HUNTER’S VENOM – Peter J. Earle

A review by JIM NESBITT of the first in the Detective Sgt. DICE MODISE SERIES.

HV cover front finalOne of the finest features of a Peter J. Earle detective novel is the rich and evocative detail he provides of the landscape of southern Africa, doing what too few novelists do these days, creating such a strong sense of place that it becomes a character unto itself.

In Hunter’s Venom, the first of Earle’s novels featuring Botswana investigator Dice Modise, the reader can almost reach out and touch the exotic flora and sometimes lethal fauna of a place the author knows well. But this isn’t exotica for exotica’s sake — Earle’s Africa becomes as real as a dime. And so do the characters that populate this fine book.

Earle also shows a deft touch describing the culture and folkways of the native-born and the understated tension between them and the white ex-pats who call this place their home. It is an uneasiness that never goes away, even between friends such as Modise and safari hunter Nick Cahill and his brothers.

The story Earle tells is a simple one — Carrie Fells, a young Englishwoman, is told the identity of her father by her dying mother years after the affair. Henry Barton, a tea baron and English country squire, is shocked but thrilled when Carrie shows up at his door and tells him who she is. They form an instant bond and Barton changes his will to include Carrie and promises they will continue learning about each other when he returns from safari in Botswana.

That starts a chain of lethal events as Barton’s jilted relatives start a murderous counter-offensive, including Barton’s death in a hunting accident that the grieving Carrie doesn’t believe was happenstance. She’s right and Earle shows the reader Barton’s grisly murder early on in the book while also revealing his killer, a hunter and distant relative named Bertie Vos, who seems more Boer than English.

Earle’s book is more thriller than whodunit as he masterfully sets up two irresistible forces on a collision course — Vos and his obsequious English cousins who want to kill Carrie after kidnapping her and getting her to waive her claim on Barton’s estate; vs Dice and the Cahill brothers, who include Nick, who falls in love with Carrie.

HV old cover

Peter-Earle1

Peter J. Earle

Along the way, Earle takes us on some gruesome side trails that add texture and complexity to the story, including the rape of a German ex-pat by three Botswanans who have been told by a powerful ngaka, or witch doctor, that having sex with a white woman and cutting her pubic hair afterwards would cleanse them from HIV. Earle shows a deft hand here, touching on the AIDS epidemic that still plagues Africa while describing the strong pull of traditional beliefs without making judgment.

James NESBITT

Jim Nesbitt – author of the Ed Earl Burch Texas thrillers.

Another grim turn: The German woman, Ingi Herder, comes to a singular and painful end at the hand of Vos, who also milks venom from cobras and mambas for researchers and has devised a delivery device for the poison that mimics the fang strike of a snake. Of course, Vos’ intended victim is Carrie.

Will Dice and Cahill find Carrie before Vos and those English fops kill her? Pick up Earle’s book and find out. It’s a crackling read.

 

See more of Jim Nesbitt’s reviews on
https://spottedmule.wordpress.com

 

 

Hunters Venom:

http://www.amazon.com/Hunters-Venom-ebook/dp/B007H06C94

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hunters-Venom-Peter-J-Earle-ebook/dp/B007H06C94

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THE DEEPEST GRAVE – Harry Bingham

DS Fiona Griffiths no.6.

The Deepest GraveYou and I might be hooked on, now Detective Sergeant, Fiona Griffiths, but her new boss, DI Bleddyn Jones, nre head of the Major Crimes Unit in Cardiff, is not. Oh, yes, he is a good dedicated policeman, but he is soon giving Fi written warnings as he just does not get her weird modus operandi. Her previous boss, DCI Jackson, knew to give her just enough rope so that she just stopped short of hanging herself, but he is away giving serious thought to sailing off over the horizon.

Bored out of her tree, with no juicy murders to solve for more than a year, Fiona is relieved when the decapitation and ceremonious stabbing of an archaeologist grabs their undivided attention.

DI Jones is not interested in the ridiculous references to the mythical King Arthur that pop up, but Fiona is, and she befriends a young archaeologist PhD student, Katie, who had been working on the same dig as the woman who lost her head. As usual, the Bingham characters are warmbloodedly real. Fi’s father, Katie, and the minister, George Bowen are no exception.

The plot is jawdroppingly – is that a word? – twisted, but nonetheless logical, in that the baddies get the cops to do their work for them in the authentication of priceless antiquities, which is the score to be made if Fiona can’t solve the puzzle and stop the bodies piling up. Her own included.

HarryB

Harry Bingham

The ongoing mysteries of Fiona’s adoption and her step-dad’s nefarious past continue to float just out of reach with a small segment being added throughout the series, an added incentive (as if we needed one!) to ensure we keep coming up for more crumbs.

Strength to strength, Harry Bingham. Thank you for the ARC.

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THE THIRD RULE – Andrew Barrett

Eddie Collins CSI. No. 1.

