Walter and Ada Bingley are celebrating their first wedding anniversary unaware that their friends and family are planning a surprise party for them.
When a group of London gangsters turn up at a half-dead seaside town to take revenge upon a former hardman, they get more than they bargained for. Weston-super-Nightmare is violent and funny and also touching. A vivid Brit Grit gangster yarn full of broad humour, gaudy characters and also pathos. It’s a balancing act that John Bowie carries off with aplomb. Brit Grit Seaside Fun n Frolics and highly recommended.
I’m back over at the Six Sentences site with a little yarn entitled The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence’s Mate.
‘Oliver Peacock had often thought that there was an art to being in the right place at the right time and that life was more than simply a matter of chance, of luck.’
This early Seventies British comedy takes us through seven short stories based on the Seven Deadly Sins. This film is a montage of different styles, from Spike Milligan‘s mainly silent “Sloth”, to the leering Harry H Corbett in “Lust”.
At the start of the Swinging Sixties, a serial killer nicknamed Jack The Stripper stalked te streets of West London. In Bad Penny Blues, Cathi Unsworth smartly weaves together fact and fiction as she tells the stories of Stella – a young fashion- designer who is haunted by visons of the dead women – and PC Peter Bradley, a policeman who is investigation the killings.
First published in 2010 by Serpents Tail, Bad Penny Blues as been republished by Strange Attractor Press and now includes an introduction from no less than Greil Marcus as well as The Ghosts Of Ladbroke Grove, a revealing afterword from Cathi Unsworth.
Bad Penny Blues remains a cracking yarn with a great sense of time and place and is, of course, highly recommended.
John Bowie’s Transference is the follow up to his dark and moody debut novel, Untethered. Similarly soaked in booze and bad decisions, Transference follows its ex- SAS protagonist John B to Manchester where he investigates a young man’s apparent suicide, as well is digging up the dirt that most of the city would prefer to keep buried.
Transference is atmospheric and violent, a supernaturally tinged noir tale that casts a bloodshot and bleary eye over Manchester and its criminal fraternity. Brit Grit meets magic-realism.
You can pre-order Transference from Red Dog Press, and you really should.
“You’re born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake, son.” – Eddie Temple, Layer Cake.
The 1980s was the loadsamoney decade. The era of greed is good and going for it. By the time the 90s dawdled along, London’s young guns had already grasped the bull by its horns and crashed into any number of china shops, flashing their cash, getting their way by hook and, with regard to Layer Cake’s protagonist, very much by crook.
“Everyone wants to walk through a door marked ‘private.’ Therefore, have a good reason to be affluent.“
JJ Connolly’s Layer Cake was first published in 2000 by Duckworth Press but it is set in London in the 1990s. And it is very much a 90s London novel. As of its time as Moloko, Portishead, Brit Pop, Cool Britannia, celebrity chefs, This Life or YBAs.
Layer Cake’s unnamed narrator is a successful young drug dealer who has plans to ditch his life of crime once he reaches the ripe old age of 30 and live the life of a gentleman of leisure. Of course, things don’t go to plan. Once a shipment of ecstasy is hijacked, everything turns pear-shaped for our anti-hero as quickly as spit disappears on hot pavement. Violence, double-cross and triple-cross invariably ensue.
The plot is tight and twisty, but one of its main strengths is its rich and varied cast of lowlife characters, such as the short-fused Mr Mortimer; The Duke – the cokehead leader of a criminal gang known as the Yahoos; The Duke’s psychotic and equally as coke addled girlfriend Slasher; a smooth and smart conman known as either Billy Bogus or Cody Garrett; Klaus, the leader of a group of German neo-Nazis; ‘Crazy’ Larry Flynn – a gangster with a penchant for strangling rent boys; and a Doberman called Mike Tyson.
