Monday 28 February 2011

An Exercise in Futility

This weekend's cinematic viewing was 13 Tzameti - a taut, minimalist French thriller about a young workman who follows mysterious instructions left for a dead man and ends up in a horrible situation. Simple, grim, unnerving. I spent the first 40 minutes wondering what on earth was happening, the next 40 wishing it wasn't, and the last bit being a little disappointed in the ending.

In the 'only in Glasgow' section, I joined a gym today (now, I know that's very funny, and totally unbelievable, but it's not the story). During my induction, the other inductee was a young man. The gym instructor asked both of us if we'd ever belonged to a gym before.

"What do you think?" said I.

He turned without further ado to the young man. "Aye, ah huv," he said.

"Where was that?" said the gym instructor.

"In the secure unit."

The gym instructor went pale. He was inducting Jabba The Hutt and Jack The Ripper.

So, completely off topic, I thought I'd tell you about the last time I joined a gym (the same gym, as it happens, but I think it's been long enough for the memories to fade. They allowed me back in, anyway.

Several years ago, two major operations within 4 months led to a period of complete inactivity and overeating. And we're not talking a couple of months here. More like a year. So you can guess the consequences. A body that was never slim and sylphlike began to gradually resemble The Blob.

I decided that it was time to lose weight and get fit. So, despite my stomach's protests, I gave up sugar, fat, dairy products, alcohol - everything, in fact, which makes life worth living. Then, of course, a friend (now ex-friend) uttered that four letter word - exercise. Yes, now was the time to work a bit of gentle exercise into the quest for a New Improved Donna. Time to peruse the offerings at the Leisure Centre for something suitable.

Aerobics? Definitely not - way too much jumping up and down and getting red in the face. Aqua-aerobics? What - this body in a swimming costume? I think not. How about Total Body Conditioning? 'Exercises to tone up the whole body'. That's it, the very thing, I thought. Blow the dust off my trainers and off I toddled.

Total Body Conditioning? Ha! More like Total Body Annihilation. This was an hour long class of sheer torture. I'm sure the woman who taught it also had a job as a professional sadist during the week. Good grief! You know how people say they used muscles they never knew they had? Well, I felt as though a whole army of really bad-tempered muscles that nobody would ever even want had spent a whole hour beating me up.

First of all you fetched a squishy mat. Great, I thought, a little lie down. I can cope with that. Then you picked some little weights out of big tubs. There were lime green ones, red ones and turquoise ones. Like Goldilocks, I made my way over to the tubs. First the turquoise ones. Oh-oh, no good, I couldn't even lift the things out of the tub. Then the red tub. Hmmmm, better, but a tentative attempt at lifting one of them above my shoulders made me realize that those little darlings were not for me. On to the lime green tub. Ahhhhhh, just right. About the weight of a nice big piece of chocolate fudge cake. I strolled confidently back to my mat, lime green weights swinging from my hands.

"You", said the Sadist. "Yes, you with the wimpy lime green weights. Is there any reason why you can't use the red ones?"

"What, apart from the fact that I need two hands to lift one? No, apart from that, no reason."

The accusing finger swung round to point at the tub of red weights and I slunk back up to the front to get a pair.

We then did 15 minutes of aerobic exercise to "warm us up". Riiiiiiight. By the end of the 15 minutes I was generating enough heat to power the whole of Scotland. Perhaps a little lie down on the mat would come next? Unfortunately not. For the next 45 minutes we worked each muscle group until it begged for mercy.

The arm exercise with Red Monster Weights From Hell came first. You know how you do, say, 8 repetitions of an exercise and you feel OK? And then you do 8 more and by the last couple the bit of body you're exercising is shaking and protesting? Well, it got to that stage. And then She Who Must Be Obeyed made us do 8 more. And just when you thought your body was going to fall apart, yes, there were another 8 to do. I think at one point I cried out "I'm in the wrong class - I want to be Catherine Zeta Jones not Jean Claude Van Damme", but it may just have been in my head. I believe my teeth were gritted too hard to say anything.

Finally we were allowed to put the weights down. I nearly cried with relief. Luckily I saved my tears. Because I needed them for the next set of exercises - outer thighs and buttocks. My outer thighs and buttocks subsequently disowned me. After those exercises I couldn't stand up any more. Luckily I didn't need to stand as we were down on the mat for inner thighs. Oh goodie. By now I had lost the will to live. I never realized that raising your leg two inches off the floor could be so hard. Holding it there for what felt like a week was even harder.

