Recommended Read: Layer Cake by JJ Connolly

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 …

(THIS FIRST APPEARED OVER AT CRIME FICTION LOVER)

Recommended Read: Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver

(THIS REVIEW FIRST APPEARED OVER AT CRIME FICTION LOVER)

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.

Crime Fiction Lover reviews Man Of The World

Brit grit author Paul D Brazill follows his 2018 novella Last Year’s Man with a return to Seatown, where we pick up the continuing story of hitman Tommy Bennett. Perched somewhere on the Northeast coast, Seatown is cold, wet and windy, the kind of place that makes your joints ache as you acquaint yourself with an ageing gangland killer who seems to have spent half his career on the verge of retirement. But what sort of pension do you get after years of shooting, stabbing, stamping and generally evading anything resembling a normal life?’

READ THE REST OF THIS TERRIFIC REVIEW HERE.

cfl

 

 

A Few More Top Reviews For Gumshoe Blues

Well, GUMSHOE BLUES: THE PETER ORD YARNS continues to garner some well tasty reviews.

At THE HAUNTED PEN, David Burnham says:

‘Brazill’s descriptive work shines as he paints a written image of the colorful, memorable characters and places Ord encounters – pubs, bars, strip joints, cemeteries, and caravan sites to list just a few. I believe that in noir the location is just as much a character as the people who live there, and the author knocks it out of the park with his descriptions and dialog.’

You can read the rest of the review here.

At THE NEW THRILLING DETECTIVE WEBSITE, Kevin Burton Smith says:

Liberally laced with black humour, with a spritz of Don Quixote laid on top for good measure, Gumshoe Blues (2019) is some kinda read. Some kinda rough, cheeky, up-yours kinda read, I should add.

Read the rest of the review here.

At CRIME FICTION LOVER, Michael Parker says:

‘The result is a very kind of British noir, as if Jim Thompson had written his stories of doomed losers on the back of bawdy seaside postcards.’

You can read the rest of the review here.

GRAHAM WYND says:

‘The northern setting of Gumshoe Blues offers a laconic pace which suits the humour and makes the stark failures of the impromptu gumshoe Peter Ord a little (dare I say it?) poignant.’

You can read the rest of the review here.

ANDY RAUSCH says:

Brazill is a master at work here, and I for one cannot wait to see what he does next. FIVE STARS. If I could give it more, I would. It’s that good.’

You can read the rest of the review here.

And, if it takes your fancy, you can pick up GUMSHOE BLUES here.

gumshoe blues

An Interview And A Few Tidy Reviews For Last Year’s Man.

cover-brazill-last-years-man-5

There’s a lot of it about …

Over at TOE SIX PRESS,  Sandra Ruttan asks me about Last Year’s Man and she reviews it too!

She says: ‘I love an author who can engage me and surprise me and give me a complicated protagonist to root for. If you do too, you’ll find Last Year’s Man to be a highly engaging read.’

Over at Amazon.com, E. Hobart says Last Year’s Man is ‘Another beautifully written noir gem from Mr. Brazill’ and Dee Arr says ‘This is noir at its best.’

Down BRIT GRIT ALLEY, Paul Heatley says: ‘I think this may well be Mr Brazill’s best book yet, and that’s saying a lot.’

At BOOKS FROM DUSK TLL DAWN, Susan Hampson says: ‘The whole darn book is brilliance. ‘

At CRIME FICTION LOVER, Purity Brown says: ‘All in all it’s a good, fun read from a master of flash fiction.’

And at GOODREADS, Warren Stalley says: ‘Littered with Mr Brazill’s typical rapier sharp one liners this short Brit Grit novel is a joy to read for any crime fan wanting some light literary refreshment. ‘

Turned out nice again!

 

I’m Going Underground at Crime Fiction Lover

cfloverOver at the splendid CRIME FICTION LOVER website, I contribute to their NEW TALENT NOVEMBER  celebration with a little column about underground crime fiction writers.

Of course, there are so many top writers around at the moment that I couldn’t mention all of them.

But you can check out those I did mention here.

A Couple Of Great Reviews For Guns Of Brixton

gobCRIME FICTION LOVER says :

‘populated by a rogue’s gallery of scoundrels and swindlers with names like Half-Pint Harry and Anarchy Al, and their dirty deeds are done dirt cheap. The musical name dropping proves infectious thanks to the skill of the author, and the book is big fun to read.’

DETECTIVES BEYOND BORDERS says :

‘a comic romp, a kind of high-spirited musical without music, albeit one full of violence, the threat thereof,  and all sorts of unpleasant bodily effluvia, whether the result of gun blasts or not.’

Guns Of Brixton (published in by Caffeine Nights Publishing) is out NOW as a paperback and as an eBook.  You can get it from from loads of places including Barnes & Noble, Caffeine Nights PublishingWHSMITH, Waterstones,Foyles Amazon and Amazon UK.