JJ Connolly’s debut novel could well have been received a cult classic for crime fiction connoisseurs, for fans of Derek Raymond’s Factory novels or Ted Lewis perhaps. Or it could have been seen as a well-regarded but obscure London noir like Gerald Kersh’s Night and the City, or James Curtis’ The Gilt Kid. But it burst into the mainstream with rave reviews from all sorts of respectable square joints such as The Times, The Guardian and The Literary Review.
The novel has a lot in common with the all-mouth and well-cut trousers stylings of the mockney gangster capers popularised by film director Guy Ritchie in the 90s. So it’s no great surprise that the 2004 film version of Layer Cake was the directorial debut of Guy Ritchie’s erstwhile producer Matthew Vaughn. Starring future Mr Bond, Daniel Craig, the film did pretty damned well on its own terms, too, focusing on some of the supporting cast of characters and giving us a fistful of great performances – particularly from Colm Meaney, George Harris and Michael Gambon.
Enjoyable as the film version of Layer Cake was, it didn’t quite capture the voice of the novel – a John Lydon/Peter Cook sneer mixed with a fatalistic sigh of resignation. Layer Cake is brash, vivid and blackly-comic but it is at least as much about the argot as it as about the aggro, peppered as much with laddish badinage – ladinage – as it is with bullets and birds. The language is also quite arch, telling the tale in an off-kiler, askew way. Now, 20 years on from its publication, the book still seems breathlessly fresh.
We waited a full ten years until Connolly followed up Layer Cake with the splendid Viva La Madness, which saw Layer Cake’s protagonist attempting to lay low in Jamaica until Mr Mortimer arrived to drag him back into a life of crime.
In October 2011, I interviewed JJ Connolly for my blog, and I asked about the long wait for the sequel to his debut novel.
PDB: We’ve been waiting for Viva La Madness for ten years, why so long?
JJC: I was working on films, traveling, messing around, getting in and out of trouble, having fun. Two years ago I decided I better stop messing around and sat down and finished Viva. I’d been working on it – on and off, more off than on, for almost ten years, since I finished Layer Cake, in fact. I got distracted, but distracted in a nicest possible way, in some nice places, with some nice people.
Then Connolly seemed to go underground again for another decade…
Well, it’s now the 20th anniversary of Layer Cake’s publication and this special edition has a very tasty new cover along with a revealing and intriguing afterword from Mister Connolly himself. A republished version of Viva la Madness is on its way too, as is a Viva la Madness television series from Sky TV, starring no less than Jason Statham.
So what next for JJ Connolly? Maybe the hat-trick? When I interviewed him in 2011 he said:
“I want to write another book with the narrator from Layer Cake and Viva la Madness, to complete a trilogy. I like the voice.“
So, in the words of Moloko, the time is now …
Emotionally battered and bruised by his most recent case, Detective Sergeant Pace leaves London behind, including his loving girlfriend and confidant Maeve, and returns to his rural hometown of Hinton Hollow – population 5,120 – in the hope of some sort of respite. But Evil follows him home…
Will Carver’ Hinton Hollow Death Trap has echoes of other dark small town tales such as Jim Thompson’s The Kill-Off, Stephen King’s Needful Things, Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, and, of course, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, in that the seemingly idyllic small town has a dark and seedy underbelly. Indeed, Hinton Hollow seems to be full of secrets and ‘the woods are not what they seem’. Disappointment, jealousy, bitterness, resentment and violence all bubble just below Hinton Hollow’s homely surface and, in the course of the novel, all of this and more is uncovered. DC Pace’s Home Counties haven soon turns into a Hell on Earth.
Pretty much as soon as he arrives back in Hinton Hollow, things go off kilter. There is a horrifying murder, a worried mother sends her youngest child on the train out of town, far away from the encroaching darkness that is soon to envelope the place, and as for Darren from the slaughterhouse, well let’s just say that his story in the early part of the book is not for those of a nervous disposition.
Hinton Hollow Death Trip is a tale full of twists and turns sharp enough to give you whiplash and it works well as a gripping police procedural, a whodunnit with a dash of the supernatural about it, but it is also a thoughtful exploration of human frailty and our capacity for self-deception.