The Third RuleHaving kicked off my positive acquaintance with Andrew Barrett with his CSI Roger Conniston  – The DEAD trilogy no.1 from Instafreebie, I was happy to accept the first in the Eddie Collins Series as well.

Once again, the Crime Scene Investigator and Police slants are knowledgeably and fascinatingly portrayed, and this time the detail was more smoothly dealt with as every detail was relevant.

Imagine a Britain where the death sentence is reintroduced. The Third Rule will apply. And proof is elastic.

“If you want to kill serious crime, you have to kill serious criminals.”
Sir George Deacon, Minster of Justice.

The Minister’s son, Henry Deacon, skates dangerously close to the thin ice of his father’s disapproval. It is more because of the possible discredit to his own good name that he sends his agent to hold the irresponsible young man’s hand, rather than concern for his son. It is the bending of proof that alerts CSI Eddie Collins, a man teetering at the abyss of alcoholism even before his wife kicks him out and his son is killed in a hit and run. He and his alcoholic friend, reporter Mick, join forces in a somewhat naive, blundering way.

If not for Eddie’s steadfast CSI partner, Ros, Eddie would have lost the plot long ago. There are a lot of characters to keep track of which is difficult at first, and undeniably frustrating; even involving some paging back which should be an author’s no-no. The two drunks, the loyal Ros, the power-hungry politicos, the ruthless government agent, the thief-cum-artist and his druggy girlfriend, the art dealer, the spiteful co-CSI, the head CSI, the cops and the crooked cops are all just too much.

Andrew Barrett

Andrew Barrett

That said, each is well-sculpted into a living breathing character by a skilful writer. I won’t be giving up on him any time soon as I believe his plots will become less tangled and his POVs will diminish to a more manageable handful with time.

Of half a dozen chances taken on Instafreebie crime offers, so far I have found three worthy of reviews here, although there has been a novella I found very readable, too. The jury is still out about whether novellas will feature in the future.

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A LONG TIME DEAD – Andrew Barrett

CSI Roger Conniston  – The DEAD trilogy no.1.

A Long Time DeadExcellent SOCO descriptions from an author who does it for a living – maybe just too much detail in this, seemingly one of his earlier novels, but it is an intrinsic part of the plot line and all but unavoidable. The intensity rises to throat-gripping proportions as the noose tightens.

The character of Roger Conniston, the CSI whose obsession with the actions of his nemesis, CI Weston, whom he is convinced is selling guns, interferes with his professionalism. As does keeping his affair with his therapist from his ill wife. For me this was a moral disappointment in this protagonist, but as the tense plot develops, his basic honesty overcomes his failings and I began to respect both the character and Andrew Barrett’s handling of his character’s flawed humanity.

The action slips tantalizingly between the police officers handling the two murders of young women stabbed in the neck and the Crime Scene Investigators they employ to capture the scene.

There are extremes from firm loyalty to deathly betrayal which are backbone to the twists and turns, the given and the surprises.

Andrew Barrett

Andrew Barrett

This might be the first time you, as with me, have heard of Andrew Barrett, but it won’t be the last. He has a lot more sharp and deadly arrows to his quiver.

The problem with giving the author’s earlier offerings as freebies is that the edges are still a bit ragged. A 5-day freebie of the latest might be a better attention-grabbing tool?

This was an Instafreebie offering, with thanks to Andrew Barrett. But…

An ARC of your latest for BOOK POSTMORTEM would be very acceptable.

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A Sense of Place – TEXAS 2

TEXAS: CREATING A LONE STAR SENSE OF PLACE FOR GRITTY CRIME NOVELS

By Jim Nesbitt

WJS_0349

Jim Nesbitt – author; hard boiled.

I come from a long line of hillbilly storytellers who instilled in me a deep and abiding sense of family, time and place as well as a rich appreciation of how the land shapes the people who live on it even as they’re trying to wrest a living from that land. This makes me a firm believer in creating a strong sense of time and place in the stories I tell, etching a detailed description that makes the setting come alive as a living, breathing character—not just a picturesque backdrop. Every author should do this—too few do.

In my mind, there’s no place like Texas to give gumption and texture to a gritty crime novel. Let’s be clear here: I’m not talking about spinning out a Texana caricature or making a grandstand play to the Texas of myth and legend. Stick to the real Texas and you’ll wind up with a tale told as much by the places you describe as the people, dialogue and action you create.

Texas Big Bend

Texas Big Bend

 

This belief was reinforced by the long, rollicking decades I spent as a roving correspondent for several newspapers and wire services. A goodly portion of that time was spent knocking around the border between Texas and Mexico, an imaginary line that really doesn’t have much meaning to a sun-blasted place that is a no-man’s-land, with a culture and people that don’t seem to belong to either country. I come from the Hemingway school and believe you need to experience life in order to write about it. Like the Brit generals say, you’ve got to walk the ground if you want to know it.