With every muscle in my body cringing and shaking, it seemed as though there was just abdominals left to do. By this time, my brain had switched itself into survival mode, and my eyes were glazed and even more vacant than usual.

Finally, 5 minutes of stretching and relaxing. At last I got to lay down on that inch thick rubber mat that felt like a goosedown quilt. From my prone position on the floor I waved to people as they put away their mats and weights and left the room.

"Are you alright?" said The Sadist.

"Gosh yes, I'm fine. Don't worry about me. I always lie down for half an hour after exercising."

"Well, there's another class about to start in here..."

"Oh, that's OK, they won't bother me. I'll just lie here and listen to the music. If you could just ask them to lift me into a standing position when the class is over that would be great."

I then had a ten minute walk home, during which time my muscles were moaning "You can't make us do this after all we've just been through. Can't you call a cab or something? It's miles. Can we just have a lie down on top of that hedge or something?"

When I got home even my tongue (which, by the way is the only muscle in my body which gets a regular workout), was refusing to co-operate.

"Hnngh wah egxcruuuh" I said to myself, as I collapsed into bed for a well-earned nap.

So, having come to the conclusion that exercise classes were not for me, I decided that a solitary workout in the gym was more my style. So I arranged an induction session where I was introduced to the instruments of torture masquerading as exercise machines. There was The Albino Bat Wing Reducer, The Gynaecologist's Chair, The I Look Really Stupid With My Bum Stuck Out Like This, and The How The Heck Am I Supposed To Lift This One.

And then there was the Cardiac Room (they call it Cardio, but I know better). I get really tired out just watching the people next to me on their treadmills running. Running?!?! Where's the point in that? I only run if someone puts a big jam donut at the other end of the room. And even then I have to sit down for a good half hour afterwards.

So with running not an option, I just walk, feeling really pointless not getting anywhere, while staring at my stupid face in the mirror (and what is it with gyms and exercise classes that they have to plaster all the walls with mirrors? Everywhere I look there's me, looking like the creature from the black lagoon with stray bits bouncing about all over the place. Is that supposed to make me work harder? Am I supposed to think "Wow, this exercise is really making me look gorgeous?" Well, that might be true if you look good in yellow lycra and your make up doesn't slide off as soon as somebody says "pump those knees ladies", but it's definitely not the case if your face turns that ugly purple colour that clashes with whatever enormous leggings and t-shirt combo you've happened to drag out of the wardrobe that morning.

My most hated machine is the rowing machine. I look at that machine and want it to die a horrible death. I discovered that the only way I could cope with it for any length of time was to turn my ipod up really loud and close my eyes. I'm sure I looked really odd as I sat there rowing away with my eyes closed, singing in my head (and, on more than one horrific occasion, out loud - whoops), and with my head bobbing in time with the music. But anyway, that's what I used to do.

To add insult to many, many injuries, the very last time I went to the gym on that earlier endevaour, I was rowing away, oblivious to everything except trying not to sing out loud to Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London, and there was a tap on my arm. I jumped about six feet in the air, yelped, and opened my eyes. It was one of the staff. Apart from us, the whole place was empty. Everyone else in the whole building was now gathered outside. The fire alarm was shrieking away and, oh joy of joys, the fire assembly point was right outside. I knew this because the wall of the cardiac room is glass from floor to ceiling. Unfortunately, this meant that they could all see me as I sat on the rowing machine, eyes closed, face red, sweat dripping, letting out a silent werewolf howl.

So, tell me...why, exactly, have I re-joined?

Back to your regularly scheduled Scottish crime fiction news on Wednesday.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Berlin Calling

I've been investigating things to see and places to visit for our forthcoming trip to Berlin - so far my list includes an abandoned amusement park, some mechanical monsters, a cinema in a squat, and a sex museum. Plus I'm wondering how Ewan feels about a tank driving experience. For me, not him, of course.

I've always said that Ian Rankin is one of the most generous people in crime fiction and this just proves it.

A few interviews. First of all ten minutes with Irvine Welsh, a video interview with William McIlvanney, an excellent interview with Tony Black over at Crimeculture, and Craig Robertson talks about RANDOM.