There is a rich and varied cast of characters too. Some of them are horrible, some are annoying, some are ridiculous, some are downright scary, and others – such as the owners of the local diner – are really, really nice. But they are all very believable and realistic, even the pompous policeman with the preposterous moustache.
Hinton Hollow Death Trip is original, engrossing, touching, sad, violent, funny and, yes, occasionally annoying. Because the real twist in this collection of little tales of misanthropy is that the story is narrated by Evil itself, who has seemingly arrived in Hinton Hollow with the sole purpose of making Detective Sergeant Pace suffer for his past transgressions.
As the story is told, Evil playfully and capriciously interjects the narrative with comments, hints, secrets, reflections and even homilies that wouldn’t look at all out of place in a cheesy self-help book. In fact, in many ways Evil seems to be a tad naïve and a bit of a prig too!
But rather than disrupt the storyline, Evil’s black pearls of wisdom help paint a bigger picture of the denizens of Hinton Hollow and their interlocked lives. For sure, in just five days, in such a small town, a hell of a lot happens. Little things and big things. Ordinary things and bizarre things. Good things and bad things. And very, very bad things indeed.
Hinton Hollow Death Trip is a clever and inventive novel that tests the reader’s patience and endurance for sure. At times it comes across like a more grown-up, less of a smartass, version of a Chuck Palahniuk novel or a darker shade of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And I’ll admit, about a third of the way through the book, I faltered a little, but thankfully I stuck with it and found reading the novel a rewarding and satisfying experience.
I should also mention that this is the first Will Carver novel that I’ve read and although it refers to events in the two previous books to feature Detective Sergeant Pace – Good Samaritans and Nothing Important Happened Here Today – it didn’t hinder my appreciation of Hinton Hollow Death Trip in any way.
A damn fine five-star read.
Zoë is a single mother who lives with her four children in Dartford. She is poor and can’t afford to buy food. One day her ex-boyfriend drives by and asks her to go on a date with him. Scared that he doesn’t want to go out with her, she lies and tells him that she is just babysitting the kids. This will be her first date in years. Director: Andrea Arnold Writer: Andrea Arnold Stars: Natalie Press, Danny Dyer, Jodie Mitchell Oscar Winner 2005 (Best Short Film, Live Action.
British private detective Joe Geraghty is holed up in Amsterdam, laying low from the trials and tribulations of his life in Hull. After missing a phone call from his former business partner Don Ridley, he later finds out that Don is dead. Geraghty returns to Hull for Don’s funeral and is soon embroiled in an investigation of Don’s death that digs up more than a few dirty secrets that people in high places would much prefer to keep buried.
Nick Quantrill’s Sound Of The Sinners is the 4th Joe Geraghty novel and sees the welcome return of one of crime fiction’s most realistic and likeable private eyes. As always, Quantrill gives us a cracking story with a great sense of time and place.
The sound is a thump, thump, thump that goes on and on and on, over and over again and drags me by my lapels into consciousness.
I open my eyes and shards of sunlight slice through the blinds. Squinting, I focus on the worn Francoise Hardy poster on the wall and the familiar red flock wallpaper. Once again I’ve fallen asleep fully clothed on my sofa, tangled up in a tartan blanket which has seen better days, and nights. The coffee table and the floor near the sofa are littered with the usual debris of beer cans and whisky and gin bottles.
I pick up a half full can of Stella, lay back and steadily sip.
Memories of the previous night trample over my thoughts with dirty feet and eventually, I turn on my side and look around the room.
As well as the usual alcohol, the table is covered in a fair amount of Colombian marching powder and in the corner of the room, next to the CD player, holding a glass of what looks like gin and tonic, face down in a pool of puke, is a man.
And he’s dead.
The evening was melting into night and dark, malignant clouds were spreading themselves across the sky. I pulled down the metal shutters and locked up Las Vegas Amusements as a battered yellow taxi cab spluttered to a halt in front of the arcade.
