Saturday, 5 March 2011

It's Alternative World Book Night

Updated below in red.

I think World Book Night is a great idea (people giving away books they love - how brilliant is that?!) - my only wish was that the list of books chosen would have included some lesser known authors and books.

So, back at the beginning of December when I first talked about Alternative World Book Night I thought of several books that I love, that deserve to be far better known, that I've bought copies of for friends and generally want to thrust into strangers' hands with an evangelical "Here, you've got to read this book, it's brilliant." The struggle is, which one. I've been thinking about it since December, and I'm still struggling. Not every minute of every day, you understand - that would just make me some kind of weirdo. But every now and again I'll think "Which one of these books that I love, am I going to buy for someone?" And the answer has been eluding me for the last three months. I can't narrow it down, I just can't.

So, since I find myself unable to pick just one book (just as I find a similar difficulty in having just one chocolate), I'm going to have to give away three books - one each by an American, an Englishman, and a Scotsman. These are all books that I love, have re-read several times, and that deserve to be more widely known.

The first of these is one I've raved about on here many times - Eddie Muller's THE DISTANCE. I actually already own three copies of this, but they're all personalised to me and, much as I love you, dear Reader, I'm buggered if you're getting one of those.

When San Francisco’s ‘Mr Boxing’ - sportswriter Billy Nichols - turns up at boxing manager Gig Liardi’s apartment one night in 1948, he finds Gig dead and his fighter, Hack Escalante, standing over him. Billy makes a snap decision to protect Hack and cover up the murder. It’s a choice that he may later regret but, once taken, he sticks to it. This is a wonderfully told tale - very noir, full of corruption, moral ambiguity, betrayal and lies. The mean streets of San Francisco’s sleazy underbelly in the ‘40s really come alive. The writing is gorgeous - really rich and atmospheric.

The outstanding appeal of this book - and its sequel SHADOW BOXER - is the character of Billy Nichols. His tough, cynical outer shell hides a vulnerable interior. He's not the typical macho noir protagonist. He's a sensitive, perceptive, flawed man. He's a storyteller - a chronicler of fact and, sometimes, a creator of fiction. But he's an honest liar, unlike many of the other characters in the book. Because Billy doesn't have that cold, self-destructive, caring for nothing and nobody streak that is the territory of a noir protagonist, the book is suffused with warmth, light, passion and heart. Eddie Muller turns the conventions of noir and hard-boiled novels on their heads.

The second book is the Englishman - Mark Sullivan's CORNED BEEF SANDWICH. If Donald Westlake had been born in Manchester and listened to Marilyn Manson, he could well have written this book. Take a goth assistant in a run-down bookmaker's, a bag of stolen money, a halal corned beef sandwich and an aquarium full of oddly named goldfish; mix them all up with a good dollop of humour, a smattering of romance and some decidedly dodgy characters. Then stand back and watch the sparks fly. The main premise of the book is simple - a hold-up gone wrong, the wrong person ends up with the loot and the baddies want it back. The result is an endearing romp which could easily be renamed Reservoir Goldfish.

The voice of the main character is completely original, the writing is casually stylish and Mark Sullivan writes in a really playful way. Corned Beef Sandwich is a comedy crime thriller where the crime is incidental, the thrills are Manchester home video rather than Hollywood blockbuster, and the comedy is understated and effortless.This is a really good read - completely original, charmingly scruffy and it has that real feelgood factor. It's also the only time I've ever found corned beef appealing.

And the third book is Douglas Lindsay's THE LONG MIDNIGHT OF BARNEY THOMSON - the first in the barbershop death junkie series (yes, really). Despite the fact that there are already seven books in this series, I almost never see it talked about on the online book groups to which I belong. And that's a bloody shame. It's a hilarious series. Glasgow barber Barney Thomson is a bit crap, really - he's a bit crap as a barber, a bit crap as a husband, and a bit crap as a man. He's relegated to the worst chair in the barber's shop - customers would rather wait for one of the other barbers than have their hair cut by Barney (don't get me wrong - on his good days he can give you a Frank Sinatra '62, a Kevin Keegan '74, or an Anwar Sadat '67 - but he's just as likely to send you away looking like a laughing stock); besides, he doesn't really have the patter.

Then there's his wife, who spends all her time watching the soaps, and his mother - who's more than a little bit loopy - is hooked on game shows. Meanwhile, there's a serial killer on the loose in Glasgow and body parts keep turning up in the post. Darkly comic, gleefully gruesome and absurdly warped. As we say in Glasgow - this book is totally aff its heed.

So, all you have to do to win one of these books is to leave me a message in the comments, or send me an e-mail, telling me which one of the above you'd like to receive and also naming a book that you love that you wish was better known (you don't have to give it away - it's just another means of me getting recommendations for great books!) and I'll draw a winner for each of the books in two weeks' time.