And, talking of Tony Black, he and the equally lovely Russel McLean will be at Cowdenbeath Library on March 17th.

Here's Doug Johnstone in the Scottish Review of Books. And he's having a launch party for SMOKEHEADS (which I've just received - woohoo!) on Thursday 3rd March in Edinburgh. And here's the unofficial trailer. And he's all over the place, the floozy. I'm hoping to make the Aye Write event on the 8th.

Milo of Milo's Rambles reviews Charles Cumming's THE TRINITY SIX.

Alexander McCall Smith's opera - The Okavango Macbeth - has its first UK airing in Edinburgh on 20th and 21st April.

Have a lovely weekend, dear Reader. More on Sunday.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Tartan Accents and Associated Randomness

Tony Black on Tartan Noir in The Scotsman.

Gordon Ferris' readers struggle with the accent. 'At's braw, ye ken? And, talking of accents, how about this (via the lovely Michael Malone). It reminds me of the first time I went to visit my friend Bobbie in Illinois and my luggage didn't arrive (as opposed to the second time I went to visit Bobbie in Illinois and my luggage didn't arrive). The nice lady at the Whoops, We've Misplaced Your Luggage place gave me a number to ring. It was an automated number. The nice robot asked me my surname.

"Moore", I said.

"I'm sorry, did you say HUANG?" said the automated voice.

"No, I said Moore" I said patiently.

"I'm sorry, did you say IRRGZ?" said the automated voice

"No, I said MOORE" I said.

Silence and a few clicks on the phone.The nice robot decided to try a different tack. "Please give your reference number."

"5 4 8 Z P O X" I said.

"I'm sorry, did you say 3 7 9 Q W A D?"

"No, I said 5 4 8 Z P O X."

"I'm sorry, did you say 6 1 2 N Y K L?"

I decided to try an American accent, to see if this would work. I was quite impressed with myself.

"I'm sorry, did you say your name was Scarlett O'Hara and that you were from Brooklyn?" said the voice, not sorry at all.

A review of Alex Gray's SLEEP LIKE THE DEAD. And the Nerd of Noir reviews CALIFORNIA by Ray Banks.

Philip Kerr will be appearing at the Boston Public Library on April 21st. And Gillian Galbraith will be doing a short library tour of Edinburgh (that's a short tour, not a short library). And, talking of tours, how about the Bookworm's Tour of Scotland? Hmmmmm, not much crime fiction there, methinks.

Margot Kinberg puts the spotlight rather splendidly on Ian Rankin's EXIT MUSIC.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Cinematic Sunday Round-Up

This weekend's film viewing was a real mixture. First of all, we saw a fast paced thriller called LONDON TO BRIGHTON which was excellent, if sometimes very uncomfortable viewing. A low key British thriller which has a prostitute and a young female runaway fleeing London for the safety of Brighton. The first scene has the young girl - her face tear-stained and make-up streaked - hiding out in a grubby public toilet, while the prostitute - one eye blackened a swollen - goes out onto the street to get some money for their train journey. Right from the start I knew this wasn't going to be easy viewing. And it wasn't. It was brutal, hard-hitting and pretty bloody grim, but not unrelentingly so. Good job we watched it at home, since I cried. The acting was excellent - particularly from the actress playing the runaway (Georgia Groome). If you do see the film, watch the outtakes - it lightens the mood and makes you remember it's just a film.

On Saturday it was off to the Glasgow Film Festival to see two films. The first of these was ATTENBERG - a Greek film from the same director as the weird and wonderful DOGTOOTH. It's about a naive young woman - Marina - who tries to make sense of the world around her by watching the animal documentaries of David Attenborough and listening to the band Suicide. She has one friend - Bella - who she practises kissing with, as well as spitting out of windows and doing weird walks. The only other characters are Marina's father, who's dying of cancer, and a man visiting the town who Marina drives around. I quite liked bits of it but there were a lot of scenes that seemed pointless and only there for padding. There was no real plot, and not enough other stuff to replace a plot, if that makes sense. It doesn't have enough soul. OK, but not as good as Dogtooth.