I’ve stood on the banks of the Rio Grande with a larger-than-life West Texas county judge, listening to his stories of rounding up cattle while I sipped warm Lone Star beer and munched on pork rinds. I’ve been drunk on Presidente brandy in the Kentucky Club in Juarez and have wolfed down breakfast tacos stuffed with organ meat slathered in a savory sauce while standing next to a food truck, warding off a hangover and the morning chill in Eagle Pass.

texas hill country1

Texas Hill Country

I also wandered the Hill Country, wading through calf-deep guano in the world’s sixth-largest bat cave near Mason, Texas. I’ve used a folding knife to carve smoked brisket and sausage at Cooper’s Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Cue in Llano, one of the holy shrines of Texas barbecue. I lived for a time in Dallas, home of my all-time favorite bar, Louie’s, founded by the late, great Louie Canelakes, who plays a cameo role in both my novels. I also came to know Houston, San Antonio and El Paso fairly well, the latter both as a boy visiting my uncles who were career Army sergeants based at Fort Bliss and a roving correspondent wandering the border.

I love the deceptive landscape of the Hill Country—green at a distance, dry and craggy up close. And I love the harsh starkness of the Big Bend, West Texas and northern Mexico—how the mountains collide and look like the bones of the earth ripped open. That wide-open, sun-blasted and evocative landscape stole my heart. It spoke to me then—still does now. It also seemed like the perfectly natural setting for the very primal and violent stories of revenge and redemption I tried to tell in my two hard-boiled Texas thrillers, The Last Second Chance and The Right Wrong Number.

In the first installment of this series, I listed five books whose writers make Texas come alive by the standard I describe above. Some are native born; Texans are mighty particular about who can call themselves Texans. Only those born there can. However, foreigners like me can fall in love with the state and some of the books I list are by no-account outlanders who can pine for Texas and wax poetic about it, but will never be able to call themselves Texans. Some are legends long dead and gone, others are gone and were deeply underappreciated while they walked among us. Some exclusively work the gritty, hard-boiled genre while others rove a broader, more literary range. A few are younger writers who nailed it right out of the chute.

Here we go with the next five authors, in no particular order. I’ll even give you some gaudy patter about what I learned from each writer and their pure-dee Texas crime novels.

The Far Empty

By J. Todd Scott

Scott is a younger writer, a Kentuckian by birth, so he can’t claim to be a Texan. No matter. His long career as a federal agent chasing border bad guys has given him the same keen sense of place for the stark, parched and violent landscape of West Texas that I have. It’s ethereal and spooky country and its people grimly battle to eke out a living and stave off the ravages of a harsh and unforgiving land. It’s clear that Scott has intimate knowledge of these badlands. As a Brit general would say, he’s walked the ground. And he uses that knowledge to make the mythical town of Murfee come to life as well as the craggy land on the north side of the Rio Grande. His descriptions of place are so vivid and detailed, they fairly leap off the page to stand as equals to his characters. The tale he tells is rich with Old Testament undertones as timeless as the murderous relationship between David and Absalom and the struggle for dominance and independence that takes place between all fathers and sons. Caleb Ross is the brooding teenage son of a legendary Texas sheriff, Stanford “Judge” Ross, boss of the town and surrounding county and a corrupt law-and-order fraud—possibly worse. The Judge’s wives have a tendency to die or disappear on him; the latter is how Caleb’s mother left their home and he’s haunted by her absence and convinced his father killed her. Chris Cherry is a flamed-out football star with a ripped-up knee who returns home with wife in tow, feeling adrift and sorry for himself until the Judge offers him a job as a deputy. When Cherry finds bones in a shallow grave on an outback ranch, Scott’s story shifts into high gear, with flashes of sudden violence and characters set on a collision course. At times, I felt like I was reading a Larry McMurtry novel, both for its note-perfect feel for West Texas and its tendency to meander about four or five chapters past where the author could have ended the story. But these ain’t necessarily bad things for a novel this fine.

