‘A Thin Line’ by David Boiani

A Thin Line
A Thin Line
4-stars
Seattle detective John Corbin spends his working life catching rapists, murderers and paedophiles, but a new killer is on the prowl, ridding the world of villains before the police can intervene. As Corbin discovers more bodies, he is faced with a dilemma – the gap between good and evil appears to grow ever smaller, and Corbin begins to wonder if he knows the difference any more. And if that’s the case, what should he do about it?

David Boiani has written an interesting novel, where instead of the usual police procedural, we follow the central character (Corbin) as he struggles to deal with the horror and suffering he faces every day. The story is peppered with some pretty grisly scenes (wonderfully described BTW), so those not possessed of a cast-iron stomach may want to give it a miss.

While this is a curious take on the usual cop/murder scenario, I found it hard to like the protagonist with his habit of dishing out advice and observations on life to all and sundry. He’s certainly a fascinating character, but by the time I finished the book, I’d had enough of him. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see what Mister Boiani comes up with next.

 
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‘The Last Days of Newgate’ by Andrew Pepper

Last Days of Newgate copy
The Last Days of Newgate
5 stars copy

1829, London. Following a suspect into the dark and dangerous rookeries, Bow Street Runner Pyke stumbles across a brutal murder. Finding himself involved in tracking down the killer, he is dragged into a deepening mystery that challenges all his talents as a thief taker. As the city seethes with religious and political upheaval, Pyke’s investigation uncovers a web of intrigue that refuses to give up its secrets. Then, when someone close to him is found dead, Pyke is accused of murder and thrown into gaol. With the death penalty hanging over him and only his headstrong uncle and prison reformer Emily Blackwood for support, the wily hero fights to clear his name and find the real killer.

The first in the ‘Pyke Mysteries’ series, this is a fast-paced pre-Victorian thriller that delights in the blood-and-guts reality of 1800s London. Andrew Pepper has created a very believable and atmospheric setting for his protagonist that bristles with accuracy and credibility. Pyke, however, is no clean-cut hero and his methods of extracting information from the villains and ne’er-do-wells that people his world, are often every bit as brutal and unforgiving as those of the murderers he’s chasing. The thrills are a-plenty and the attention to detail only adds to the excitement. Can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.

 
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Squeeze it Like Arnie

Squeeze it Like Arnie 350

Over the last few months I’ve read and reviewed a fair number of books, and while most of them were enjoyable (good story, interesting characters etc), I kept coming across one particular issue. Now while this issue doesn’t cause me to chuck the book out the damn window, it’s quite irksome and constantly distracts me from the plot. Which is never a good thing.

So what am I taking about? Contractions. That’s right – those shortened versions of longer phrases, such as I’ve (I have), should’ve (should have), won’t (will not) etc.

Although it’s absolutely fine and grammatically correct to use the longer versions, when it comes to dialogue there are several reasons why authors might want to squeeze those sentences and use the contracted form:

  • To give the character a more authentic voice, showing how they might actually talk.
  • To vary the style of the dialogue and differentiate more clearly between the dialogue of different characters
  • To avoid all the characters sounding like robots.

Examples
A character who is a bit of a ne-er-do-well, poorly educated, or just a bit of a Cockney Geezer, might say:

You are correct – I did remove the item from the man’s pocket while his attention was otherwise engaged. Although I meant no harm by this action.

Trouble is, this makes him sound overly formal and a bit posh. Maybe it’d be more interesting like this:

You’re right – I took it out of his pocket when he wasn’t lookin’. Didn’t mean no ‘arm though, did I?

Okay, I admit that’s a slight exaggeration. Here’s a few more straightforward examples:

The car was not speeding – do you not agree, officer?

The car wasn’t speeding – don’t you agree, officer?

I will speak to him later.

I’ll speak to him later.

It is not a good idea.

It’s not a good idea. / It isn’t a good idea.

Do not be ridiculous – she will be fine as soon as we kill Dracula.

Don’t be ridiculous. She’ll be fine as soon as we kill Dracula.

One final thought – best-selling author Maria Murnane pointed out that dialogue without contractions can leave your characters sounding a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but even Arnie uses contractions occasionally:

I’ll be back.

How to Tweet Nice

Tweet Nice copy
One of the things I love about the online writing community, is how supportive everyone is, promoting each other’s books, blogs and anything else that needs a bit of publicity. However, this bonhomie doesn’t extend to everyone and there are a few writers whose work I regularly re-tweet or otherwise endorse, who rarely (if ever) reciprocate.

