‘Bad Debts’ by Peter Temple


 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
(Five Stars)
Occasional lawyer and part-time sleuth, Jack Irish is used to trouble. Taking work as a debt-collector he idles away his spare time at the racetrack or helping out in a cabinetmaker’s shop. But when a former client leaves a message on Jack’s answering machine, he ignores it until the next day, by which time the caller has been shot and killed. A sense of obligation pushes Jack to investigate, but while the case seems to go nowhere, things suddenly start to happen. Dangerous things.

This is the first volume in the Jack Irish Thriller series and the first I’ve read by Peter Temple. The author’s clever use of language, with its mix of Aussie colloquialisms and witty observations reminded me of James Ellroy, though the style is quite different. The story slides around for a while appearing to go nowhere in particular, but then the plot begins to fall into place, bringing the strands together and creating a clever and unexpected story that left me hungry for more. What I really liked was the way that, even though this is the first book, Temple presents his hero fully formed and raring to go.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.


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Writing the Fifties

 

 

 

 
 
 

NB This piece first appeared on B for Bookreview, as part of the ‘Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts’ Blog Tour.

Beginning a new murder/mystery series is always fun, but sometimes it can throw up a few additional challenges, so how did the first book in the Rosie Robson series get started?

Creating a murder mystery novel set in the mid-1950s didn’t seem to pose too much of a challenge, but once I’d started writing, I realised there was no way I could do my usual thing of just making everything up.

Born in Newcastle, I’m a child of the Sixties, and while I have strong memories of the city, many streets and buildings that were part of the landscape during the fifties, were long gone by the time I was old enough to notice. What I needed, were images of the area I wanted to write about, so I got hold of a couple of great books, one of which, photographer Jimmy Forsyth’s ‘Scotswood Road’, proved invaluable. I discovered a distinct lack of cars (and vehicles in general), often giving the West End of the city the appearance of a ghost town. Kids played in the streets, with no concern for traffic, and parents didn’t worry about leaving their front doors unlocked or letting the ‘bairns’ play out until dark. No doubt there would have been a criminal element in the area, but the fear of crime many people have these days didn’t exist in the same way.

To give the story a sense of realism, I wanted to include a few of those everyday items we all need—food, clothes, money etc. I found some of the things I’d taken for granted, either weren’t easily available, or simply hadn’t been invented. Ballpoint pens, for instance, were in existence in the early part of the decade, but at an equivalent cost of £80.00 (in today’s money), were a luxury most people couldn’t afford—if you had to write something, you’d use a pencil, or if you were really lucky, a fountain pen.

The families in ‘Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts’ are either working class or what we used to call lower middle class. Most don’t have telephones at home and have to use call boxes. One thing that still existed when I was a kid, was the old A and B buttons—after putting your money in and dialling the number, you pressed button A to connect the call, or button B to get your money back.

Music plays a big part in the story too, and I spent a lot of time listening to music that would have been available in 1955. Songs like Cotton Crop Blues, Mambo Italiano and Under the Bridges of Paris would have been familiar to Rosie Robson and her band, but with television still relatively in its infancy, there was no Top of the Pops to keep people up to date with the hit parade. However, Oh Boy! Six-Five Special and Jukebox Jury did make it onto our screens before the end of the decade, beginning in 1957, 1958 and 1959 respectively. New dramas hit TV screens too, in 1954 and 1955 with cop shows like Fabian of the Yard and Dixon of Dock Green, which gave people an insight into what the police did, even if they weren’t terribly realistic. In 1954, almost a third of households had TV sets. By the end of the decade, this figure would rise to three-quarters.

In the story, one of the locations is a nightclub. Several venues in the Newcastle area had the name Majestic, though my original idea of placing it on the Quayside, didn’t feel right, so I’ve been a bit vague about its location. While I do remember the building I knew as the Majestic, by the time I was old enough to go inside, it had been turned into a cinema. In the book, the interior is pure imagination—in particular, there are no stairs leading down to a deserted back lane and across a cobbled street to an equally deserted and foreboding outside lavatory where a body is discovered.

One of the police stations mentioned in the book did exist and was located close to where the Byker Wall (a vast block of maisonettes) stands today. The Prince of Wales public house in Byker (now called the Tap and Spile) is one I used to frequent as a student. Not far away is Clough’s sweet shop, a place I’m also familiar with, as I used to live in one of the flats above the shop. The sweets (or ‘bullets’ as we used to call then) were great, too.