Rain Gods

By James Lee Burke

Burke, lauded as the William Faulkner of the crime thriller, is best known for his novels featuring alcohol addicted and moralistic Louisiana cop Dave Robicheaux and his unpredictably violent sidekick, Clete Purcell. The settings of New Orleans and the Cajun wetlands around New Iberia are so poetically described in the Robicheaux novels that Burke seemed destined to be forever identified with those places. What people have come to understand with his latter novels is that Burke, who was born in Houston, has deep Texas roots, with ancestors that include a vicious gunfighter-turned-saddle preacher who roved the Chisholm Trail thumping the Good Book. His series of Holland family novels tap into that personal Texas history and Burke brings his finely-tuned reverence for time, place and blood ties to make the West Texas border country come to life in this excellent thriller that features an ageing Hackberry Holland, once a bad drunk and womanizer haunted by his Korean War experiences as a POW, now a small-town Texas sheriff grieving the dead wife who rescued him. Burke lives up to the Faulkner saying about the past being always present and never even being past —his characters are haunted by it, some literally. Burke is also living proof of what I mean about hard-boiled crime thrillers being an American art form. His prose is rhythmic and poetic, verging on purply and the dead opposite of the clipped staccato expected in noir and hard-boiled tales. That taught me a valuable lesson when I set out to write my own crime novels—let the prose rip and don’t be afraid to commit wretched excess. Burke also makes this book far more than a who-done-it about the machine-gun murder of nine Thai women being smuggled into Holland’s county to become prostitutes. He uses Holland’s hunt for the perpetrators of this grisly crime as a platform for his crackling takes on human trafficking, the uneasy relationship between Anglos and Mexicans on the border, the internal clockwork of a serial killer who thinks he has a direct line to God, the tension between violence, addiction, shame and redemption—and, the lasting nature of grief. But where this novel truly shines is in Burke’s striking and elegiac passages about the landscape of West Texas.

The Killer Inside Me

By Jim Thompson

Decades before Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, Velma Barfield, Gary Ridgway and an endless string of American psychos made serial killers a part of the national nightmare and a stock Hollywood staple, Jim Thompson etched a terse, sinewy portrait of that particularly American monster. His 1952 novel is still considered both a noir classic and a work that transcends the genre. Thompson’s killer, Deputy Lou Ford, seems as apple-pie normal as can be, a genial nice-guy on the surface given to spouting boring platitudes and bromides that give him the reputation of a dullard and bore. That’s on the outside. On the inside, Ford is psycho with what he calls ‘the sickness,’ a secret sadist who enjoys grinding a cigar butt into a bum’s hand and beating a hooker senseless—a turn-on for them both. They become lovers and co-conspirators in a blackmail scheme. Lou has other nasty habits besides killing and violent sex. He also injects himself with drugs he steals from his physician father’s stash. Lou is Exhibit One in Thompson’s caustic indictment of 1950s small-town hypocrisy. But to make these charges stick, he has to make mythical Central City, Texas come to life with painstaking detail, capturing both the banal and the corrupt. He does so with sparse but telling narrative, taut dialogue and a knack for juxtaposition just as deft as the dark contrast between Ford’s superficial self and the killer inside him.

Bum Steer

By Ben Rehder

Rehder’s novels—in particular, his Blanco County mysteries—are darkly comic, full of characters that skitter right to edge of that most Texas of all caricatures, Bubba, the mythical, beer-swilling backcountry redneck that never met a gun, deer stand, pickup or double-wide he didn’t love. In most cases, Rehder is setting you up for a bootlegger’s turn, an unexpected 180 that upends your expectations with a dimension you didn’t think his characters could possibly have. Take Billy Don Craddock and Red O’Brien, the deer-poaching protagonists of this Rehder tale. They’re a pair of ne’er-do-well Bubbas who share a double-wide in the Hill Country an hour west of Austin. They’re also inveterate schemers addicted to casual mayhem but they aren’t truly bad men. Craddock, a bear of a man, turns out to be a blackjack savant while O’Brien has guile and a sharp eye for angles and lies and brains to go along with his balls. The lies of O’Brien’s tweaker cousin put both Bubbas in the crosshairs of a truly bad hombre, a meth lord and killer whose sister was gored by a prize bull the cousin tried to rustle from a rancher’s pasture. Rehder, a native son born in Austin, has a sharp eye for detail and an understanding of small-town and rural central Texas and the people who live there, including those who return from the big city like Lone Star homing pigeons. And he plays it utterly straight and true in his dead-solid-perfect descriptions of that deceptively scenic country and its up-close harshness — the choking caliche dust, the sharp-thorned mesquite, the bone-dry banks of a man-made lake. This gives authenticity to his comic opera mysteries. The Texas he describes is true and keeps his novels from veering into a ridiculous abyss of Texana caricature.

