Thursday, 30 July 2009

What I Read In July

KILLING MUM - Allan Guthrie
Published: 2009
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Carlos Morales
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'The padded envelope contained a note and a bundle of cash.'

Small, but perfectly formed, that's Al Guthrie for you.This is one of the splendid series of novellas published by Five Leaves. Ladies, you too can own a nifty, handbag sized Allan Guthrie that packs a punch and takes up less room than a pack of important lady things. In KILLING MUM Carlos Morales does odd jobs for people. Several of those odd jobs involve offing people. When Carlos receives a padded envelope one day it's a good news, bad news sort of affair. The good news is that a mystery client will pay him £20,000 to kill Valerie Anderson. The bad news is that Valerie Anderson is his mother. Oh, and there's more bad news. He suspects the woman he loves of being the one who wants his mother dead. Dark, warped and funny, and with a surprising number of twists and turns for such a short book. I read it in one sitting, alternately giggling and gasping. Strangely enough I had a whole train carriage to myself by the end of it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

GUN - Ray Banks
Published: 2008
Setting: Newcastle
Protagonist: Richie
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: ''Course, when he thought back on it, it was all Goose's fault. He was the one gave him the job in the first place.'

Another great Crime Express novella from Five Leaves. Richie is 18 and has recently been released from jail where he spent eighteen months for ABH, doing a job for local drug dealer, Goose. And if he'd given up Goose to the police, he might not have spent as long inside. Richie's girlfriend Becka wants him to get a proper job, and he's planning to, but he needs to make some money and working for a drug dealer pays well. So he agrees to go and pick up a gun - a nice simple task...only it's not. From the moment you find out that Goose doesn't even remember Richie - which makes Richie's stint in jail even more pointless - everything has a hopeless inevitability about it. Brutal and heartbreaking. Petty criminals and their grim, futile lives - bloody brilliant stuff. Ray Banks is one hell of a writer.

Published: November 2008
Setting: New York
Protagonist: Matthew Patrick O'Shea
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Where do I begin? Wasn't that like a song? And a pretty fucking bad one.'

Matthew O'Shea (known as Shea (and called Michael on the inside flap of the book!)) is an Irish policeman. Right at the start he tells us he's a split personality - a good cop/bad cop thing. Well, he's wrong. He's bad cop/worse cop. From time to time he zones out, to a place "covered in ice and fierceness." When he's in that place he does bad things - very bad things. Many of them involving women with beautiful long necks. He manages to get picked as part of an exchange program to go to New York, where he is teamed up with Kebar - a brutal and unstable cop whose partners either get hurt or ask to be transferred. Brrrrrrrr. Shea is one of the most chillingly psychopathic characters it has ever been my pleasure to meet. In fact, there are more than a couple of stone cold characters in this book. And Ken Bruen is brilliant at making monsters palatable. You might not like his characters, but you sure as hell want to find out what happens to them. His writing is lyrical, brutal and ferocious.

Published: 2009
Setting: A small Scottish village on the east coast of Scotland
Protagonist: Grace
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'They say that everybody has a secret. For some it's a stolen extramarital kiss on a balmy evening after two or three glasses of wine. For others it's that girl, teased mercilessly about the shape of her nose or the whine in her voice until she has to move school. Some of us, though, keep secrets that make liars of our lives.'

Grace, her husband Paul and their twin teenage daughters have a seemingly idyllic life in a beautiful village on the Scottish coast. But there are undercurrents and lies in this peaceful setting. Grace has been keeing a secet for the last twenty years and a phone call from an old friend threatens to destroy her happiness and that of those closest to her. Grace's secret involves Rose - a girl who was nine years old when she died. A very promising debut that hooks you in. I didn't particularly feel close to any of the characters, and I couldn't warm to Grace, but I stayed up way past my bedtime to find out what happened to her, and to Rose. A well written, atmospheric and frosty psychological thriller.

DAVID'S REVENGE - Hans Werner Kettenbach
Published: 1994
Setting: Germany
Protagonist: Christian Kestner
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Ninoshvili's letter has made me curiously uneasy. It's ridiculous, but I felt something like a presentiment of disaster at the mere sight of the dingy grey envelope when I came home today after teaching five tedious lessons and found it lying on the hall table.'

Christian Kestner - school-teacher, husband, father, and bit of a smug git - has his life thrown into a spin when David Ninoshvili announces in a letter that he will be arriving from Georgia for a visit. Christian visited Georgia seven years before, when it was under Soviet rule, and enjoyed Ninoshvili's hospitality. And he almost enjoyed Ninoshvili's wife. With increasingly caustic paranoia, Christian worries why David is coming - is he a Georgian spy? Does he have anything on Christian? Is he going to be seeking political asylum? Does he want revenge for Christian's almost dalliance with his wife? And when David arrives and starts to charm Christian's wife and son, Ralf(even more galling since Christian and his son have been growing apart due to Ralf's seeming involvement with a right wing group), Christian's worries increase ten-fold. Nationalism, espionage, racism, politics, morality, suspicion - huge themes, investigated within a prosaic middle-class setting.


  1. You haven't seen my handbag.

  2. LOL. You mean it's small? Or it's stuffed full of junk? That would be just like mine :o)

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