Friday, 21 July 2017

One Man's Opinion: A MAN'S HEAD by GEORGES SIMENON


I read three Maigret novels while I was in France at the beginning of the month, each of which provided me with lots of the mood and atmosphere I was after. None of them disappointed, but they did vary between good and great.

I’ll start at the good end of things with A Man’s Head (US).

In this one, Maigret stakes his career on his instincts and arranges the escape of a prisoner from death row. The idea is that by following the prisoner, the true facts of the murder case concerned will come to light. Things don’t go entirely to plan when the prisoner ends up falling asleep for most of his first day of freedom.

Maigret hangs around in a bar full of well-to-do travellers from around the world to get his head round the murder. In doing so, he encounters a young man who taunts and goads the chief inspector by hinting that there is more to the case than has been understood thus far and that Maigret is unlikely to put the pieces of the puzzle into place.

This had echoes of Crime and Punishment as the elements of guilt drive the culprit to their downfall, yet it lacks a crisp punch or any real sense of weight. The strong opening loses some momentum and the conclusion, though almost perfectly dark, misses a beat or two.

My favourite section here was the insight into the backrooms of the Palais De Justice and the detailed obsessive forensic work of Moers.

Well worth a read, as always, but not top of the form.


While I’m here, I’ll point out that readers can pick up a very different kind of mystery story for free today . Recluse (US) looks at a creative genius during the sixties and the high cost of that free love. 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

One Man's Opinion: DIE OF SHAME by MARK BILLINGHAM



Here’s one that made it onto the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year long list. It may not have made the cut into the final 6, but it was certainly a worthy contender.

For personal reasons, it took me a while to get into the spirit of this one. I spent seven years visiting hospital on a weekly basis to attend group therapy sessions. They were hard years and being reminded them of some doors that I prefer to keep shut. It meant that to watch another group working through their issues with their own sets of boundaries and dynamics wasn’t easy.

During my own therapy years, it occurred to me from time to time that the closed group setting of the situation would be perfect for a crime novel. Mark Billingham’s novel proved me right on that point and he’s written a far better piece than I would have managed in the process.

Die of Shame (US) explores many facets of life and death, with addiction taking centre stage. Here we have a group meeting weekly in North London. The tensions and alliances between the clients and the therapist are slowly revealed and then constantly reset while we get to know them. The therapist has his hands full when it comes to keeping his charges straight. His hands are also when it comes to keeping his family, a distant wife and an out of control daughter, afloat while dealing with his own drug fuelled past and his addictive nature.

When one of the group members is murdered, the police get involved and put pressure on all the survivors in turn, hoping to get them to break the rules of confidentiality and the trust that they’ve built up over time. Nicola Tanner is the DI charged with solving this one and the addiction aspect of the case resonates with her own personal life. Her sidekick, Dipak Chall, is a wonderful creation and I’d be more than happy to spend time with this pair in the future.

There’s a whiff of Agatha Christie to this one which is even flagged by the author. The list of suspects is finite, the group setting closed and each has their own motivation for getting rid of the victim, whether that’s being too close, blackmail, hatred or simply the crossing of boundaries. Billingham keeps the pot simmering for each of them as the information is slowly and expertly revealed. As the climax is reached, the interplay and the conclusion are perfectly handled.


I really enjoyed spending time with another group and reckon you will enjoy doing the same if you give it a go, regardless of your own personal experience. 

Monday, 17 July 2017

One Man's Opinion: THE CARTEL by DON WINSLOW


I chose Don Winslow’s The Cartel (US)to take as a holiday read with every confidence that it was up to the job. Its reputation is huge and, weighing in at 600 plus pages, it seemed big enough to keep me busy. We left on Saturday lunchtime and the book was finished before lunch on Wednesday. I think that says a lot about the book. It’s been a great companion and was responsible for some very late nights. I also got to work out by carrying my copy down to the Med and back, so it wasn’t just an emotional workout.

The scale of The Cartel is huge. It follows a feud between US agent Art Keller and the super-powerful drug king Adan Barrera as each tries to pin each other down. This battle forms the body of the plot, but there are many tentacles leading from there. Key characters are introduced and within pages of meeting them we have their complete history nailed and understand their connections and motivations. There are journalists, politicians, agents, beauty queens, lovers, fighters, killers, soldiers, doctors and prostitutes among them and each plays their part with distinction.