As for Rosie Robson, she was originally intended to be a man, a Chandleresque type private detective, who’d specialise in furrowed brows and would have an abundance of witty one-liners up his sleeve. But then I decided to go a different route and came up with a nightclub singer who isn’t doing as well as she’d hoped.

With any luck, things will improve for her, though I’ve a nasty feeling she’s never going to be far away from a grisly murder scene.

Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts is book #1 in the Rosie Robson Murder Mystery series.

Available from Amazon, Smashwords, Apple and Barnes and Noble.

Author Interview – Francis H Powell

Thinking back to when you started writing, what are common mistakes new writers make?

Leaping too quickly, imagining a book will suddenly arrive. You need to find your style, develop your craft. There is much to learn, things will evolve with practice, learning from mistakes.

Do you believe in writer’s block and if so, what do you do about it?

I am sure it exists, you need to find a way out of it. Do some research, maybe work on a different project. Approach the piece that is blocking you in a different way.

Do you write to please your readers or to please yourself?

I imagine a mix of the two, but certainly primarily for myself.

What do you think about the many social media groups (such as Facebook), and do you think it’s important for writers to subscribe to them?

These days for sure, unless you are an established famous author, you have to do the spade work.

Authors Mark Dawson and Joanna Penn produce useful books, podcasts and videos for indie authors. Have you taken any free of paid courses to help with the writing process, or the many technical aspects of being an author?

No I have not.

Have you ever used real people or real experiences to create characters/plots?

Of course, we draw from our experiences. I had a difficult childhood and I am sure this is reflected in my writing, directly or indirectly.

In terms of your writing, how is your latest book (Adventures of Death, Reincarnation and Annihilation) different from the others (I’m thinking about the Covid 19 pandemic)?

There are elements of Fantasy and Science Fiction, it is a mish mash. Ironically it does have a story about a pandemic, which is spread by flies…how was I to know that in the year that proceeded its publication we all would be beset by a pandemic.

Do you have many unpublished novels/stories?

I do have three books almost ready to be published, I would love to send them out to various publishers, but this is not really the right moment. In the meantime I am polishing them and trying to get them as sharp as I can.

How many hours a day do you write, and do you stick to a set schedule?

At the moment, being confined at home, quite a lot, when I have a moment of peace.

I saw an interview with a US author recently who knocks out anything up to 16,000 words per day. Enid Blyton used to write 10,000 words per day. Do you have a daily wordcount target for your own writing?

Not really, there are some days when I am more productive than other days.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

I would say a lot, there is a lot of my anguish, self-doubts, my humour, my sense of the bizarre.

What can we expect form you in the future?

As I said I have some works in progress. I have a children’s story, which I have written for my seven year old son…he asked me why I wasn’t writing for him. I found a story which I wrote a long time ago, I updated and built on it and have added some other stories to go with it. I have also written a political spoof and a horror story.

Links:
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Twitter
Amazon
Website

‘The Exorcist’ by William Peter Blatty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Exorcist

 

 

It begins with noises in the attic, strange odours, a sickly child. Then the bed starts jumping around, furniture moves by itself and a man is found dead with his head turned completely around. Movie actor Chris MacNeil is concerned for her daughter – eleven-year-old Regan – but doctors are stumped. With the only explanations calling for more and more tests, Chris seeks help from elsewhere. Jesuit priest Father Damien Karras, wonders if the child is possessed by a demon, but the priest’s own self-doubt haunts him and the death of his mother does nothing to ease his concern.

First published in 1971, The Exorcist is probably best known as one of the most shocking films ever made, and having seen the movie countless times, I’d say it still stands up well as a horror film. The book, though, is a different matter. This edition is the updated one, with new dialogue, and a text that has been tightened up and improved. Well, that’s a matter of opinion. I’d expected to be wowed, so was a little disappointed to find that even in this updated version, the writing is merely average. With way too many adverbs and countless exclamation marks, it got a bit tedious at times. Luckily, the one thing going for it is that underneath it all there’s a great story.

Reading this on long dark nights didn’t scare me at all and it’s perhaps a mark of the times we live in that horror novels these days require a skilled author to create scenes that will genuinely shock readers.

This book may be a classic, but I reckon Stevie King is still streets ahead in the realm of creating proper scary stuff.


