As part of the UK Crime Book Club’s Crime Fest 2021,
Big thanks to Caroline Maston for inviting me!
As part of the UK Crime Book Club’s Crime Fest 2021,
Big thanks to Caroline Maston for inviting me!
Recommended Reads: Black Summer & The Curator by M W Craven
A few SPOILER FREE words about these marvellous books. With his excellent novel The Puppet Show, M W Craven introduced us to the mismatched-team of rough n’ tumble cop Washington Poe and eccentric computer genius Tilly Bradshaw.
In Black Summer and The Curator, Poe and Bradshaw are back again. It’s been a very long time since I read two novels by the same author one after the other, but Black Summer was such a joy that I immediately moved onto The Curator. Both books are a skilful blend of whipcrack-thriller and police procedural that had me racing through them but what really puts meat on their bones-sorry Tilly! – is the characters and how they interact with each other. The cast of all three books are like a surrogate family of misfits and are all well-drawn, realistic and likeable, even when they can sometimes be annoying. There is darkness in these books for sure, but there is also a lot of humour and warmth. Extra points for a cracking villain in Black Summer– too! Highly recommended.
The Hustler is a 1961 American CinemaScope drama film directed by Robert Rossen from Walter Tevis‘s 1959 novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by Rossen and Sidney Carroll. It tells the story of small-time pool hustler “Fast” Eddie Felson and his desire to break into the “major league” of professional hustling and high-stakes wagering by high-rollers that follows it. He throws his raw talent and ambition up against the best player in the country, seeking to best the legendary pool player “Minnesota Fats“. After initially losing to Fats and getting involved with unscrupulous manager Bert Gordon, Eddie returns to try again, but only after paying a terrible personal price.
The film was shot on location in New York City and stars Paul Newman as “Fast” Eddie Felson; Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats; Piper Laurie as Sarah; and George C. Scott as Bert. It was followed by The Color of Money in 1986, with Newman reprising his role.
The Hustler was a major critical and popular success, gaining a reputation as a modern classic. Its exploration of winning, losing, and character garnered a number of major awards; it is also credited with helping to spark a resurgence in the popularity of pool. In 1997, the Library of Congress selected The Hustler for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The Academy Film Archive preserved The Hustler in 2003
“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 …
Seven strangers head off on an all-expenses- paid trip to a luxurious private island to take part in a mysterious test. All of those strangers have dark secrets that are revealed throughout the course of the trip. I really don’t want to say anymore, to avoid spoilers but Susi Holliday’s The Last Resort really is a cracking, gripping read. Indeed, it’s the very definition of a page turner. Holliday expertly tells the tale by changing the POV of the characters, as well as moving backwards and forwards in time and the result is highly addictive. The Last Resort is highly recommended.
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.
A criminal gang sets out to pull off the heist of a large army payroll.
New from All Due Respect …
MAN OF THE WORLD by Paul D. Brazill
Publication Date: April 17, 2020
Buy the trade paperback from the Down & Out Bookstore and receive a FREE digital download of the book!
Synopsis … Ageing hit-man Tommy Bennett left London and returned to his hometown of Seatown, hoping for respite from the ghosts of the violent past that haunted him. However, things don’t go to plan and trouble and violence soon follow Tommy to Seatown. Tommy is soon embroiled in Seatown’s underworld and his hopes of a peaceful retirement are dashed. Tommy deliberates whether or not to leave Seatown and return to London. Or even leave Great Britain altogether. So, he heads back to London where violence and mayhem await him.
Man of the World is a violent and darkly comic slice of Brit Grit noir.