There’s something circular about the way the story travels. Eras are defined by political intrigue, and violence. Body counts are listed. Torture and murders are graphically described. Negotiations and double-dealings map out treachery and devious intention. Like the Cartels, the cycle is relentless and seems unbreakable. As a reader, I became immune to the brutality of it all and if this was a deliberate attempt by Winslow to demonstrate how easily people can become numbed into submission by utter barbarity then he was totally successful. This, in some ways, made the journey a little tricky. At certain points, the prospect of another repeated history was rather uninviting. Overcoming that sense of déjà vu was always worth it, however. None of the plotlines lead to cul-de-sacs (although there a plenty of dead ends, I can assure you) and the author is skilled at bringing things to an emotional boil just when that’s required.

The plot here is huge. The characters are enormous – you could probably write a PhD on each, though you don’t necessarily always feel the warmth of their blood or the rate of their pulse. The sense of history brings added weight. Some of the detail feels unnecessary, but I believe that others will relish these elements of over-description. The world with the pages is total chaos – Hell, perhaps. The worst part of the whole piece is that it’s all so bloody real. The book is dedicated to journalists murdered or disappeared in Mexico during the decades covered by the novel and the list goes on forever. That speaks volumes about the world Winslow has fictionalised with such power.

And is it purely coincidence that a writer named Don has written a piece with the fingerprints of The Godfather all over the keyboard? Methinks not.  


Thanks Mr Winslow for the experience and the education.    

Sunday, 25 June 2017

One Man's Opinion: RACE TO THE BOTTOM by CHRIS RHATIGAN


‘The scene looped in his head. He resisted at first, then let go until it became the background to his insomnia. He thought that maybe through constant remembrance he could remove himself from the situation, like it would be a clip from an old movie.
No such luck.’

Roy wakes up with a hangover. It’s not just any hangover either. It’s probably the best described one I’ve come across.

All he wants is to lie still and let the pain wash over him until it becomes reduced to the constant hum of discomfort, only his girlfriend isn’t going to let him do that. Instead she’s going to kick him out onto the streets. We can’t be sure why she’s doing this, but can be pretty confident he deserves it. We can also be pretty certain that this is about as good as it’s going to get for Roy, for it’s unlikely good fortune is ever going to shine upon him.  

The only person he has left to turn to is Banksy. Banksy’s another waster. A dope sucking, computer game addicted drug pedlar who’s too lazy to do any deals. He’s so low, he’s even going to charge his only buddy rent to let him sleep on the couch.

Off they go to a nightclub. It’s thirsty work and Roy hits the drink in the same hard way he has to every day to keep functioning. And bad things happen.

This is a wonderful story, told with skill and the confidence to be uncompromising at every turn.
Roy’s no angel. In fact, Rhatigan throws so much of the man’s crap at you that he should be utterly despised. Thing is, I kind of like him. It’s difficult not to be sympathetic to a guy who just wants to get through life with a drink in his hand and with a few smokes without hurting anyone along the way. His daily battle with the mundane routines of his job at the Bullseye store is brilliantly told and I doubt there’s anyone out there who had done a crappy job or one they’re stuck with who won’t recognise his pain and won’t blame him from wanting to escape in any way he can.

The twists and turns of Roy’s life as it circles the plughole are hypnotising. There’s no way he can avoid that gravitational force pulling him downwards, but it’s great watching him try.

A cop named Walsh adds a good deal to this story. He’s a fantastic creation and if there was a new detective I wanted to read more about, this guy would be the one. He wouldn’t play things by the book and there wouldn’t be a cliché in sight.


Race To The Bottom (US) is another Chris Rhatigan book to treasure. It’s scary how good the guy’s writing is and how it improves by notches with each new work. It’s also difficult to imagine the kind of aces he’ll be pulling from his sleeve in years to come. How wonderful it is to have such fiction to look forward to.  More please. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

One Man's Opinion: THE PUSHER by ED McBAIN



The Pusher (US) is another cracking read in the 87th Precinct series.

Steve Carella is back from honeymoon. A junkie meets an untimely end and the manner of his departure is suspicious enough to suggest something other than suicide. There’s a syringe next to the corpse, but the body is also hanging by the neck and the two things don’t fit easily together.

Enter Lieutenant Byrnes, the head of the force. As he delves into the murky world of drug dealing, he is informed by anonymous source that his son is not only a junkie, but that his fingerprints will be found on the syringe left next to the corpse found at the opening.

