Friday, 18 March 2011

What I Read In February

Yes, I know it's nearly the end of March. What can I say? I'm a bad, bad blogger. Anyway, February was Scottish month and what a lovely month it was, too.

But, before I get to that, I just want to say thank you for all your kind wishes - they must have worked because I've been accepted on the course - a Masters in Community Learning and Development at Glasgow Uni. I couldn't be more thrilled and am really looking forward to starting. And in two weeks time I am officially laid-off (I prefer the American term to the British redundant - redundant sounds as though I'm the big slabs of bloody fat sucked out in a liposuction operation (sorry - anyone having dinner?), whereas laid-off sounds as though I'm going to spend the next few months lying on the sofa eating bonbons. Which, of course, I am).

BYE BYE BABY - Allan Guthrie
Published: 2010
Publisher: eBook
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Detective Frank Collins
Series?: Standalone
First Line: 'I was on my way downstairs to grab a can of something from the drinks machine when I passed Detective Sergeant Dutton's office.'
Detective Frank Collins is suspicious but chuffed when he's given his first high-profile case - suspicious because his boss doesn't like him - in fact, not many people do - and chuffed because he's been waiting for a long time for this chance. His first task is to go and see a a distraught mother who has reported the disappearance of her seven year old son. And, with that, I'm going to say absolutely nothing more about the plot because I wouldn't want to spoil what is an absolutely brilliant original tale. Apart from a plot full of twists and turns, what this perfectly formed little novella has is a cast of really vibrant, believable and engrossing characters and sparkling prose. The novella is by turns funny, touching, somber, wistful and surprising. And, for the enormous sum of 86p, you also get the original short story this was based on. That story is told from a completely different perspective so it's a fascinating experience.

Published: Originally 1999
Publisher: Long Midnight Publishing
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Barney Thomson
Series?: First
First Line: 'Breasts.' (Honestly, that's the first line)
This is 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.

Published: 2011
Publisher: Preface
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Inspector Rob Brennan
Series?: First
First Line: 'The girl's screams were enough to give away their hiding place.'
When four teenagers find the dismembered body of teenage runaway Carly Donald in a dumpster on one of Edinburgh's worst housing schemes, Inspector Rob Brennan is put on the case. He's only just back at work, having been off on psychiatric leave, after the murder of his brother. If that wasn't bad enough, it's apparent that the young girl has very recently given birth - and the baby is missing. Add to that more than a few problems at home and at work, and you know that things are going to get a tad difficult. This is an excellent police procedural novel and Rob Brennan is a thoroughly engaging and believable protagonist. He is likeable despite his dark side, and is a genuinely good cop. He has strong instincts and isn't afraid to follow them, and once he's got his teeth into a case he won't give up, no matter what the personal and professional cost may be.

The book takes a very dark and difficult topic and treats it with sensitivity and complete lack of sensationalism. Yet it's a thrilling, chilling enthralling read.I am a huge fan of Tony Black's Gus Dury series, so I was prepared to be grumpy that TRUTH LIES BLEEDING was Gus-less. At the very least, I thought it would take a little while for Inspector Rob Brennan to grow on me. Not so. It was like being snogged by Johnny Depp when you're apprehensively anticipating Shane McGowan.

THE REBORN - Lin Anderson
Published: 2010
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Rhona MacLeod
Series?: Seventh
First Line: 'It was fear of the clown that drove Kira inside.'
This is the seventh book in the series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. As well as being Scottish month, this must also have been my month for pregnant teenager and missing baby storylines. This time, the body of the pregnant teenager is found in the Hall of Mirrors at the funfair. And her baby appears to have been cut from her belly. Add a thoroughly nasty (and, thankfully, locked-up) killer whose hobby is making realistic dolls of newborn babies for people who have lost their own babies, and what you have is a thoroughly bone-chilling and horrific tale. It's fast paced and twisty with intriguing characters and the Glasgow setting is excellent.

DARK BLOOD - Stuart MacBride
Published: 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins
Setting: Aberdeen
Protagonist: DS Logan McRae
Series?: 6th
First Line: 'Run. Don't stop. Keep moving...'
Goodness me, it strikes me that I spent February with some particularly nasty types. The latest in the McRae series has him involved in the re-location of a nasty serial-rapist of elderly men who wants to come home to Aberdeen. And there aren't very many people in Aberdeen who are happy about that. But McRae's woes do not end there. There's some shady gangland activity going on, a man has disappeared and McRae is in trouble with his superiors (again). Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs, does it? Well, trust me, with Stuart MacBride's warped one-liners and pitch black humour, it often is. If you like your humour twisted - as I do - you'll be laughing all the way to the bottom of the barrel. Gory, gruesome and generally not very nice (but in a good way).I really like Logan McRae, but my favourite character in this series has to be DI Steel. The woman's a legend.

Published: 2011
Publisher: eBook
Setting: various
Protagonist: various
Series?: Short story anthology
First Line: 'In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it.' (From the title story)
This collection of 9 short stories has something for everyone - a dad and son burglary team, a pimp, a frustrated housewife. Every story is really well-written and each brings its own charms and surprises. The stories are really varied - touching, menacing, chilling, sad, violent - but what they all have is honesty and immediacy. My favourites were SISTERHOOD with its theme of getting revenge on racists, the title story DIRTY OLD TOWN - a thoroughly nasty little tale set in a gym, and MERRY CHRISTMAS (I DON'T WANT TO FIGHT TONIGHT) a heart-warming Christmas tale of a father and son burglary team. Really good stuff. I always look forward to one of Nigel's short stories because I know I'm going to get something fresh and exciting.


  1. I'm curious about Nigel Bird's opening line, because that was the opener last year's Alibi/Harrogate short story competition specified. Do you know if his book is a result of that?
    On a personal note, Donna, congrats on getting on the course you wanted. Think of those lovely long summers . . .

  2. I've read the Black, Bird and Guthrie and liked them all very much. Ta for the tips.

  3. Janet - ah! Maybe Nigel entered the competition. I picked that line because it's the title story of the anthology.

    Paul - you're welcome. I know we have very similar tastes - I always read your recommendations with interests :o)

  4. Hi there.
    I did enter the competition and I had my bags all packed and everything and (guess what?) I didn't win. So, yes, it has the opening line stimulus.
    I was gutted at the time (like I was in the days when I entered the National Poetry Competitions in the full belief that mine would stand out from the 6000 others.
    There's a silver-lining though, and that's a review here that I feel like printing off and pinning on my wall.
    So many thanks, Donna.
    Did you enter that comp, Janet? Maybe next time around we should all connect our losing entries together.

  5. Oh, it is laid-back you mean? So am I ;)

    Great that you were accepted on the course; congratulations.

  6. Nice selection and thanks for the MacBride recce. I hadn't heard of that one yet. Cool. And why are red heads always smart and gorgeous?

  7. Nigel - you're welcome - I loved the stories.

    Dorte - thank you, I'm chuffed!

    AJ - it's a good fun gory and gruesome series :o) And yes, we are lovely, aren't, Richie Cunningham from Happy Days, Chewbacca ...:o)

  8. Thanks most kindly, Donna. Glad you enjoyed BBB. And you're a total star for transferring these reviews to Amazon. You've no idea the potential impact that has on ebook sales. Hugely appreciated.

  9. Cheers, Donna ... much appreciated. And you didn't even get the chocolate frog I intended to bribe you with!

  10. Al - I loved it, and you are most welcome. Anything that helps get the word out!

    Tony - I'm expecting chocolate next time :o)