A small but perfectly formed month.
THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ - Sam Hawken
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Setting: Juarez, Mexico
Protagonist: Kelly Courter/Rafael Sevilla
First Line: 'Roger Khan wrote "Boxing is smoky halls and kidneys battered until they bleed," but in Mexico, everything bled in the ring. And there was also pain.'
This is one of the darkest, bleakest, most brilliant books I've ever read. Kelly Courter is a jaded, worn-out boxer. Drugs, drink, and a series of fights where he's basically used as a punching bag, are a far cry from his previous successful career in Texas. The one bright spot in his life is his girlfriend Paloma - a volunteer at an organisation trying to get justice for the hundreds of women who have disappeared in Juarez in recent years. Many of them have been found murdered. Some have never been found. Senseless brutality, poverty, fear, hopelessness and desperation soak the pages of this book. I felt utterly sad and drained after I'd finished it. It's only January, but I already know it will be on my best of 2011 list. It's really stunning in an 'oh my god, tell me that didn't just happen' sort of way. This book is so dark and gritty and hard-boiled that you feel as though somebody's locked you in a cellar and thrown seven tons of coal down on top of you before boiling you so hard you need a pickaxe to get out. Sorry, that was a very forced metaphor. It's bloody dark, OK?
CUCKOO - Julia Crouch
First Line: 'When Rose heard that Christos had been killed, she didn't think twice: Polly and the boys must come to stay.'
After I read that first line, I thought "Hmmmm, something tells me that inviting Polly and the boys to stay is going to be a bad idea." How right I was. Rose's perfect world is thrown into disarray when Polly - artistic, manipulative, magnetic, mysterious - arrives with her two unruly sons. CUCKOO really pulls you in. From a slow build-up, this atmospheric story takes you through several twists and turns. You never really know what's happening, or who is really who they portray themselves. For the last third of the book I was reading while I walked down the street, and also missed my stop on the bus because I was so engrossed. Very clever, creepy and chilling. Makes you wonder who your friends are. Excellent stuff.
SPIKE - John Burns
Publisher: Pan Books
Protagonist: Max Chard
First Line: 'He came out when I was just about to give up hope.'
Tabloid journalist Max Chard has been tasked with getting a story on dodgy politician, Howard Lanche. After spending seven cold, damp hours, outside the mews house of a young woman who is definitely not Mrs Lanche, Max is more than ready to get back home to warmth, dryness and a litre or two of gin. He can almost see the story - Lover Boy's Lanche Pad - (yes, it's that sort of a newspaper), but something tells him that the story is going to be spiked. I enjoy this series - cynical and rather seedy, Max is a great character - slightly dodgy, and prepared to do almost anything for a story, but he has his own moral code. The books are fun, witty and entertaining.
February is Scottish month and my list of reads is, hopefully, the following:
Tony Black - TRUTH LIES BLEEDING
Kevin MacNeil - A METHOD ACTOR'S GUIDE TO JEKYLL AND HYDE
Neil Forsyth - LET THEM COME THROUGH
Stuart MacBride - DARK BLOOD
Craig Russell - LENNOX