These two strands mingle throughout, offering the usual balance between police work and personal lives that makes McBain’s stories so well-rounded and engaging.

This one has a massive incident. It came at me as a total surprise and had me reeling. It also has a beautiful chapter about Carella’s main informant, Danny Gimp, so bitter-sweet that if it were a marmalade it would be my favourite.

There’s the usual quick and easy ending to the investigation that’s satisfying even though it shouldn’t be and a personal ending that would grace the finest novel.

If there’s a flaw, it’s the more-exaggerated-than-usual issue with point of view, but it’s part of the style and almost an element of the charm.

Throw in an afterward by the author that leaves you wondering what might have been and The Pusher’s a total winner.     


Awesome.

Friday, 9 June 2017

One Man's Opinion: DARK HAZARD by W R BURNETT



FAST MONEY!
FAST DOGS!
FAST WOMEN!

I’ll start by putting this into context. Thirty years or more ago, my brother and I got into gambling. We tried lots of different approaches. Among them was a foolproof system of betting on the dogs. I’d drop Geoff down at the track, he’d spend a night watching Bugsy spinning around the arena and we’d count our winnings. Except they were rarely winnings now I come to think of it, which I guess made us the fools. In later years, I got into visiting Walthamstow, a stadium that was beautiful in itself and had pictures up in the bar of a visit by George Raft from way back. I can also remember being down at a bookie’s in Kentish Town feeling flush after a fair win one night after work. When the cash was gone, I went to my savings account and took out the last five pounds I had in the world (pretty low times now I can reflect on them). I put the fiver on the likely one-two-three and what do you know? They only came in and netted me a fair stash. Several hundred pounds as I recall. Needless to say it was all gone by the end of the week and I had to move out of my flat. I’m leaving my tale of woe right there. It’s no wonder that when I see all the gambling adverts on the TV or plastered over the waistcoats of snooker players and the like that I feel despair. In case you’ve ever wondered where the companies get their huge advertising budgets, I’ll point you in the direction of the punters.

I mention that to explain why Dark Hazard had so much appeal to me. On the front cover ‘The raw, brutal novel of a man’s fight for a slice of the billion dollar greyhound racing sport.’ Of course I was going to be interested.

Being interested in a subject is never enough to make a good story, however. We all know that there’s so much more to fiction than that.

So here are some of the reasons I absolutely loved this one.

Every chapter is full of drive and energy. The protagonist is always on the edge and the next pitfall lies just around the corner. None of the holes feels like a contrived piece of digging, it’s just the way Jim Turner is made. We know he can’t resist a detour from his dreary existence, not matter how hard he tries to keep life straight.

Jim has everything to lose and he’s such a great creation that the idea of him putting his world into jeopardy leaves a reader in a state of almost constant anxiety.

The murky world of the dog track and all its characters is a delight to hang around in.

The alternative Jim has to a life of excitement and flowing juices is one of the steady and the mundane. Settling into a place where respectability is the main goal and religion provides the fuel for existence is a suffocating prospect.  

The writing is tight as hell. Dialogue uses just the words it requires. The sentences are mainly spare, yet there is still room for insightful observation and detailed description. Each environment comes to life in all its dimensions, yet this is never presented as clutter. There's no more or no less than is needed.

And Dark Hazard. He’s the star of the show. A sleek black dog who goes about life with no fuss or frills. He’s talented, beautiful and fragile. It’s no wonder Jim falls head over heals for him and no surprise that in his obsessive way he’ll do practically anything to get to own him.

Loved this one. The time and place are perfect for such stories to be told and the quality of the story telling is about as good as it gets.


Champion. 

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

One Man's Opinion: THE WHITES by RICHARD PRICE


Pavlicek was nearly big enough to have his own zip code.

Billy Graves once belonged to a tight-knit group of police officers who ruled the roost in their neighbourhood and used a range of methods to burn through the criminal community. The bonds that were formed in the foundry of their youth are all but unbreakable and still tie them together years after many of them have moved on from the force.

During their time fighting crime with a ruthless zest for justice and control, there were the ones that got away – The Whites (US) of the title – and we meet one of them at Penn Station, stabbed in an early morning attack with no witnesses to tell the tale.

Billy and the gang seem to be on a roll as lots of their whites are meeting their ends, a coincidence that Billy can’t help but look at and try to fathom.

As he tries to put the pieces together, someone out there is threatening the fabric of his world. Threats against his children and incidents with Billy’s father add heat to the situation and Billy knows that whatever is happening, there’s likely to be a messy end arriving any time soon.