Honky Tonk Samurai

By Joe R. Lansdale

Lansdale is a fearless and prolific writer, utterly courageous about busting the conventions of genre and creating outlandish characters and situations that range from the ridiculous to the sublime, characteristics that would doom a story told by a lesser talent. Consider one of his minor characters, the lethally carnal hit woman named Vanilla Ride, who wears black leather pants so tight you could see the outline of a quarter in her pocket—that’s almost a quote and I’m pretty sure Lansdale was alluding to an outline of a different sort. I’m a big fan of his Hap and Leonard series and enjoy the small-screen success these durable and scruffy survivors are having these days. Only Lansdale would pair two orphans thrown together by casually random tragedy in the piney thickets of East Texas—one of them a redneck child, the other black. Only Lansdale would forge a bond so strong between them that it transcends race and makes them brothers in everything but blood. And only Lansdale would make the black orphan a gay, Republican badass, a loose cannon Marine emeritus (there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine) with a mean streak a country mile wide. That’s Leonard Pine. Hap Collins is equally prone to step in deep shit and equally ready to solve a problem with his fists even though he’s a draft dodger and usually advocates a first try at a peaceful solution to their troubles. In this story, Hap and Leonard set out to discover the fate of the granddaughter of an ancient hooker. They wind up stumbling across a classic car-hookers-and-drugs honey trap set to blackmail rich marks run by the Dixie Mafia. They’re also in the crosshairs of a vicious family of killer bikers. Cue the return of Vanilla Ride, who flies in from Italy to lend a deadly hand to Hap and Leonard in the form of a hopped up Buick with a trunk full of sniper rifles and commando gear, perfect for a night assault on the family compound. She also has the hots for Hap and repeatedly tries to seduce him away from his girlfriend Brett. Lansdale is always generous with raunchy dialogue, graphic violence and non-stop banter laced with bad puns and cheerfully unapologetic sexism. The anchor for all of Lansdale’s criminal tales of the redneck baroque is the pine-choked landscape of East Texas, its claustrophobic thickets, its stifling humidity, its grim small towns that seem on the verge of being reclaimed by those dark and menacing pines. Hap and Leonard may venture into the big city—or what passes for same in East Texas. But they always return to land of the Big Thicket to drink in the humid, pine-laced air and wait for their next calamitous adventure.

right-wrong-number

 

Jim Nesbitt is the author of two crime thrillers, THE LAST SECOND CHANCE and THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER, that feature battered but dogged Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch. With vivid and detailed descriptions of the stark and rugged landscape of the Big Bend Country of West Texas, both books create a strong sense of place that frames gritty tales of revenge and redemption. Both books are available at amazon.com/author/jimnesbitt or www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01D2D9ASO. Nesbitt, an ex-journalist, lives in Athens, Alabama.

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A Sense of Place – TEXAS 1

James NESBITT

Jim Nesbitt

TEXAS: CREATING A LONE STAR SENSE OF PLACE FOR GRITTY CRIME NOVELS

By Jim Nesbitt

Part 1.

When I was a journalist, I roved the border between Texas and Mexico in search of stories about a rugged region that is really a land and culture unto itself, not truly a part of the countries on either side of a line on a map.

I wrote stories about coyotes smuggling illegal aliens across the Rio Grande, playing nocturnal cat-and-mouse games with the Border Patrol, and narcotrafficante violence and corruption that tainted and toppled more than one tough-talking Texas lawman. I also wrote about the return of mountain lions to the Big Bend country: maquiladora plants and the pollution that caused cancer and birth defects; and, squalid colonias where residents lived in poverty, without running water or sewer lines and with almost no chance of ever owning the shack they called home.

I’ve been drunk on Presidente brandy in the Kentucky Club in Juarez and have wolfed down breakfast tacos stuffed with organ meat slathered in a savory sauce while standing next to a food truck, warding off a hangover and the morning chill in Eagle Pass.

texas hill country cavemouthI also wandered the Hill Country, wading through calf-deep guano in the world’s sixth-largest bat cave near Mason, Texas. I’ve used a folding knife to carve smoked brisket and sausage at Cooper’s Old-Time Pit Bar-B-Cue in Llano, one of the holy shrines of Texas barbecue. I lived for a time in Dallas, home of my all-time favorite bar, Louie’s, founded by the late, great Louie Canelakes, who plays a cameo role in both my novels. I also came to know Houston, San Antonio and El Paso fairly well, the latter both as a boy visiting my uncles who were career Army sergeants based at Fort Bliss and a roving correspondent wandering the border.

I love the deceptive landscape of the Hill Country—green at a distance, dry and craggy up close. And I love the harsh starkness of the Big Bend and northern Mexico—how the mountains collide and look like the bones of the earth ripped open. That wide-open, sun-blasted and evocative landscape stole my heart. It spoke to me then—still does now. It also seemed like the perfectly natural setting for the very primal and violent stories of revenge and redemption I tried to tell in my two Texas thrillers, The Last Second Chance and The Right Wrong Number.

I also come from a long line of hillbilly storytellers who instilled in me a deep and abiding sense of family, time and place as well as a rich appreciation of how the land shapes the people who live on it even as they’re trying to wrest a living from that land. This makes me a firm believer in creating a strong sense of time and place in the stories I tell, etching a detailed description that makes the setting come alive as a living, breathing character—not just a picaresque backdrop. Every author should do this—too few do.

In my mind, there’s no place like Texas to give gumption and texture to a gritty crime novel. Let’s be clear here: I’m not talking about spinning out a Texana caricature or making a grandstand play to the Texas of myth and legend. Stick to the real Texas and you’ll wind up with a tale told as much by the places you describe as the people, dialogue and action you create.