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‘Miscreants, Murderers, and Thieves’ by Samuel W Reed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miscreants, Murderers, and Thieves

 

 

This collection of stories from independent authors is edited by Samuel W Reed, who also contributes one of his own tales. Authors include Don Bapst, David Beeler, Shawn D. Brink, Dori Ann Dupre, Gabriel DiDomenico, Dane G. Kroll, Ethel Lung, Casey Mensing, Suzanne Crain Miller, Katherine Tomlinson, Will Wallace & Nicholas Zemin, with illustrations by Jared Sloger.

As with any collection of stories, you never know quite what you’re going to get. In this case, there are the inevitable few that stand out, such as ‘Equity’ by Don Bapst, the quirky dark mystery ‘Murder at the Magic Castle’ by Gabriel DiDomenico (my particular favourite) and ‘Last Night in Quartzsite’ by Casey Mensing, where a would-be Bonnie-and-Clyde set the scene for a story with a twist. Of the others, there were several I skimmed over, simply because nothing about the writing or the story grabbed my attention. ‘Mercy in the West’ by David Beeler is worth a mention, but even that went off the rails towards the end, which is a shame.

All in all, an interesting collection, with a few writers whose work I’ll be watching out for.



 
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‘They All Love Jack’ by Bruce Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They All Love Jack

 

 

(Audiobook)
Ever since a mysterious figure ripped his way through the East End of London in the late 1880s, writers and filmmakers have focused on the identity of the perpetrator. The mystery of Jack the Ripper still exudes a fascination to lovers of murder mysteries and horror stories, spawning more theories and possibilities than any other serial killer.

In this book, writer and movie director Bruce (Withnail and I) Robinson takes a very particular view on the subject. In this meticulously researched tome, he explores the idea that the identity of the mysterious Jack was a conspiracy created and prolonged by Freemasons, the Metropolitan Police, the British Government and a bevy of coroners, doctors and bent witnesses.

I bought the paperback version of this ages ago, but as it runs to more than 800 pages and has a font size that I’d need a microscope to read, I also bought the audio version. Narrated by Phil Fox, with an introduction by the author, this is a fascinating book that uses police and court reports, newspaper articles, letters and witness statements to back up the theory that Freemason Michael Maybrick was the man behind the murders, and how his letters to Commissioner Charles Warren taunted the pudding-headed policeman with clues that even a black cat in a coal cellar at night couldn’t have failed to follow.

Robinson’s style pulls no punches and he makes it very clear what he thinks of all these alleged conspirators, using language that would put a hardened navvy to shame. Though his theory is a complex one and demands that dozens, if not hundreds of individuals must have been involved in the conspiracy, it nevertheless sounds plausible, and explains why even now certain documents are still not available for public viewing.

A fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable book that puts the scribblings of Ripperologists everywhere firmly in the shade.



 
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‘I May Kill You’ by Keith Dixon

 

 

When a series of mysterious, threatening notes are sent out to hundreds of apparently unconnected people, ex-cop Ben Buckland is shocked to learn his teenage daughter has also been targeted. Though no longer on the ‘force’ Ben seeks help from former colleague and old flame Serena, triggering bad memories. Focusing on the threat to his daughter, Ben struggles to make the police listen, but when the killings start, it seems there’s little to connect them – especially as the murders are bizarrely different.

Losing his job as a security guard, and faced with the prospect of finding new employment, the last thing Ben needs is a serial-killer on the loose. But time is running out and as the body-count rises, the threat to his family forces him to take matters into his own hands…

This is the seventh novel I’ve read by Keith Dixon and as always, it’s a stonking good read. The author’s ability to weave a clever plot around seemingly unrelated events, is as sharp as ever, and even though the reader might not always know what’s going on, pretty soon it all falls into place. With an uncanny talent for creating realistic, believable characters dealing with difficult relationships and everyday issues, Keith Dixon’s storytelling kept me on edge, whizzing through the pages, trying to work out the ending before I got there.

As with his Sam Dyke and Paul Storey books, this is another great read from a very capable and wonderfully inventive writer.


About Keith Dixon:
Keith Dixon was born in Yorkshire and grew up in the Midlands. He’s been writing since he was thirteen years old in a number of different genres: thriller, espionage, science fiction, literary. Two-time winner of the Chanticleer Reviews CLUE First in Category award for Private Eye/Noir novel, he’s the author of ten books in the Sam Dyke Investigations series and two other non-crime works, as well as two collections of blog posts on the craft of writing. His new series of Paul Storey Thrillers began in 2016.