The perpetrator of the threats is known to the reader from the off. Milton Ramos has his own crosses to carry. He bears the weight of pain from the murder of his brother and the loss of his wife as he struggles to control his world and hold down his own job as a police officer.

In this novel, Price’s arc is huge. There are thousands of stories here, from tiny vignettes to enormous brush strokes.

As Billy struggles to keep his family safe and tries to understand what is happening to his bunch of blood brothers and sister, he works through regular police work on the night shift. The aftermath of each crime is handled beautifully and each victim or set of survivors is given enough room to nail their life-story to the mast.   

The main loops of plot are engaging enough in themselves, but for me the thrill of the book is the way the relationships are built and studied. The interconnections are pillars that hold the plot up rather than it being the other way round.  Price dissects marriages, friendships and families with subtlety and skill that not many can match.

My own favourite strand in all of the complicated interplay is the relationship between Billy and his father. The dad was a much-respected cop in his day, as well as being a lover of poetry. Nowadays, he’s slowly drifting ever deeper into the world of dementia, but in his lucid moments he illuminates the world with his insights, love and wisdom. These sections alone are well worth the price of entry.

Here’s a brief sketch where Billy looks to seek advice about dealing with colleagues who coloured in outside the lines:

‘Johnson’s partner didn’t say anything?’
‘I can’t say what it’s like now, but back then? You looked the other way. Always.’
‘How about the partner, what happened to him?’
The old man was so long in answering that Billy almost repeated the question.
‘Looking back all those years?’ his father finally said. ‘He could’ve been a better father to his kids, maybe a better husband to his wife, but other than that?’ Looking Billy in the eye now. ‘He sleeps like a rock.’


The Whites is terrific. The emotional draw is powerful and there are times when the prose just sings. It’s dark and dreadful and has strong noir elements. It’s one to knock your socks off if you can spare the time. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Curing Reader's Block - WANT YOU GONE by CHRIS BROOKMYRE


It was an honour to be asked by the Coastword Festival to host an event with Chris Brookmyre. I was thrilled to be able to accept and a little nervous at the prospect.

Keen to make sure I was able to discuss his most current work, I set about getting hold of the three newest Jack Parlabane novels.

With only a short period time to get through them, I was a little nervous about the task ahead. Normally such an endeavour would be an enjoyable challenge, but I’d been struggling to read for a while and wasn’t sure I could make it.

As part of my introduction on the big day, I announced that I’d been suffering from reader’s block before coming to Chris’s books and also admitted that the novels I’d worked my way through had provided something of a literary enema of sorts. Jack Parlabane's adventures had totally removed whatever had been holding me back. The statement was packed with truth. What Mr Brookmyre had done from me was to allow me to rediscover the pleasure of reading and the delights of being able to escape into the world of fiction whenever I wanted to get away. The books are all page-turning treats and completely rekindled my interest in good stories. My stress levels settled back to normal for a while and I remembered why I should keep books at the forefront of my life. 

The three titles in question are Dead Girl Walking (US), The Black Widow (USand Want You Gone (US).  They work well as standalone books if you feel like dipping in, but complement each other nicely when read back-to-back.

Each has a similar structure. There’s a shocking and enticing opening followed by alternating points of view as the action builds. Jack Parlablane cuts through his investigations in the third person, while first person narratives from the strong female leads allow the newer characters to fully develop and have us hooked as the tension builds.


Brookmyre manages to walk the tightrope of series backstory with excellent balance. There’s enough in there to support a new audience but not so much to detract from the main focus for established fans. 

There are twists aplenty and few of them are at all predictable. The biggest turn of all comes at the end of Black Widow when the denouement impacts upon all that has been before. Chris mentioned at the event that he had always wanted to write a book where the conclusion altered everything, but that when it was reread with all the new facts at hand it would still be 100% consistent. I'm pretty sure that he pulled it off here. 

A quick summary:

Dead Girl Walking - Jack is on his knees. The police are involved and his career is in tatters. He is hired by an old friend to locate the missing singer of a rock band. The band, Savage Earth Heart, are the hottest ticket in Europe and are about to go on a much anticipated tour of the US. With the singer gone, the band's bright future is about to have the plug pulled. Nagging throughout is the bloody opening scene where we know things have gone badly wrong. Jack finds himself running up against some most unsavoury types and his life expectancy drops significantly as the chapters roll. 

