Being ill gave me lots of time for reading this month, and a fine selection it was too.
REQUIEMS FOR THE DEPARTED - edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone
with stories by Stuart Neville, Tony Black, Garry Kilworth, Arlene Hunt, Sam Millar, Ken Bruen, Maxim Jakubowski, T A Moore, John McAllister, Una McCormack, Tony Bailie, Neville Thompson, Adrian McKinty, Dave Hutchinson, Garbhan Downey, Brian McGilloway and John Grant.
Publisher: Morrigan Books
Protagonist: n/a - short stories
Series?: Short story anthology
First Line: ' Cam the Hun set off from his flat on Victoria Street with fear in his heart and heat in his loins.' From Stuart Neville's short story QUEEN OF THE HILL
A short story collection inspired by Irish mythology - a really intriguing premise. Some of the stories take the same myth (such as that of Queen Macha who appears to have been the Goddess of both sex and war and thus makes for a great femme fatale) and put their own slant on them. A couple are set in the past, one is set in the future, most are set in the present day and these contemporary twists on the myths and legends work particularly well. There are two things I particularly love about short stories. Firstly, it gives favourite authors the opportunity to do something different; secondly, it gives me the possibility of discovering new authors. In the case of this book, it also taught me some fascinating things about Irish mythology. Some of my favourite stories were Stuart Neville's QUEEN OF THE HILL - inspired by the aforementioned Queen Macha - which tells the story of a strong, sexy but very scary woman; T A Moore's RED MILK - a truly deliciously nasty tale of drug deals, rival gangs and revenge; Adrian McKinty's chilling and atmospheric DIARMAID AND GRAINNE which left me feeling really sad; and Garbhan Downey's FIRST TO SCORE which is a wickedly sly and funny story about football - brilliant stuff, I'm grinning again as I think about it.
BANK OF THE BLACK SHEEP - Robert Lewis
Published: July 2010
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Protagonist: Robin Llywelyn
First Line: 'You wake up in a room you don't recognise, wearing old cotton pyjmas that are too small for you, lying in a single bed like a boy would sleep in.'
This is the third in the trilogy that began with THE LAST LLANELLI TRAIN and continued with SWANSEA TERMINAL. Throughout the trilogy, Lewis has piled the torment on his protagonist - private eye Robin Llywelyn who, at the start of this one, wakes up in a hospice with no memory and, apparently, with only a couple of months left to live (the first words that anyone says to him when he wakes up are "You're on the way out, son."). And it all goes downhill from there. To add insult to injury, he's hand-cuffed to the bed and the police are waiting to speak to him. Apparently he's done something bad - really bad. There are also some other people who want to get hold of him. Llywelyn needs to avoid them, find out whether he really is a bad guy, and try and remember what's going on, all before the inevitable time when the man with the big scythe comes a-calling. Does that sound dark? It is - it's dark, bleak and pretty grim, but it's also deliciously, savagely, wickedly funny.
ENTANGLEMENT - Zygmunt Miloszewski (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Setting: Warsaw, Poland
Protagonist: Teodor Szacki
Series?:1st translated into English
First Line: ' Let me tell you a fairy tale.'
State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki is in charge of the investigation into the death of Henryk Telak following a rather unorthodox group therapy session. There are plenty of suspects and Szacki has numerous other things to worry about. Szacki is a great character - interesting, well-rounded, and often very humourous. I didn't get much of a feel for many of the others though and, in fact, sometimes got them mixed up. Despite that, there's a sense of menace about the book and the look at Poland is fascinating as past and present converge - not only the pasts of the various characters, but also the past of post-communism Poland itself. To set the scene, each chapter has at the start a summary of the news of the day - including weather reports and football scores, which is an interesting touch.
MORE BURGLAR DIARIES - THIEVES LIKE US - Danny King
Publisher: Byker Books
Setting: Fictional town of Tatley, UK
Protagonist: Bex and Ollie
First Line: ' What is it about seeing a bloke reading in a pub that's like a magnet to other blokes?.'
Bex and Ollie are a couple of scallies - small time crooks, always with an eye out for the main chance - as long as it's not too much like hard work. It's a tough life though - trying to stay one step ahead of the police isn't always easy, they have to keep their wits about them to make sure the ne'er-do-wells they hang about with don't beat them to whatever easy pickings are on offer , and their girlfriends can sometimes cause more strife than they're worth. Light-fingered and light-hearted, Bex and Ollie may not be people you want wandering around your gaff at midnight fingering the family silver, but they're utterly charming and they have their own slightly skew-whiff moral code which makes it easy to root for them, even when you know you really should be tut-tutting in disapproval. This book is a series of novellas, each focusing on a different 'job' that they get mixed up in. Quirky, funny, and peopled with irresistible, delightful and cringe-inducing rapscallions.
THE THIRD RAIL - Michael Harvey
Protagonist: PI Michael Kelly
First Line: ' Robles had been on the platform for less than twenty seconds.'
A spree killer is causing havoc on Chicago's public transport system. As he takes a shot at an unlucky random woman waiting on the train platform, ex-Chicago cop-turned PI Michael Kelly is waiting for the same train and he takes off after the sniper. And it seems as though the sniper is expecting - indeed, wanting - that. The police and FBI are understandably jumpy about the killings and are prepared to take any steps to catch the killer, and that includes keeping Kelly close to the investigation, even if he sometimes proves to be a bit of a loose cannon. The book shows the fevered machinations of those in charge as a city is gripped by fear and the media, the mayor and the public want results. And Kelly is stuck in the middle as the case begins to get personal. A fast paced thriller that really keeps up the tension and hurtles along (I won't say like a train), helped by the short chapters told both from Kelly's first person perspective and several third person viewpoints. Not my usual fare (I'm generally not a big fan of action thrillers) and I was confused and unconvinced about the motive/s for the killings, but it was an entertaining read with some excellent characters and a great setting.
SANCTUARY - Ken Bruen
Publisher: Transworld Ireland
Protagonist: Jack Taylor
First Lines: 'Dear Mr Taylor, please forgive the formality.'
Jack Taylor is sober. That's worth mentioning because it doesn't happen very often, nor last very long. He was on his way to the airport, getting ready to leave Ireland, but his friend Ridge was diagnosed with breast cancer, so he stayed. He might live to regret that when he gets a letter from someone. It's a list: 'Two guards, one nun, one judge. And, alas, one child.' And it seems they're all going to die. Spare prose, dark humour. My addiction to Bruen is like Jack's addiction to the bottle. Only I'm never giving up.
July is mostly Scottish month, with a couple of asides due to book discussions. For Helen, my July reading list is:
FEVER OF THE BONE - Val McDermid
HELLO KITTY MUST DIE - Angela Choi
BADFELLAS - Tonino Benacquista
LONG TIME DEAD - Tony Black
SHADOWPLAY - Karen Campbell
FALLOUT - G J Moffat
or, at least, as many of them as I can get to.