The second film was an altogether much more satisfying experience - a Danish film called NOTHING'S ALL BAD. Like Attenberg, it focuses on four main characters - each of them has their own problems, all of them have experienced pain and their wounds are raw - be they physical, psychological or emotional, all of them are lonely and isolated, and all of them have needs and desires. Their stories really draw you in, and none of them are as you expect. Funny, touching, sad, compelling, witty, understated. It's sometimes shocking, sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious - I really loved this film. Dad - it's not one for Mum. There's a fair bit of sex in it. In fact, you'd better not watch it either.

Onto the crime fiction news. Loads of reviews today. First of all, Publisher's Weekly review Gerald Hammond's ILLEGAL TENDER, oneregard enjoyed Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG and The Guardian liked Charles Cumming's THE TRINITY SIX, relishing the 'tweedy warmth of an old school spy thriller'

Peter May is getting lots of ink - both print and virtual. Lovereading reviews THE BLACKHOUSE, as does The Scotsman, while the LitWitch reviews BLOWBACK.

The Scotsman has an article on Gordon Ferris' THE HANGING SHED - apparently a Kindle hit. I downloaded it to my lovely new Kindle last week and am looking forward to reading it.

Join The Pelican Post for An Afternoon With Alexander McCall Smith on March 3rd. And Itchy Coo, publishers of Alexander McCall Smith's Scots language books, are to close.

Talking of events, I was gutted to discover that both Women On The Dark Side events at Aye Write, with Karen Campbell, Denise Mina, Caro Ramsay, Louise Welsh, Alice Thompson and Alex Gray are sold out. However, on the plus side, my friend Twenty-Seven and I have tickets for this event with Allan Guthrie, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh, and I'm hoping to go to this one with Doug Johnstone.

Friday 18 February 2011

That Friday Feeling

Several Scottish crime fiction events on World Book Night. Apart from the Aye Write events, Christopher Brookmyre is in Perth, while Karen Campbell, Helen Fitzgerald and at the wonderful Glasgow Women's Library in the evening. More details on that as I have them.

Talking of World Book Night, here's a reminder of Alternative World Book Night. All you need to do is recommend a book you wish was better known, and give a copy away (and let me know you're in so I can list it here at Badsville).

Charles Cumming on espionage.

The Oxford Times reviews Val McDermid's TRICK OF THE DARK.

Alex Gray, Tony Black and Gordon Brown get tips from the inmates of the Bar-L. Great article.

Alexander McCall Smith at the Fayetteville Public Library on April 8th.

Scots are being urged to show support for their local library.

And, finally, some spooky Edinburgh tours.

Have a lovely weekend, dear Reader.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Crimefest , Battles and Strippers

The Crimefest programme is up. Look at my lovely panelists. Despite the fact that being on a panel makes me physically sick, I'm excited to be asking all these lovely people questions.

At 11.20 am on Friday
I Was A Male Warbride: Confessions Of A Crime Fiction Author
  • Chris Ewan
  • Helen Fitzgerald
  • Douglas Lindsay
  • Steve Mosby
  • Moderator: Donna Moore
At 2.10 pm on Friday
Monkey Business: When Mischievous Crosses Over Into Deceitful Behaviour
  • Colin Bateman
  • Colin Cotterill
  • Chris Ewan
  • L.C. Tyler
  • Moderator: Donna Moore
I want to be Ian Rankin - not only does he get to attend video shoots (I love this song by St Jude's Infirmary), but he gets to talk to all sorts of cool musicians. Here he is, in conversation with Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai who, incidentally, I saw in concert a couple of weeks ago (and who were most excellent). And here's Mr Rankin discussing Miss Jean Brodie.

My Favourite Books blog on Craig Robertson's RANDOM. And a eview of Philip Kerr's FIELD GREY.

An interview with Charles Cumming.

And Peter May talks about his latest book THE BLACKHOUSE.

Alexander McCall Smith and the Battle for Prestonpans.

And, finally, I'm definitely writing a story about this one. One thing strikes me though - she must have either big garters or fat legs to fit that amount of money in (I'm assuming it wasn't in $100 bills).

Monday 14 February 2011

St Valentine's Day - Sin, Poison, Frog Sex and Elderly Bandits

Hello all. Well, what an excellent weekend. I learned to play Siouxsie's guitar part on the Banshees SIN IN MY HEART. Very badly. Next week - The Cramps' HUMAN FLY. That one involves more notes. Oh dear. This is shaping up to be a disaster, just like the time I had to play the recorder in the school play of The Pied Piper of Hamelyn. Still, at least I have the Poison Ivy boots, even if I can't play the notes.

