock and roll icon Cyndi Lauper. In her travels, Barbara has explored Buddhist temples in Beijing, crypts in Vienna and Kabuki Theater in Tokyo.


Without further ado…

The Cover


That smoke just makes your eyes sting a bit, doesn’t it? Great moody cover.

You can get your hands on this cover (and the novel it goes with!) at https://amzn.to/2SRgVYd. I know I will.



My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this reveal and the materials they provided.

Love Books Group