What follows is a list of books whose writers make Texas come alive by the standard I just described. Some are native born; Texans are mighty particular about who can call themselves Texans. Only those born there can. However, foreigners like me can fall in love with the state and some of the books I list are by no-account outlanders who can pine for Texas and wax poetic about it, but will never be able to call themselves Texans. Some are legends long dead and gone, others are gone and were deeply under-appreciated while they walked among us. Some exclusively work the gritty, hard-boiled genre while others rove a broader, more literary range. A few are younger writers who nailed it right out of the chute.

Here we go, in no particular order, with the first five authors who hit the Lone Star mark. I’ll cover five more in the next installment. I’ll even give you some gaudy patter about what I learned from each writer and their pure-dee Texas crime novels.

Waltz Across Texas

By Max Crawford

This sprawling 1975 tale of lust, greed, corruption and murder rambles from the semi-mythical West Texas town of Flavannah (there is a real-life Fluvanna, Texas), a fly-speck of a dying farm and ranch hub high on the caprock, to the glass towers of Houston and its endless sprawl and the eclectic center of state government and higher learning known as Austin. The story is told by Sugar Campbell, a Korean War hero and former Army intelligence officer, who is hired by his high school buddy, Son Cunningham, to return to his hometown after a somewhat shady venture in the California oil business goes bust. Campbell can’t tell whether he’s being hired to kill somebody, be a patsy for a killing or to be killed. The somebody is Tee Kitchens, heir to a Texas cattle ranch on the verge of bankruptcy and holder of a six million life insurance policy that is both the key to the ranch’s survival and the reason Kitchens is marked for death. But not the only reason as Cunningham, an ambitious political and business climber, is the lover of Kitchens’ wife, the beautiful and ethereal Adrienne.

Crawford, the late Texan who also wrote one of Ronald Regan’s favorite novels, Lords of The Plain, knowingly describes the arid West Texas landscape and its geological features, the hushed corridors of money, power and corruption in Houston and Austin and the manic actions of the feuding ranch factions that have different reasons for wanting Kitchens dead. Best of all, Crawford captures the epic scope of Texas itself, which taught me to raise the horizons of my own novels and set my own characters in constant motion across this great state. Warning: This book is long out of print so you’ll have to hunt for a weathered copy, but the search will be well worth the trouble.

The Rogues’ Game

By Milton Burton

A note perfect debut novel by another departed native son, this is a hard-boiled caper thriller straight out of the Jim Thompson school of criminal grit. Set in West Texas at the start of the post-World War II boom, the book features a nameless narrator and his curvy blonde girlfriend, a woman with a sad past but a sharp mind for business and all the angles on both sides of the law. This is a richly layered story that starts out as a man and his girlfriend headed for a high-stakes poker game in a ’47 Lincoln convertible, then appears to be a plot to rob the game’s high-rollers, then morphs again into a deceptive game with a darker motivation rooted in the narrator’s past as an OSS operative. Although set in the past, Burton’s novel isn’t a sepia-toned period piece. He makes subtle use of historical details and the intricacies of the oil business, the fever of a new boom town and the nuances of poker strategy in service of a well-told tale that echoes the essence of that classic Paul Newman and Robert Redford movie, The Sting, but skips the schmaltz and caricature.

And the mark in Burton’s story is far nastier than Doyle Lonnegan and far more deserving of a comeuppance, which becomes apparent when Burton peels back the final layer to reveal what his book is truly about. What I learned from Burton’s novel is how to make judicious use of historical details to set a story in the past without making the past a major point of the story. I also took to heart the way he added just the right amount of technical background about a complex subject to make it authentic without turning the narrative into a term paper. He uses the same deft touch to make his mythical West Texas town come to life without a hint of maudlin nostalgia.

Bordersnakes

By James Crumley

westerndiamondback6Another dead Texan, Crumley is still a vastly under-appreciated talent whose detective novels are laced with drugs, sex, booze and violence, all ladled out in unblinking and graphic detail. His rich, seedy and wild novels had a profound impact on my own writing, showing me it was a mighty fine thing to let my stories rip and describe sex and violence without the use of euphemism that insults the reader’s intelligence. His two main characters, private investigators Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue, aren’t super sharp or super cool. They’re dogged and deeply flawed—and utterly human. I kept that in mind when I created the main character for my two novels, cashiered Dallas homicide detective Ed Earl Burch. In Bordersnakes, Crumley brings both of his main characters together in pursuit of the narcotrafficantes who left Sughrue gut-shot in a ditch and hiding out in the seared desert of West Texas and the banker who ripped off Milo’s three million dollar trust fund inheritance. The novel hurtles from the desert doublewide that serves as Sughrue’s hideout to El Paso, nearby New Mexico, Seattle and on to the big ranches on both sides of the Rio Grande, with a climatic and bloody finish in the lair of the narcos known as bordersnakes. Crumley’s descriptions of the landscape of the border between Texas and Mexico are so detailed you can feel the wind-blown grit on your tongue and the burn the unforgiving sun puts on your skin. This is a grim tale of revenge full of nasty characters with few redeeming qualities. It demands an equally grim setting, a land that Crumley brings to life as a character unto itself.