This weekend's films were a Canadian film called THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS which was so bad we stopped it half an hour in, and Almodovar's BROKEN EMBRACES which was pretty good. Next weekend it's the Glasgow Film Festival so we're going to go to a couple of those - ATTENBERG and NOTHING'S ALL BAD. Anyone seen either of those?

I also had a splendid time looking for eBooks, loads of which are now sitting in my lovely new Kindle. February is Scottish reading month, but March may well have to be Kindle month.

A slew of reviews. First of all Terry Halligan at Eurocrime loves Craig Robertson's RANDOM. And, also at Eurocrime, the lovely Lizzie Hayes really enjoys Val McDermid's TRICK OF THE DARK. The Telegraph also gives TRICK OF THE DARK some ink.

Ian Rankin (amongst others) on the joys of Twitter.

I always seem to be pointing you towards Douglas Lindsay's blog, but that's just because his posts are always so interesting. This one talks about frog sex and testicle grabbing book covers.

Quintin Jardine will be launching his latest book THE LONER at Tranent Library on 31 March.

And, finally, the 'Granddad Bandit'. Some people have a real nerve, don't they? He just waited in line...

Friday 11 February 2011

In Which Your Humble Blogger Is Called A Huge Ball

Today I am Dancing With Myself over at Nigel Bird's gaff, where Nigel calls me 'a huge ball'. I also bought a Kindle and got conned. It's been rather a good day, on the whole. On the getting conned front, I was walking through Glasgow and this very dapper elderly gent wearing a trilby and a mouth full of gold teeth approached me. "Latvia. Baltic. Tourist. Lovely. Glasgow. Lady. Shake hand, shake hand" he said. I translated this to mean "Hello lovely lady from Glasgow. I'm a tourist from Latvia, which is in the Baltics. Would you like to shake my hand?" So I did.

Beaming at me with his gold teeth twinkling in the Glasgow sun, he continued to pump my arm as though he was trying to milk me and said "One pound. One pound." I reached into my handbag. "Ten cigarettes. Three pounds, three pounds." I laughed and rummaged for my purse. "Hungry. Five pounds, five pounds." Soft touch that I am, gave him a fiver. As he folded it neatly and tucked it into a pocket he said, hopefully. "Ten pounds. Ten pounds."

"Not a chance, not a chance," I said, and walked off, laughing.

The Bowed Bookshelf enjoyed Ray Banks' BEAST OF BURDEN, Milo's Rambles reviews Craig Robertson's RANDOM, and The List reviews Tony Black's TRUTH LIES BLEEDING.

Peter May's THE BLACKHOUSE, set on the Isle of Lewis, only makes it to us thanks to the French. Merci, les gars.

Lots of news from Douglas Lindsay. And that'll be why my copy of 21 YEARS ON THE BACK OF DIXIE KLONDYKE'S SPANISH GUITAR hasn't arrived yet. Damn.

Alexander McCall Smith approves of Penelope Keith opening a tea room, and is vexed by teabags. Whilst Peter Kerr is having trouble with his pipes.

Have a lovely weekend, dear Reader.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Flu, Apps and Alternative World Book Night

I should be in Edinburgh this evening for the launch of Tony Black's fantastic TRUTH LIES BLEEDING (review to follow). Instead, I am in bed with the flu. And very grumpy. In the meantime, here's Tony talking about the new book over at Do Some Damage.

Allan Guthrie talks to Spinetingler about e-books, and to Paul Brazill about all sorts of stuff. Spinetingler also talks to Nigel Bird about e-publishing his short story collection DIRTY OLD TOWN.

And Ian Rankin talks to his twitter followers about lunch with his publishers.

Alexander McCall Smith has joined Ian Rankin in having his own i-phone app. I have an i-phone, I love technology, but I've never downloaded a single app. Am I missing some good stuff, dear Reader?

Alex Gray talks to the Paisley Daily Express about her new book SLEEP LIKE THE DEAD.

The Mystery Librarian reviews BUSY BODY by M C Beaton.

