Friday, 3 July 2009

What I Read In June

Published: 2009
Setting: Manchester, UK
Protagonist: Cal Innes
Series?: 4th
First Lines: "Declan was a suicide risk. That's what the dumpy nurse told me, her specialist subject the totally fucking obvious."

Cal Innes - ex-con and unlicensed private eye - is hired by local gangster Maurice Tiernan to find his son Mo. There are a couple of things which should make Cal keen to decline the case. Firstly, Cal has never come out well following an encounter with the Tiernans - particularly his old enemy Mo. Secondly, Cal can't even walk or talk properly following a stroke. But Cal always seems to take the path of most resistance. The book is told alternately by the very distinctive voices of Cal - a good man who makes bad mistakes - and the unpleasant and corrupt Detective Sergeant Donkin, who doesn't have a good bone in his body. Each book in the Cal Innes series can be read on its own but it's a hugely powerful series when read in order, with a distinct story arc that is realistic, believable and shocking. Ray Banks is an excellent writer. I was still thinking about this book well after I finished it. Stark, inexorable and compelling. Noir at its best.

KNOCKEMSTIFF - Donald Ray Pollock
Published: 2008
Setting: Knockemstiff, Ohio, 1960s-1990s
Protagonist: Various inhabitants
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: "My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old. It was the only thing he was ever any good at."

Short stories set in the small town of Knockemstiff over a period of decades, which tell the sordid and secretive (and sometimes not so secretive) happenings in the town. Not classed as crime fiction but with its tales of murder, incest, drug-dealing, abuse, violence, rape and theft I think it qualifies! These stories are amazingly atmospheric and evocative. Great writing, wonderful imagery and descriptions, lots of dark humour and full of damaged characters with brutal and depressing lives. You know when you get that excited feeling when you discover a new to you author whose writing just hits you in the gut? My god but this is one of those moments. How about this for a beginning: "We drove down to Parkersburg to cop some more 'roids - fifty ccs of Mexican Deca for 425 American dollars - and I fixed up my son, Sammy, right there is the parking lot of Gold's, one cc in the hip. Deca is thick as molasses, tough shit to inject, but it won't bloat you up like a fucking Amish ham either. He started whimpering like a little girl even before I found the sweet spot." Or this: "When people in town said inbred, what they really meant was lonely." If you're a fan of Daniel Woodrell you should definitely rush out and buy this book.

DEAD LOVELY - Helen Fitzgerald

Published: 2007
Setting: Glasgow and West Highland Way
Protagonist: Krissie Donald
Series?: 1st
First Lines: "Some people find themselves all at once, like an explosion. Backpacking in the Himalayas maybe, or tripping on acid. Some people study the art of finding themselves, and graduate - or not - after years of diligence. I found myself, bit by bit, through a series of accidents really. The first bit I found was in a tent on the West Highland Way. My best friend Sarah was asleep. Her husband was lying beside her, and I was swallowing his semen."

Krissie and Sarah have been best friends since childhood. Krissie sleeps with anything that moves, and a drug fuelled encounter in a nighclub toilet in Tenerife leads to an unwanted pregnancy. Sarah, on the other hand, has been trying to get pregnant for ages and her marriage to Kyle is suffering because of it. Krissie now has post-natal depression and Sarah's obsession for a child is becoming uncontrollable, so Krissie, Sarah and Kyle decide to go on a nice little camping holiday on the West Highland Way to try to take their minds off their troubles and to reclaim some of their carefree youth. Needless to say, with two exceedingly hormonal females on board, things don't quite work out as planned. Gory, gruesome, touching, thrilling, heart-stopping...and often very, very funny. There's an absurdity about it which doesn't take away from the realism and believability.

RAGE - Sergio Bizzio
Published: 2004 (English translation 2009)
Setting: Buenos Aires
Protagonist: Jose Maria
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: "When you were born I was just coming..."

Jose Maria is a construction worker who falls in love with Rosa, a maid working in a big house in Buenos Aires. When he has a row with his boss and is sacked from his job, and his boss is subsequently murdered, Jose Maria goes on the run. But he doesn't run far - just to the attic of the mansion where Rosa is the maid. And there he stays, for years, unnoticed by everyone in the house, including Rosa. I suppose this could be classed as an erotic thriller. It's tense and disturbing, bleak and claustrophobic.


  1. All the Cal Innes books are great, as good as it gets, but BOB is the one that I know I'll keep coming back to again and again.

  2. Me too Paul! Excellent stuff, isn't it?

  3. Hi Donna.

    I hope you are feeling better! My husband and I have had some excellent days in Edinburgh. Today was a bit wet, but that didn´t matter really, as we were a bit tired so we just found a quiet place and enjoyed a pint.

  4. Dorte - sorry I missed you :o( I'm much better now thanks. I'm really glad you had a grand time.