Black Widow is an intriguing piece. Where Dead Girl Walking is often a real adventure, this one has more of a slow burn to it. The Black Widow in question has just lost her husband in a motoring accident. Her story is told as the police investigate her and begin to suspect that her part in the death is more than she's letting on. In a previous life, she was known as the acerbic feminist surgeon blogger Bladebitch, a noble soul with a sharp tongue that made her very unpopular. Did she or didn't she? I guess you'll have to read the book to find out.

And Want You Gone? This is the most recent and my favourite of the three. It involves the murky worlds of hacking and blackmail. Jack is forced into a corner as is his underground hacker friend Buzzkill struggles to keep her life together. My reasons for picking this as top of the pile? The Buzzkill character is hard and vulnerable and needs to survive in order to look after a sister with Down's Syndrome. The world of hacking is not only intriguing, but is totally scary. I haven't viewed my computer in the same way since. It's also a story in which we see Jack in his best light. The pacing is perfect and the tension palpable throughout. 

As for the even, Chris did a terrific job of both entertaining and informing the audience in equal measure. For the most part, I simply felt like I was one of the crowd. 

From a writer's point of view, it was helpful to find that the starting point for these stories is usually the twist. If the conclusion is going to have maximum weight, it almost has to be. Chris used the analogy of close magic to explain his next steps. A close magician would never go on stage without having all his tools in place and nor would Chris set about writing a novel of this kind without knowing where everything was or should be. It's a far cry from my seat of the pants stuff, but then maybe that's something I'll have to learn should I step closer to working on stories like these.

So, the event went well, the books are fab and my reading is back in hand. I've just finished The Whites by Richard Price (more soon) and I'm digging in to Dark Hazard by W R Burnett (two more authors who I hope will teach me a thing or two if osmosis has anything to do with it). 

Thanks Chris and thanks Coastword for having me.          

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mystery and Thriller Sale (May 13th and 14th)


50 Mystery and Thriller titles on offer at only 99p/99c this weekend over here. Why not treat yourself?

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Coming Soon: FATBOY by PAUL HEATLEY




After his girlfriend leaves and takes their young son with her, Joey Hidalgo is left alone in the trailer they formerly called home with nothing to do but get drunk and contemplate her reasons. Is he really as angry, as volatile, so close to constant violence, as she claims he is? With no one to confide in save for Lynne, his hooker friend who does the rounds in the bar where he works, and suffering a clientele that includes the eponymous racist bully, as well as a boss with whom he's on thin ice due to his recent alcoholic indiscretions, things are looking bleak for Joey. There's only one thing on his mind - he needs to get his family back. 

Then Lynne lets it drop - the fatboy is a regular customer. A very regular customer - she's been to his house, they've talked, she knows things about him and his family. She knows he sleeps on a mattress stuffed with cash. She knows his parents have a safe. Joey gets an idea. Joey formulates a plan. Together, they're going to rob the fatboy, kidnap him, and ransom him back to his parents. Joey will have the cash he needs to move his family into some nicer digs, the kind of place where they're not going to be treading on each other's toes and snapping at each other's throats. And for Lynne, she'll finally be off the streets. Simple! 

But the fatboy isn't going to make it easy for them. Neither is Joey's temper. Things are going to get messy, and it's gonna be one hell of a long night.


Paul Heatley's stories have appeared online and in print for a variety of publications including Thuglit, Crime Syndicate, Shotgun Honey, Spelk, Flash Fiction Offensive, and Crime Factory, among others. He is the author of six novellas published via Amazon, and An Eye For An Eye, available for Kindle, published by Near To The Knuckle. He is also a regular contributor to R2 magazine, and lives in the north east of England.


Pre-Order FATBOY (US) now. Released 1st May by ALL DUE RESPECT.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Return Of Jesse Garon


After his recent disappearance following the sinking of publisher Blasted Heath, Jesse Garon has been surfaced and it appears he's alive and almost well. Books one and two of the Southsiders series are back.


Ray Spalding's had enough of his wife, Paula. He's left his home in Edinburgh's Southside and headed for Belfast. It's safer there.

Unknown to Ray, Paula's also had enough of him. She's not going back home. Not now, not ever.

Jesse Spalding wakes up one morning to find both his parents gone. And he can't tell anyone or he'll be taken into care.

As time passes and bills need paying, all Jesse can rely on are his wits, his friend Archie and his dad's 1950s record collection.