Ian Rankin apparently cures DAD.

And, finally, just a reminder of Alternative World Book Night. All you need to do is recommend a book you wish was better known, and give a copy away (and let me know you're in so I can list it here at Badsville.

Monday 7 February 2011

Lemmings, Warbrides, Monkeys and Rhinos

Well, this weekend's cinematic viewing was a bit of a duffer - a French film called Lemming. We put it on our Lovefilm list with high hopes, having seen the excellent Harry, He's Here To Help from the same director the previous week. Unfortunately, it was pretentious, overwrought, incomprehensible twaddle. Oh well, you can't win them all.

Crimefest moderators and panellists are being contacted with their assignments. I'm moderating two panels. One of them is called I Was A Male Warbride: Confessions of A Crime Fiction Author and will feature Chris Ewan, Helen Fitzgerald, Douglas Lindsay and Steve Mosby. Yesssssssssss! What a lucky moderator I am. I am already devising some fiendish homework for my lovely panellists. Possibly the history of the cosy mystery through the medium of interpretative dance. For the other panel - titled Monkey Business - not all the panellists have come back yet to say they're available so I'd better shut up about that one, but it's also a cracker. And yes, there is a theme to the panel titles.

A review of Christopher Brookmyre's PANDAEMONIUM.

I always read the International Crime Authors blog with interest - they always have such great posts. I mostly link to those penned by Colin Cotterill, who is a comedy genius, and a lovely man to boot (not that I would, of course - that wouldn't be nice). Today, however, here's an excellent post by Margie Orford on the ethics of writing about crime.

No Scottish Academy of Literature after all.

Ian Rankin's naughty neighbours.

Gillian Galbraith is doing some events in Edinburgh in March.

Alexander McCall Smith offers to buy a rhino for Edinburgh.

Thursday 3 February 2011

So random, I can't even think of a title

The Crimefest programme is finalised. Moderators and panellists will shortly be getting e-mails and then it will be going up on the website. I have a fiendish piece of homework for my panellists. Little do they know - bwahahahahaha.

Ian Rankin gets lyrical for Let's Get Lyrical.

Lots of reviews today. First of all a couple from Karen over at How Mysterious! - Caro Ramsay's ABSOLUTION and Alexander McCall Smith's THE CHARMING QUIRKS OF OTHERS.

Next, a review of Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, and another. LoveReading on Val McDermid's TRICK OF THE DARK. Sugar Creek Cottage reviews M C Beaton's DEATH OF A MAID, and the lovely Bernadette over at Reactions To Reading really enjoyed Christopher Brookmyre's PANDAEMONIUM.

And here's a review of Allan Guthrie's BYE BYE BABY, which is currently number 10 on Amazon's Kindle list. Let's see if we can get it to number 1.

Nigel Bird's debut short story collection is out and getting some nice comments.

Seventy years after his death, The Scotsman wonders why John Buchan doesn't get as much notice he deserves.

If you want to catch Alex Gray out and about she's doing a few events over the next few months - including a trip to Barlinnie on February 15th (which, I guess, doesn't so much count as 'out and about' as 'banged up'. You might find that one a bit difficult to attend without a prior reservation. Incidentally, she's doing that one with Tony Black and Gordon Brown. I do believe we're only missing Mr Pink and Mr Orange for a full cast list.

Talking of Tony Black, he's just signed up with the glorious Pulp Press to write a novella for them. No news on what it's about yet, but I for one can't wait. Although, of course, I'll have to. Oh, and by the way, I've just finished Tony's new one - TRUTH LIES BLEEDING - which is due out next week, is bloody brilliant. Review to follow.

And, finally, Helen Fitzgerald on being rejected. Oh, and Helen...I love you and I am in love with you.

Have a lovely weekend, Dear Reader.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

What I Read In January

A small but perfectly formed month.

Published: 2011
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Setting: Juarez, Mexico
Protagonist: Kelly Courter/Rafael Sevilla
Series?: Standalone
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
Published: 2010
Publisher: Headline
Setting: Wiltshire
Protagonist: Rose
Series?: Standalone
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
Published: 2000
Publisher: Pan Books
Setting: London
Protagonist: Max Chard
Series?: 4th
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:

Stuart MacBride - DARK BLOOD
Craig Russell - LENNOX