And if you want to join in on Alternative World Book Night just post on your blog about a book you love, why you love it and offer it to someone (however you want, competition, draw it out of a hat...whatever). If you're joining in, let me know via e-mail, and I'll link to the posts here. Anyone without a blog who wants to join in, also let me know and I'll host your book rave here at Badsville.

In the comment below, Bobbie is giving away not one but three Daniel Woodrell books - The Bayou Trilogy made up of BRIGHT LIGHTS, MUSCLE FOR THE WING and THE ONES YOU DO. I can also highly recommend them - Daniel Woodrell is one of my favourite authors. If you want this trilogy, let me know and I'll pass your requests on to Bobbie, or leave a message in the comments.

Over at her blog, Patti Abbott is giving away Castle Freeman's GO WITH ME, another book which I really enjoyed and which definitely flew under the radar. Let Patti know if you would like it.


  1. Tonight at 8:30 EST
    Never have figured out how to give the exact URL until it publishes and I won't be home.

    GO WITH ME, Castle Freeman

  2. Donna, please put me in the running for Douglas Lindsay's book The Long Midnight of Barney dad was a barber and I love Glasgow, and I'm off my heed at times.

    I've had a time trying to decide which, also. After trying and trying to decide, I guess I'll choose one of my top favourite authors, his first works are 3 mysteries set in Louisiana and I am not sure I know anyone other than me who has read them (although I suspect you have?). But now they are being reissued in a set of three, so my winner will actually get three books! It's called THE BAYOU TRILOGY by Daniel Woodrell and includes BRIGHT LIGHTS, MUSCLE FOR THE WING, and THE ONES YOU DO. Rene Shade is an ex-boxer, now a police detective in rural Louisiana's Cajun country and he has issues of course. There's violence and heart, great plotting, and the man writes like no one else-spare and yet the words and people will stay with one, for a good while. "Woodrell injects Shade's life and various cases with both humor and brutal violence...There's poetry in Woodrell's mayhem, each novel—and scene—full of gritty and memorable Cajun details." from Publisher's Weekly and I totally agree! Though many have heard of Woodrell, he still is not as well known as he should be, and many who know his stellar work do not know of these three mysteries at all, have never heard of Rene Shade and this series. One last caveat: This trilogy is not published till late April, so even though you win, I will not be shipping it till then. And if no one wants them, I'll add them beside the really old beat up used ones I bought in the 90's, new and old versions. :-)

    This is fun, thanks Donna for doing this!

  3. Thanks Patti - I loved GO WITH ME - great book.

    Bobbie - you're right - Daniel Woodrell is a genius. I've read the trilogy (in individual books, of course) and love the character of Rene Shade. I was hoping you might pick Woodrell :o) Thanks so much.

  4. I think that's a great idea! I hope people are encouraged to read by all of this book giving away goodness. I always give my books away after I read them. If I realy want them back I put my name inside the cover and eventually they make their way home. Others I just luanch out into the ocean and who knows where they will end up. Books sitting on a shelf are dead.
    Go on - pass them on - antyime not just on Wold Book Night!

  5. Eddie Muller's The Distance sounds like something I'd really enjoy.

    And how GOOD is Daniel Woodrell. I've gotta get me a copy of the Bayou Trilogy when it comes out.

    I'm a wee bit behind on this WBD thing. Still haven't made my "alternative" choice. But dinnae fret, Our Donna. It will be up on my blog by tomorrow night.

  6. I still remember the sheer glee I had when I first read LONG MIDNIGHT - an absolute stoatir of a book that was easily my favourite book of that year. CUTTING EDGE is almost as good and while subsequent sequels have, inevitably, suffered in comparison they're all worth seeking out. Barney deserves to be much better known!!

    Now, who'd play him in the BBC TV adaptation?

  7. As Mancunian born and bred, I'll put in a bid for Corned Beef Sandwich.

    Now in terms of a alternative WBN book - I would suggest The Last Llanelli Train by Robert Lewis - downer than downbeat Welsh noir.

  8. Douglas Lindsay6 March 2011 at 11:57

    Just noticed that you'd included Long Midnight in your alternative World Book Night, and said some very nice things about it. Thank you very much.
    See you in May!

  9. Michael - you're in the hat for the Eddie Muller!

    Jim - hmmmmm - that's a toughie - what do you think?

    Laura - I loved The Last Llanelli Train - good call. And you're in the hat.

    Douglas - you are most welcome. I'm re-reading all the Barney stories so that I can ask you intelligent questions at Crimefest :o)

  10. Ooooh... when I read the books, I always picture a Scottish actor called Jake D'Arcy. He's one of those character actors with a "where have I seen you before?" face.