Southsiders is a powerful short novel that follows the spiralling fortunes of Ray and Jesse, pushing father and son to their limits while they struggle against the odds in the darker shadows of two of Britain's capital cities.



It doesn’t take long for Ray Spalding to realise that prison is nothing like an Elvis Presley movie. The warden has no intention of throwing a party and the only bands Ray encounters are gangs of hard men. When an old adversary seeks him out, Ray decides his only chance for survival is escape.

Ray’s son, Jesse, is discovering that being on the run in the middle of winter is no fun. With his stamina stretched to the limits, he’s ready to surrender himself to social services. At least that way he can see his girlfriend again.

Danny Boy is the man in the middle. He thinks he can break Ray from prison and reunite father and son. All he needs is an ambulance, a funeral, the help of some of his old friends and a big slice of good fortune.

Southsiders: Jailhouse Rock takes you for an eventful ride on a Mystery Train where the destination is as likely to be the Heartbreak Hotel as the Promised Land.


And book three? That's in the pipeline, but here's the cover in case you're curious:



Here's hoping you are...


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Dancing with Myself: KHALED TALIB interviews KHALED TALIB



According to a BBC report recently, everyone one of us could possibly have a cosmic twin. I’m not sure what the other identical copies of me are doing with their lives, but let’s pretend one of them is interviewing the original one on earth. They might argue they are all originals, and that I’m just mirroring what everyone else is doing right now.  Let’s not get into the philosophical aspect — it’s too deep for me. But if one of them was a reporter interviewing me as an author, this is what I’d tell him:

Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in Singapore. My ancestors emigrated from southern Yemen more than a hundred years ago during a Diaspora. I began writing at a young age. My first legally published material was a letter to a shopping mall’s marketing department. I had participated in a contest based on the old movie, The Deep, with Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte and Louis Gossett Jr., but I forgot to enclose the shopping receipts in the envelop. I was disqualified, but I received a letter from the mall with a complimentary T-shirt. That made my day.
I started out as a staff writer for an oil industry newspaper. All I did for a year was cut newspaper clippings and rewrite the stories. It was boring. When the job offer came to work for a lifestyle magazine, I grabbed the opportunity. In fact, my first character was based on a reporter working for a glossy magazine.

Why do you write?
No idea, but I’ll tell you something. If I was born in the U.S. or the U.K, I think I would’ve written my first novel when I was much younger. Singapore isn’t really a literary scene.  People don’t talk books here, and you hardly hear people talking about writing. I only met one or two other persons who’s been trying to get a book published. That’s encouraging because I don’t have to consider myself an ugly duckling. But seriously, I don’t think in a parochial or xenophobic sense. The world is a very big place, and I’m an explorer. The more you see, the more you have materials to write. 
I was also inspired by other thriller book characters, and I always wanted my own. From Edmond Dantes, James Bond, Simon Templar to characters created for the screens and comics. It’s a bit like playing with Ken and Barbie in your head, except they don’t have a sparkling set of teeth. 


What do you write suspense and thrillers?

My whole body feels like there’s electric sparks coming out of it. I find it difficult to write something at a lower tempo. I relish writing scenes that are unpredictable and intense. Don’t get me wrong, I can be calm if I want to, but life is a roller coaster. But don’t let me fool you — if you go more than 120 miles an hour on the busy road, I’ll scream at you to stop.  I’m a thrill seeker, but I’m also sensible.

If you could go back in time to three different places, where would you go?

I’d like to go back to the Victorian age and find out who Jack the Ripper really was. With modern technology, I think I might be able to catch him. Besides, it would be nice to dress up in the attire of that time. Hell, Singapore is a hot and humid place. You put on a tie and a jacket and see what happens to you. Never change since time began.
The other place would be ancient Egypt. I really like to find out who built the pyramids and how.  Everyone’s got a theory, but wouldn’t it be nice if we knew how it was done from the horse’s mouth itself?
The last place would be the Brady Bunch set with the cast and crew. It may be make believe, but I’d like to see how the show was made. When I was a kid, I used to love the house, especially the staircase and the brick walls and stairs.

Tell us about your new novel, Incognito.