But that’s okay, cos it’s nice to be nice. And that was my solid opinion. Until today. Because today, a blogger who I’ve subscribed to for months, and whose posts I always read, retweet and generally put the word out about, blocked me on Twitter. And I thought WTF?

Now okay, I don’t expect the whole planet to love everything I do – it’s the old horses for courses thing and that’s fine, but (and I know I’m repeating myself here), WTF?

Okay, rant over. So here are my universal tactics vis-a-vis being nice on the old Twitteroonie-sphere:

    If someone re-tweets me, I retweet them (having first checked they’re not a Porn King, Terrorist, Trump Supporter or an otherwise stupid person).

    If someone follows one of my blogs, I check out theirs and follow/comment/tweet as appropriate.

    If I like what someone has to say, even if we don’t follow each other, I’ll happily retweet. Sharing is good.

    If I follow someone and they send me an automatic DM urging me to check out a link or whatever, I ignore them. I like the traditional approach, you know – you write a message to me and I reply. That sort of thing.

    If someone follows me, I look at their profile. If they’re one of the Nice People who share stuff and reciprocate, that’s fine. If they only tweet their own crap, I ain’t interested bro.

    Now, even though I’m exceptionally Nice, I’m not going to thank every single person who takes time to retweet my stuff – I’d be on Twitter all damn day! I say thank you by following/retweeting etc. And sometimes I’ll say thank you by knocking up an image on Photoshop with a link etc that promotes the work of the person concerned. But again, I’m not doing that for everyone, so if I retweet you, that’s me saying ‘Ta mate!’

Right, now I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to go back to that novel I’m supposed to be writing…

‘Dead Dogs and Splintered Hearts’ by Tom Ward

Dead Dogs and Splintered Hearts
Dead Dogs and Splintered Hearts
5 stars copy

In this collection of 24 short stories, writer Tom Ward drops us into a world of love, death and dancing. Though held together by the book’s general theme (pooches and broken hearts), the subject matter ranges from Parisian cabaret and a house disturbed by the ghostly presence of Norman Mailer, to a predatory sports master and an intern frantic for the latest craze in magazine literature. Ward presents a fascinating mix of delicate prose and unconventional narratives that tackles relationships head on and doesn’t take any prisoners.

Reading this series of diverse tales, I was aware that some, such as ‘The Sweetest Meat’, and ‘A Walk in the Park’ were well crafted and clever, though a little predictable in their structure. Others however, like the haunting ‘Glass Flowers’ with its lyrical, almost poetical style, and the ridiculous but witty ‘The Intern and The Exploding Magazine’, made me think this guy really knows what he’s doing.

There are many masters of the short story form whose work occasionally has me wracking my brains as to the actual point of their tales. Similarly, a few of Mr Ward’s narratives finished abruptly, leaving me wondering if I’d missed something. One or two even had me thinking they’d been written by someone else, but maybe that’s the point. Tom Ward clearly has a ton of talent and I’ll be very interested to see what he offers up next.

I was offered an electronic version of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
 
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‘Betrayal’ by Sharon Brownlie

Betrayal
Betrayal
4-stars

Caught in an endless spiral of rejection and abuse, Helen King is lured into a life of drugs and prostitution. Struggling to relinquish her addiction, she happens upon a former teacher, an encounter that opens up old wounds and sparks a new challenge – retribution. Trailing the teacher to Scotland, Helen sets out to track down all the people from her past who’ve let her down. And when she finds them, she plots her revenge.

The story alternates between the protagonist and the police team, where, in a male-dominated world, Detective Inspector Belinda Brennan is tasked with investigating an apparently motiveless murder. But the investigation is hindered by lack of evidence and with very little to go on, the motive for the killing eludes them. When a second body is discovered, however, the police begin to see connections between the two murders and soon find themselves in a race against time to identify who will be next on the killer’s list.

The author has an interesting writing style and tackles the uncomfortable subject matter with an unrestrained approach. Some of the characters (such as ‘Toofy’) were particularly well drawn, though I found the members of the investigating team the most interesting. This is not a tale for fainthearted readers, and while I felt empathy for the main character, she is not particularly likeable – her ‘solution’ to dealing with her tormentors didn’t sit easily with me.

Hard-hitting, gritty and at times, a difficult read.

 
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