Borderline

By Lawrence Block

Block has always been one of my favorite crime novelists. His Matthew Scudder stories are firmly rooted in New York and capture the street-level feel of living in America’s biggest city. At his best—and I’m thinking of When The Sacred Ginmill Closes and A Walk Among The Tombstones—Block transcends the detective genre and graphically illustrates my belief that hard-boiled crime novels are an American art form. At the high end, they rise above the who-done-it and serve as vehicles for the author’s views of art, politics, psychology, music, relationships, friendships and, yes, the heart and soul of a criminal or cop. With Scudder, an ex-NYPD detective and alcoholic, you also gain keen insight into a man’s daily battle with addiction. Imagine my surprise and delight at discovering an early Block novel, written in 1962 and reprinted by Hard Case Crime in 2014, set in El Paso and Juarez. The story isn’t a detective mystery. It’s more of a grim O. Henry tale about the random intertwining of the lives of four people: a professional gambler, a newly-divorced woman, a drifting proto-hippie hooker and a serial killer. You get all of Block’s mastery of detail and dialogue, but the kick for me was his richly evocative description of an El Paso and Juarez before the population explosion and narcotrafficante violence. The quintessential New York writer captures the El Paso and Juarez I knew as a kid visiting my uncles based at Fort Bliss, well before I became aware of Boys’ Town, live sex shows and cheap tequila. Block also captures those seedier attractions with a perfect eye.

No Country For Old Men

By Cormac McCarthy

I can hear the gnashing of teeth and anguished outcries from where I sit—from both the critics who say this book marks a fall from the high literary pedestal upon which they rightfully placed McCarthy, and genre junkies who say Cormac ain’t a member of their club. Both parties need to sit down and shut up. In my mind, there is no better example of making the sun-blasted country of West Texas a living, breathing character in a crime thriller than his only foray into the genre. The storyline is familiar from both the book and the 2007 Cohen Brothers film, so I won’t bother with a replay. But if you want to learn how to create an acid-etched sense of time and place that is as vivid as the characters that populate your story, pick up this book and read it again.

The Last 2nd ChanceJim Nesbitt is the author of two crime thrillers, THE LAST SECOND CHANCE and THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER, that feature battered but dogged Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch. With vivid and detailed descriptions of the stark and rugged landscape of the Big Bend Country of West Texas, both books create a strong sense of place that frames gritty tales of revenge and redemption. Both books are available at amazon.com/author/jimnesbitt or www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01D2D9ASO. Nesbitt, an ex-journalist, lives in Athens, Alabama.

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DOUBLE TAKE – Kendall Talbot

Double TakeFor me, although this was not an un-put-downable read through which I struggled the first half, but the second half seemed to find its gyro and took off like a rocket. Set in Brisbane, Australia, it is the story of a Melbourne Cup Day bank robbery.

It is very original with several surprises.

There are three POVs:

  1. The Gang; how they got together and why; with the desperate bank employee gang-leader who needs a certain sum of money to give his wife the expensive operation that she needs, and the disparate crew who agree to do the job with him. Their reasons for going along with him are not always all that convincing.
  2. The Family: whose kids, playing nearby overhear the gang’s plans, tell their at first disbelieving father and his girlfriend, and record further meetings and finally inform the police. Well, sort of inform the police…
  3. The Cops; who set the trap to catch the Gang. Sort of.

Pretty straight forward, you would think. Worse than that, it is also probably doomed to failure. For the Gang, that is.

Kemdall Talbot

Kendall Talbot

Except, of course, it is not as simple as it looks, and therein lies the… Don’t let me spoil it. Double Take, not only an excellent title, but turns out to be a good finisher on Cup Day, after all.

I love the cover, too.

Thanks to Kendall Talbot for the Instafreebie download. For what it’s worth, this review is in appreciation.

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E-Freebies

Main Stream Publishers, sit up and take notice. No, you did long ago; this won’t take you by surprise. You’re certainly aware of the creeping threat to your previously unrockable domain.

Print-On-Demand, et al.

FREE E-BOOKS!

e-readersSerious readers of any genre you care to name can remain locked to their devices 24/7 from now on without ever again having to buy another paper novel or even visit their libraries. Now for free, too. Well, it is bait to hook you back to the author you suddenly can’t get enough of and actually have to – gulp – pay for.

Well, 24/7 for those of us who don’t have to work. Or sleep.

KindlesLeaving you with the touchy-feely readers, who, thankfully, have not yet died out, and have not succumbed to overpowering guilt about the forests that still need to be pulped.