I shuffled into the back seat of the cab as the driver struck a match on the NO SMOKING sign and lit his cigar.
’Astros?’ said the driver.
‘Aye’, I replied, nodding, ‘Same shit, different day.’
‘Didn’t you say that yesterday?’ he smirked.
The taxi snaked its way along the sea front, past pubs, greasy spoons, gift shops and amusement arcades, as the rain fell down in sheets. We pulled up outside Astros as a leathery bottle blond struggled to control a black umbrella which fluttered and flapped like a big black bat trying to escape from her grip.
‘Eyes down,’ said the taxi driver when he gave me my change. Being a bingo caller, I got that sort of thing all the time and it never failed to amuse the person who said it
I was trying to catch the pasty faced barmaid’s eye when, dressed in a white linen suit and a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, a blast from the past that was positively seismic burst into the bar. Jim Lawson, a man with a face like a blackcurrant crumble, a liver like the Great Barrier Reef and the smell of a soggy mongrel, sidled up to me, shuffling and sniffling, moving in close and conspiratorially like a double-agent in a Harry Palmer film.
’Jesus Christ,’ I said.
‘Close but no cigar,’ said Jim, wiping the happy-talc from his nose. ‘Thought, I’d find you here.’
‘Long time no see,’ I said.
’Sounds like a Chinese take-away,’ smirked Jim.
‘Aye, you could make that into a joke. Albeit not a particularly funny one,’ I said, slowly tearing up a beer mat.
‘It’s been donkey’s years,’ I said. ‘Still doing the sleazy hack thing in Bucharest?’
‘Oh, aye,’ said Jim. ‘Still dishing out the spare change and bingo calling for pensioners at Las Vegas, eh? Clickety–click, two fat ladies and that?’
I nodded, suddenly draped in a drab cloak of gloom.
‘I imagine you’ve a few tawdry tales to tell, eh?’ I said. ‘Louche bars and lithium dens, that sort of thing?’
‘More than a few,’ said Jim.
We sat at a rickety table in the corner, with two pints of Stella and whisky chasers, near what must have been the Xmas tree version of mutton done up as lamb – emaciated and overdressed in as much yuletide tat as possible.
‘How’s the great unfinished novel?’ said Jim.
‘Not so great. Still unfinished,’ I said.
‘Well, have a butcher’s at this. Eyes down,’ he said, grinning as he dumped a massive manuscript on the table. On the front was the title: ‘Destination Lurid’ by James G. Lawson.’ I was uncharacteristically speechless.
‘It won’t bite,’ said Jim, wiping a bead of sweat from his top lip. ’Get stuck in there. ’
And so, I looked. And, of course, as luck would have it, it was good. Very good. A potboiler, for sure, but what a potboiler! I was hooked from the first page. Line and friggin’ sinker!
‘I’m off down the smoke to see an agent on Monday,’ said Jim, looking more than a little pleased with himself. ‘I sent a sample chapter off to a few friends of friends and Bob’s your Uncle and Fanny’s your Aunt.’
And me? I just started pulling so hard on the threads of my life that the whole thing was starting to unravel. I took another gulp of whisky and headed toward oblivion, like dirty dishwater down a plughole.
In the early hours of the morning, when I awoke back at my flat, The Walker Brother’s ‘The Electrician’ was playing at a low volume and Jim was laying on the floor foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. And then he went into convulsions.
I drained a glass of gin, turned over and went back to sleep.
I take the drink from Jim’s hand, and slowly sip it until I start to feel warm and glowing, like one of the kids in the old Ready Brek advert. Then, I drag the body into the kitchen and, struggling, dump it into the freezer, covering it with packets of frozen peas and fish fingers.
James G. Lawson is as good a pen name as any, I think, as I switch on the computer to check the Monday train times to London, before polishing off the gin. I look around, see that I’m out of booze and take a wad of cash from Jim’s wallet. No worries, it’s nearly opening time.
A criminal gang sets out to pull off the heist of a large army payroll.