‘One Punch’ by Keith Dixon


One Punch

When former cop Paul Storey takes a job with ex-boxer Bran Doyle, it’s obvious nothing is going to be straightforward. But as Storey begins to dissect the politics and relationships within his new employer’s household, he also learns that Doyle is of interest to the police. Working out what’s really happening, and why, means keeping his eyes open and considering his options. When a dead body turns up, Storey wonders if he’s made a bad decision…

Continuing the adventures of his newest hero, indie author Keith Dixon is adept at keeping the reader in suspense. While on the surface nothing much seems to happen, the clues to something bigger pile up, leaving a sense of unease about what Storey has got himself into this time. As always, the characters are clearly defined, but with just enough information to keep us guessing about who’ll be on the right side when the crap hits the fan.

The first book in this series (Storey), had me gripped from the start and this one is no different. Though Dixon’s writing appears deceptively simple, he has a knack of building tension so slowly we are barely aware of it. The language is clever and witty, with an originality that’s a sheer delight. As with the first book, plot-wise it’s another slow-burner, but it’s also very difficult to put down.

A cracking good read from a highly talented writer.

 
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‘The Wicked Boy’ by Kate Summerscale


The Wicked Boy

(Audio Book)
In July 1895, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his younger brother travel to Lord’s to watch a cricket match. The trip heralds the start of a spending spree for the two boys who are soon observed pawning items from their family home and taking jaunts to the seaside in the company of grown-up friend Mr Fox. But when neighbours summon the police after noticing an unusual smell coming from the house, the decaying body of the boys’ mother is discovered in an upstairs room.

Kate Summerscale’s account of the trial and aftermath surrounding this horrendous crime, is a fascinating and absorbing read. Her research has uncovered many previously unknown details concerning the murder and the court case. She pays particular attention to the Coombes boys and the likely influences on their behaviour. However, rather than simply relating a history of the murder and its immediate repercussions, Summerscale uncovers what happened in the years following the killing in an attempt to determine if Robert was mad, bad, or merely the victim of circumstance, upbringing and his surroundings.

What I particularly liked about this book was the way the author widens the scope of her story to include details of related individuals and events. Her narrative gives a complete picture of what life was like for the characters populating this dreadful affair, while at the same time never allowing herself to inflict the reader with anything other than the facts of the case.

A vividly descriptive and highly informative book.

 
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‘The Rats’ by James Herbert


The Rats

A race of unusually large black rats creep out from their lair looking for food. But when the creatures get a taste for human flesh, the corpses quickly pile up. Discovering the rats also carry a fatal virus, it becomes apparent to the authorities that a new and very dangerous challenge faces humanity. One of the first to witness the carnage, school-teacher Harris realises he knows more about them than anyone else and joins a team of specialists tasked with ridding London of the deadly vermin. But things don’t go to plan…

A few months back, I read a James Herbert novel I hadn’t come across before. ‘Creed’ reminded me that even though I’d read (and forgotten) lots of the author’s work as a teenager, there were also several of his twenty-three books I’d never got around to. I first read this one many years ago, along with similar titles (such as the wonderful ‘Horror Stories’ series published by Pan). And of course, I discovered Mr Herbert had plenty more to match ‘The Rats’, such as ‘The Dark’, ‘The Fog’ and the others in the Rats Trilogy, ‘Lair’ and ‘Domain’.

Back in 1974, it was James Herbert who resuscitated Britain’s place in the horror genre and led readers and fans to discover the likes of Stephen King, HP Lovecraft and Clive Barker. Though I don’t recall how it affected me at the time, I’m heartened to find ‘The Rats’ is still a pretty chilling read.

 
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‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

(Audio Book)
Following his adventures with Tom Sawyer and the murderous Injun Joe, Huck Finn fakes his own death to escape his alcoholic father and with his slave pal Jim, travels down the Mississippi through the Deep South.

I tried reading this book many years ago but was never able to finish it. Getting my hands on the audio version however, was a great way to have another go. Elijah Wood narrates superbly, providing a wonderful variety of voices and accents and bringing out the humour in the book to great effect. If, like me, you find the sheer length of the novel a bit daunting, this is a perfect way to enjoy it.

 
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‘The Cleaner’ by Mark Dawson


The Cleaner

Secret Government problem solver John Milton sorts out things that the usual agencies can’t touch. When the results of his most recent assassination job begin to prick his conscience, Milton wonders if it’s time to get out and do something different. Trouble is, his boss doesn’t agree – simply leaving the ‘service’ isn’t an option. However, while reflecting on his future, Milton finds himself in a situation that demands quick thinking. In saving the life of a young mother, the former killer is given a new perspective – perhaps he can make up for his past by helping the woman and her wayward son?

This is the first of Mark Dawson’s John Milton series and I’m happy to say it got off to a cracking start. I was gripped from the beginning and could hardly bear to put it down. The writing is tight and to the point, with a whole host of interesting and dangerous characters. Be warned, though, there’s a massive body-count in this one and the hero probably isn’t someone you’d want to invite round for dinner.

The comparison to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is often bandied about in relation to Milton, yet while the characters are similar in terms of their abilities, I’d say they don’t have a lot in common. In any case, ‘The Cleaner’ is a great read and I’m already looking forward to the next volume.

 
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‘Look Fast or Die Slow’ by David Six


Look Fast or Die Slow

When a serial killer taunts Frank Bruno with mysterious messages, the former detective is puzzled to say the least. The murderer’s victims – brutally butchered – are piling up rapidly and it soon becomes obvious that the trail of bodies leads straight to Frank’s own door. While his ex-partner, Lieutenant Rita “Sally” Salvanian, tries to keep her pal out of danger, Bruno’s latest love interest is also getting in the way – as well as his other girlfriend, Emily. Faced with an apparently senseless series of killings, Frank and Sal race to untie the knot of clues before it’s too late.

Rather stupidly, I hadn’t realised this book is the second in the Bruno and Salvanian series – that’ll teach me to read the blurbs properly! Nevertheless, it works well as a stand-alone and the snippets of back-story were enough to fill me in on what I’d missed in book one. As with the previous novel I’d read by this author (For Weeds Will Grow), the narrative sucked me in like a giant leech on a fleshy buttock, and the twisty-turny plot kept me captivated right to the end. David Six’s characters might be well-rounded, but they’re also intriguing, and he has a knack of creating those solidly-built relationships that, as we all know, are the foundations of a great novel. The humour too, while a bit off the wall at times, helps lighten the load as the plot slides through a series of very bloody murders.

The narrative occasionally felt a little more drawn-out than it needed to be, although that could have been my own eagerness to reach the end (it was hard to resist skipping forward to the next gory bit), and while the denouement wasn’t exactly a ‘twist’, it did take me by surprise, which is nice. All in all, ‘Look Fast or Die Slow’ is a brilliant book that, for those of you with strong stomachs, will grab you by the dangly bits and drag you kicking and screaming all the way to the last page.

 
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