When he’s not writing he enjoys reading, learning the guitar, watching movies and binge-inhaling great TV series. He’s currently resident in France.

NB This review originally appeared as part of the Damppebbles Blog Tour for Keith Dixon’s ‘I May Kill You’.

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK; Amazon US

Social Media:
Website: http://www.keithdixonnovels.com
Blog: http://www.cwconfidential.blogspot.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IMayKillYou
Twitter: https://twitter.com/keithyd6
Email: keith@keithdixonnovels.com


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‘The House in the Woods’ by Mark Dawson

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The House in the Woods

 
 

A shooting at a remote farmhouse on Christmas Eve launches DCI Mackenzie Jones and her team on a murder investigation. On the face of it, the culprit seems all too obvious—a murder/suicide by an unstable sibling leaves estranged son Ralph Mallender mourning the deaths of not only his parents, but his younger brother and sister too.

But DCI ‘Mack’ Jones isn’t so sure and soon discovers reasons to put the surviving son firmly in the frame for murder. Meanwhile, the accused man’s wife doesn’t believe her husband could be guilty and seeks help from former cop-turned-private-investigator Atticus Priest. Can Priest unearth the truth behind the murders, or is the case simply what it appears to be—a greedy son murdering his family for money?

This is the second Mark Dawson novel I’ve read (the first being The Cleaner), and it’s an interesting read. Having said that, my first impressions were not favourable. Firstly, the plot screamed similarities to the true-life White House Farm murders, and for a while it was difficult to focus on anything else. Then it was the author’s ridiculous overuse of the word ‘that’—there are whole passages where the word stands out like the proverbial sore thumb in almost every sentence.

However.

Once I got into it, I was gripped. The plot is clever and realistic and even the court scenes (which so many authors simply can’t write) are well-crafted and entertaining. The plot twists are also nicely done and don’t come over as convoluted or exaggerated but work very well within the confines of the story. The main characters of Atticus and Mack and their bit of ‘history’ are entirely believable and left me hungry for more.

Nice one, Marky.


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‘Her Demonic Angel’ by Joy Mutter


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
Her Demonic Angel

  
  
Having read six of Joy Mutter’s novels, it was interesting to go back to this early example of her work to see how it compares. In this collection of fourteen short stories, the author explores themes that will be familiar to readers of her ‘Hostile’ series. ‘Dark’ and ‘edgy’ are words that come to mind as she delves into ordinary, everyday occurrences such as a belligerent child, a rebellious teenager and a stamp collector whose hobby overrides all interest in his long-suffering spouse. Other tales focus on topics including a reliance on robotic technology and bizarre events such as, in one of my favourites, ‘The Day Nobody Gave a Damn’, where a nightshift worker returns home to find the entire community has decided to stay in bed. As with much of Ms Mutter’s work, her darkest deeds are left until last—in ‘Conor’s Revenge’ she leaves little to the imagination as a former choirboy spots a chance to get even.

As always with this author, I’d advise caution—there may be blood!



 
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‘Angel’ by LJ Ross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angel

 

 

Easter bank holiday weekend looks like it might be a relaxing time for DCI Ryan, but when he’s called to a crime scene in a Newcastle cemetery, a bizarre murder sets him off on the trail of a killer. Meanwhile, Lowerson and MacKenzie take a trip up to Rothbury to check out what appears to be the natural death of an older woman. However, the case isn’t all it seems and it begins to look as if they could be looking for a second killer. When another body is discovered in a cemetery, Ryan and his team face growing pressure, and to make matters worse, a name from the past is lurking on the horizon—someone is plotting revenge…

This is the fourth book in the DCI Ryan series and as with the others, is a stonking good tale, though the writing isn’t quite as tight as the first three books. Throwing poor Ryan into yet another murder mystery with a bit of a twist, Ms Ross gives him lots to think about as he searches for the killer in a series of bizarre murders. In this volume, there’s a new Chief Constable, who naturally wants results yesterday. And while Ryan’s love interest takes a bit of a back seat, the focus moves to redhead Mackenzie who is the recipient of a number of unsettling messages. As always, the author weaves a clever plot that kept me guessing all the way to the end, and just in case we thought it was all going to be alright, she brings Ryan’s past terrors back to haunt him. Nice.

NB It’s worth saying that the plot involves a bit of Catholic-bashing, which I didn’t mind at all, but some folk might find offensive.

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