While still faithfully appreciating the ARC copies you send to us reviewers, I will be taking a serious look at those authors who have taken to self-pub in the hope, and self belief, of being noticed. And they will have to put up with entirely honest feedback and opinion which will, hopefully, be a help and guide to their efforts rather than a blast of CO2 on their fires. Kindle imageOr Kindles. Sadly, I’ll be discerning as to my choice of new author – sorry, just new to me, that is – and I’m going to give up a lot sooner if I start yawning than I would with a paperback mailed to me. Standards must needs remain high, editing and proofreading are no less a must and as many reviews as possible, while not the ultimate accolade, make a good guide.

A big fat thank you to all the marketing aids out there who have made introductory Freebies available to give lesser known authors some Promo, and give the financially challenged bookworms some quality reading. Amongst some not-so-quality stuff…

From the authors’ point of view, I would like to stress that readers ought to at least pay for their freebie reads by doing the authors the courtesy of assessing the work honestly with one to five stars, or better still, a brief review on the various readers platforms available; Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Keep in mind that Amazon do not yet always bridge the reviews between their various continental outlets.

Go on, do that.

Not really nothing for nothing in this world…

https://www.instafreebie.com/

https://www.bookbub.com/

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/p/free-ebooks

https://www.free-ebooks.net/

www.openculture.com/free_ebooks

to name but a few.

 

 

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Top Ten Perps

BOOK POSTMORTEM is about examining the CRIME SCENE left in grime of the Mean Streets and dark alleys by the more skillful of perpetrators; authors who keep us genre addicts glued to the pages.

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HarryBHARRY BINGHAM

His Fiona Griffiths series, of which there are six now, (The Deepest Grave just released by Orion) is for me the lead in the field. All a matter of taste, of course, but Fiona is very special.

 

Stieg_LarssonSTIEG LARSSEN

Sadly, his wonderful character, Lizbet Salander, and her trilogy, is the end of his contribution, except for whatever he may have left to us after his passing, if the legal folk can sort out who owns what.

 

 

Michael Robotham2MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

Stand-alones, or the Joe O’Loughlin series; this is a seriously gripping and extremely readable story teller. His characters are warmblooded and real, his plots plausible and his heroes all too human.

 

plus:

DICK FRANCIS

Incredibly prolific, he has given us a library full of exciting tales with very rare duffs. There is something about his old-fashioned clear cut definition of right and wrong which appeals to me. With only a slight nod to more modern moral flexibility by his co-author son, Felix Francis, the Francis team continues to delight.

COLIN DEXTER

Nothing needs to be added by me to what has already been said in praise of this absolute master of the genre. Morse and Lewis are immortal.

C.J. BOX

He has a sense and appreciation of the countryside and the outdoors that I love, to go with his warm style of writing and his honest earthy protagonist, ranger Joe Pickett.

SIMON KERNICK

As counter to the goody-two-shoes heroes of Dick Francis and C.J. Box, Kernick’s characters are a lot more ruthless and way over the morality plumbline, but he writes some excellent pulse racing stuff.

HARLAN COBEN

This man is the king of twist, although rarely sacrificing credibility.

JO NESBO

He is not the only Scandinavian author I enjoy, but I have read enough to like his consistency in a good gripping twisting tale.

TRACE CONGER

I have had the honour of reviewing three of this hugely promising author’s unusual Mr Finn series, and for my money, he is going from strength to strength.

How can you really have only a list of ten? Of course you can’t, and our tastes all differ. To name a few, and not especially in this order, I also really like Belinda Bauer, Jake Needham, Peter May, Karen Slaughter, Ali Land, Emilie Schepp, Lin Anderson, Greg Isles, Maynard Sims, Henning Mankell, Roger Hobbs, Terry Hayes…

I would appreciate comments on YOUR top ten. Please comment!

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BLEED FOR ME – Michael Robotham

(Joseph O’Loughlin #4)

Bleed for me- RobothamMy introduction to Michael Robotham was when I reviewed BOMBPROOF awhile back to find it an unexpected delight, but somehow never got back to finding another Robotham to get my teeth into. With a gap in my ARC books supply from publishers since the December hibernation, I found BLEED FOR ME in the village library and loved every page. He is edging from excellent to fantastic and without hesitation he is in my top ten current crime authors.

Joe O’Loughlin, a psychologist, is often involved in testifying the sanity, or not, of criminals who might be attempting to so plead to get out of jail free. He is a wonderfully empathetic character, dealing with the onset of Parkinson’s disease, and a teenage daughter.

Michael Robotham2

Michael Robotham

In this, the fourth in the series, an incoherent, bloodied Sienna Hegarty, his daughter’s friend, arrives at Joe’s door seeking help. The police suspect her of killing her father, a retired policeman himself. She says she remembers nothing. Joe needs to unlock her unstable traumatised mind before the real killer escapes justice and murders again.

Definitely not only an un-put-downable tale, Joe also becomes a friend. Thankfully, there is more of him to be had and I have become an instant fan.

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