Praise for the Books by Paul D. Brazill:
“If you took Ken Bruen’s candor, the best of Elmore Leonard’s dialogues, sprinkled in some Irvine Welsh, and dragged it all through the dirtiest ditch in South London, the result will be something akin to Brazill’s writing.” —Gabino Iglesias, author of Zero Saints and Gutmouth, for The Last Laugh
“A broad range of cultural strands come together in the melting pot and form a delicious stew of criminal adventure… The observations are sharp and the characters create small nuclear explosions as they collide with each other.” —Nigel Bird, author of Southsiders, for The Last Laugh
“Brazill offers a series of amusing episodes filled with breezy banter in this offbeat slice of British noir.” —Publishers Weekly, for Last Year’s Man
“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” —Paul Heatley, author of Fatboy, for Last Year’s Man
“Paul D. Brazill is the Crown Prince of Noir. That’s my opinion, granted, but I stand by it. For those who require proof, just pick up his latest novel, Last Year’s Man, and it will be clear why I make that statement. All hail the crown prince!” —Les Edgerton, author of The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping, Just Like That and others
“Brazill is brilliant, a unique voice which stands out from the crowd.” —Keith Nixon, author of the Solomon Gray books, for Last Year’s Man
My comic crime capers Guns of Brixton and Cold London Blues were published by Caffeine Nights Publishing in 2014 and 2016 respectively. And they received a hell of a lot of positive feedback, particularly Guns Of Brixton. However, due to Caffeine Nights decision to reduce their booklist, they have now reverted the rights of the books to me and ceased publication of the titles.
I’m sure both books will be back out and about in some shape or form at a later dater. So watch this space!
In the meantime, the eBook versions of the books are no longer available but there are some paperbacks knocking about.
So if you fancy nabbing one, maybe pop over to Fantastic Fiction:
Best-selling, millionaire mystery author J T Le Beau is a recluse. A man without a past. And there is, of course, great speculation in the media as to his identity. Paul Cooper, however, lives a quiet, anonymous life with his wife but he’s a man with dark secrets. The two lives intertwine in Steve Cavanagh’s Twisted, a fast-moving, gripping and gleefully OTT thriller. Cracking fun indeed!
Small town boy Joe Hunter heads off to London to stay with his old friend Chris, a rising star in the fashion industry. When Chris is killed, Joe, along with a former police detective, decides to investigate the murder. T S Hunter’s Tainted Love is set in Soho in the mid-1980s and has a great sense of time and place. Tainted Love is a whip crack of a read and a great start to T S Hunter‘s acclaimed Soho Noir series.
Lisa is a young professional woman with a dark past. When she moves into the spare room of a beautiful old house in a posh part of London, she quickly finds out that the house also has its secrets, and that her odd new landlords are not what they seem. Dreda Say Mitchell’s Spare Room is a cracking, fast-paced read that cleverly drags gothic melodrama into the 21st century. This is a breathless, engrossing, urban thriller with a sharp strain of dark humour – Barbara Kendall! – and is a hell of a lot of fun.
‘Death has ripples’
‘Death is contagious’
Sarah is only a young a child when her father talks to her about death and she is haunted by its spectre all her life.
In fact, Sarah is not the only one of the characters in Steve Mosby’s brilliant Still Bleeding to have felt death’s ripples.
Her close friend Alex Connor, for instance, has been living in self-imposed exile since his wife’s shocking death. But he is propelled back to England when he learns that Sarah has been murdered. And his brother has confessed to the killing.
And then there’s Paul Kearney, a homicide detective, who is working on a serial killer case in which women are kidnapped and drained of their blood. Kearney is a man obsessed, brutalised by his work.
Both Conner and Kearney dig deep into the underbelly of society and eventually their investigations intertwine in a gripping story with some great twists and turns.
Still Bleeding is a powerful novel that gives you a great story, wonderfully atmospheric writing, realistic characters and a whip crack pace. And more than a few emotional whallops, too!
JJ Stoner is a guitar-playing, Harley Davidson-riding contract killer who works for the shadier side of the British secret service. When his boss asks him to head off to Russia on a mission, and a friend asks him to kill an African despot, Stoner’s world gets even murkier than usual.
Frank Westworth’s Czech M8 is a whip crack of a read. This vivid and violent short story is marvellously well- written. It’s choc-full of fast-action, dry humour, sharp twists and turns and well-drawn characters.