Incognito (USis a more than meets the eye story. It tells of a Pope who has gone missing, but the story behind the story is about political and religious tolerance. Not a day passes by these days that you don’t hear about Islam. This novel of mine touches on terrorism. The media, in my view, has been irresponsible in managing the news. They want to sell anything that excites their readers, so they don’t care about the moral justice of things. I’ve been in public relations for a long time so I know when the press uses key messages to embed into the minds of readers about things. I wrote this novel to show how things are and why it should not be.
I was also inspired by some of the statements made by Pope Francis concerning Islam. It led me to do some more research about Catholicism. I was wondering why this man was defending Islam when the Crusades is far from forgotten. My research led me to the Vatican II documents. It was an assembly that took place between the 50s and 60s to revise some of the religious doctrines. I learned, for example, Muslims and Jews were part of the “brotherly” faith. I hope, somehow, the novel would have effect on the reader; to see things from a different perspective. By the way, the novel is peppered with murders.

Did something happened that inspired you to write this novel?

Oh, yes. Two things, in fact. One winter night in a small Geneva hotel, I saw through the window of my room a tall woman in black standing under a street lamp. She just stood there staring into the blankness. Later, I left my room to go downstairs. I took the stairs since my room was just one floor down. I saw the same woman at the empty foyer. She gave me a cold, hard stare. I ran back up and locked myself in the room.  You had to be there to experience it.  Now imagine if she had a knife in her hand. The thing is, you need a password to open the hotel’s door entrance. So how did she get it? She reminded me so much of Mrs. Baylock, the character from The Omen. I took the idea to weave into my latest novel. I even gave her a nickname.
At another time, I was trekking a Swiss mountain. A woman started talking to me. She was friendly initially, but she got worked up suddenly and began talking about religion. She pointed to the direction of Italy and told me the Vatican is responsible for many of the problems in Europe. She had a pair of trekking poles with her, and I didn’t. I was praying hard that she wouldn’t ask me what’s my faith. Those poles can be deadly. If I had to defend myself, it would be my word against hers since there was nobody else on that side of the mountain. I survived and live to tell the tale!

Khaled Talib

Saturday, 15 April 2017

#free - but get them quick before Trump goes for the nuclear option.



A great bunch of thriller and mystery titles that you can have for free. Better get in quick, mind, we may not have as much reading time ahead of us as we think. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

One Man's Opinion: THE MUGGER by ED MCBAIN



'They write songs about Saturday night. 
The songs all promote the idea that Saturday is a particularly lonely night. The myth has become a part of American culture, and everybody is familiar with it. Stop anybody, six to sixty and ask, 'What's the loneliest night of the week?' and the answer you'll get is Saturday. 
Well, Tuesday's not such a prize either.'

The Mugger (US) is the second book in the 87th Precinct series. It takes a slight detour from the first in that Steve Carella is on his honeymoon and is out of the picture. 

Two big cases dominate, one a series of muggings against women by a deluded criminal who believes he is a gentleman of sorts and the other the killing of a young girl. There's also a third, the disappearance of huge numbers of cats in another precinct, but that's an aside that's there to add texture and a very good joke. 

There's the usual gripping tension and expertly handled solving of crimes here. You get the hard-boiled nudges in the ribs and thick slices of humour. The camaraderie is enough to make you get up and join some kind of club and the dose of romance tells of personal frailty and general fragility.    

Above all, the story told is about the elevation of Bert Kling from patrolman to detective third grade. He gets involved in a personal case after hours and functions as a private eye for a while. His job is to find out what's happening in the life of a school friend's sister-in-law, a beautiful young woman with a huge secret. As you might expect, he gets into things further than he could ever have imagined as an unexpected turn alters his life forever. 

It's great to spend so much time with Kling. He's one of the stars of the show and getting to know him from the roots up was a real treat. Definitely worth a read whether as a one off or as a delicious piece of an unbelievable whole. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

SMOKE: The Resurrection



Due to the sad demise of the wonderful publisher Blasted Heath (more to follow when the emotional turbulence has settled down) my novella Smoke ('Grim, but really good.' Ian Rankin) was killed off. 

As with most obstacles, this one wasn't insurmountable. With Smoke, the simplest solution I could think of was to self-publish and here it is. 

Fitting, then, so close to Easter that the novella has been resurrected. It's also free for today (Smoky Sunday) should you not yet have a copy. 

A warning that it is dark and brutal and upsetting.  

As for my other Blasted Heath titles (namely the four books of the Southsiders series), I think I need some time to work out whether there's another path. I have taken an early step to see if I can find them a home, but as the first two have already been published I'm not feeling overly hopeful on that score. If you're able to see the wood for the trees and can shine a light in the right direction, I'd love to hear your thoughts privately or in the comments.  

Till then, enjoy Smoke (US) and check back in for my Blasted Heath obituary. 

Thanks, as always, for your support. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

One Man's Opinion: KING SUCKERMAN by GEORGE PELECANOS



‘Don’t be wishin’ me no good luck. It’s all luck man. If there’s one thing I learned overseas, that’s it.’

I’m usually a sucker for a Pelecanos. He ranks right up there as one of my favourites. Suckerman (US), however, took a good while to win me over.

It’s a novel that harks back to the nineteen seventies and deals with some cracking modern American themes. There’s a blistering soundtrack, the shadows of Vietnam, guns, drugs, cars, basketball, race, gangsters, movies and loyalty.

The opening is a cold-blooded killing at a drive-in movie. It’s ruthless and exciting and almost too brutal to allow for an early connection with the characters.

From there we meet our protagonists, Greek waster Dimitri Karras and Marcus Clay, who enter into a drugs deal and cross swords with the murderers from the drive in. Things go wrong at the connect and Karras and Clay walk away with a large amount of cash and a gangster’s girlfriend who’s looking for an easier life of getting high and watching TV.

What follows are the inevitable consequences of stealing from a bunch of thugs and an inevitable showdown that is as tense and exciting as they come.

It took me a good while to find my bearings. There are a lot of people to get to know. There’s a lot of information about TV, films, sport and music to digest and I didn’t immediately connect to anyone other than Clay.

At around the mid-point the author began to wind me in. The diverse threads began to tighten into one thick strand. Insights into the lives of Karras and Clay won me over. The consequences of the early crime spill over to hurt the innocent and this allows windows into souls. There are subtle hits like the categorisation of a Hendrix album, the responsibilities of parenthood and the connections and mindsets forged in war. There are even appearances from Nick Stefanos and his grandfather to ice the cake.

By the finale, I was emotionally hooked.


This may not be my favourite book by the author, but I’d recommend it nonetheless. It’s a cut above a hell of a lot of fiction even if it is a little below par.  

Friday, 27 January 2017

Making A Difference




In a time when global issues are going haywire and the world has begun to spin backwards, it can be difficult to make sense of anything. Influencing outcomes feels further out of grasping distance than maybe it should. In the UK and the US the driving forces defy the rational and appeal to the insecure. I have no idea how to move forward just now and am reflecting on ways in which I might make a difference when the time feels right.  

Maybe the best thing to do is to look to the local. There are many worthy things happening in my neighbourhood that respect both people and environment and I manage to do my bit without actually ever making a huge effort. I’m very grateful to those with big hearts who are out there influencing the world on my and our behalf.

My hope that all can be well has been given a boost of late by a campaign to help a girl who lives in my home town. Her name is Macy and she requires major spinal surgery to correct a massive curvature. In order to get the best of treatment £150000 is required and that’s a lot of dosh. Not that the organisers of her fundraising group have been daunted by the size of the mountain they have to climb. The Facebook page is here if you’d like to take a closer look.

I’ve loved watching the community come together to help them on their way. There have been or soon will be mammoth walks, swims, outdoor events, ceilidhs, gigs, school dress-downs and talent shows to help out. This morning I went in to the pop up shop on Dunbar High Street in the Be Green shop and bought a few things I don’t really need – if you’re in the area today or tomorrow it’s fab and well worth making a visit for.

In the light of such togetherness, I’ve offered to help out in the only way I really know or understand, and that’s by raising money through the sale of books.

For the next three months, any money I make from sales of The Shallows (US) will be going to Macy’s fund. I’ve chosen The Shallows because it’s been very well received and is possibly the most accessible of my crime stories. It’s practically mainstream fiction and there’s even a police procedural thread weaving through the fabric. The money will come whether the sale is a paperback or an ebook and if you feel like enjoying a read and helping out a great cause, then I’d be grateful of the support.

I know that there are lots of worthy people and groups out there who deserve your attention and that you may have your own favourite charities or organisations , but I still would like to flag this up to you in case you feel like joining this particular cause. Maybe it’s by coming together in circumstances like this that those seemingly untouchable bigger issues might be addressed.

If you like the idea of supporting Macy, but don’t really want to buy into the author angle you can always make a direct donation at www.gofundme.com/fund-spine-surgery-for-macy Every little bit will be gratefully received.

Thanks for listening and good luck Macy. Here’s hoping.


J