White Hot Pistol by Eric Beetner

This story takes place in a fictional place called noirville. When I read this book I saw a place very much like the Harlan portrayed in the re-imagining of Leonard’s work. That is just in my mind though. There are so many opportunities to read between the lines and create your own city that I’m pretty sure nobody will see noirville in the same that that I do. I love that.

Like any good noir there is a lot of happening and most of it is bad. This book starts at quite a pace and it doesn’t let-up for an instant. Like all good noir this story is more about what is not said. There is a really hard edge to this story. There are some really screwed up characters doing or having done to them some really horrid things but beneath all of that there is that special sibling bond. It doesn’t matter what your sibling does or is like, they are who they are and you can’t help loving them.

This is an engrossing read. I’ve read a few stories by Eric Beetner and I’m yet to find anything that doesn’t leave me wanting more. This is a fine example of hardboiled modern pulp.

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell

A cigar chewing, gun toting talking money laying waste to nazi ninjas. More cheese than cheddar gorge right? Surprisingly not. The exciting and energetic opening to this book goes well with the retro pulp cover. More importantly it sets the scene nicely. All is not what it seems and the author somehow manages to twist the fanciful aspects through the plot in such an accomplished manner that somehow a monkey with a grenade launcher doesn’t seem at all strange.

Putting the monkey aside for a minute (not an easy thing to do) there is a lot more to this book. The alternate history aspects of this book really caught my imagination. What if Britain and France joined together in the post-war ear to become a European super power. The EU because the European Commonwealth under the rule of the crown. There are also cyberpunk some unusual elements to this book. Usually there is a mature technology base but in this story the cybernetic implants are a new and secret experiment used for nefarious means.

I tried not to but I need to mention the monkey some more. If you want to sum up his character try shouting his name out loud. Somehow for me it evokes a simian treetop battle. There is more to Ack-Ack than a violent monkey. How would enhanced language and reasoning abilities impact a monkey? Would it become more human or would the natural inclinations of a monkey just be more effectively carried out? These are the questions I couldn’t help thinking about as I read this book. I loved the way the author portrayed this character.

This book sounds silly but isn’t. It is character driven and this is backed up in the extras at the end of the book. I’ll be buying more books by Mr Powell and you should too.

Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar

Like just about everything in this book even the title is not what it seems. Yes it does refer to the surface of the planet Mars, but it also refers to an important character in the book. I made a mistake in my timing of reading this book. I should not have chosen a week with only small reading windows. This is the kind of book that benefits from taking the time to read it in large chunks. An ideal holiday read. I found myself having to read back several pages before carrying on. There is a lot going on in this book and if you are not paying attention it can be easy to lose the thread. This book is well worth making time for so go sit in the quiet shade for a few hours.

science fiction stories with time travel aspects can seem like utter tosh unless there is some backbone to how causality is addressed. My head hurts from trying to follow the logic through across several time frames. Sometimes characters bleed across in subtle ways and at others you get a slap in the face from a wet fish.

I really enjoyed how Mr Tidhar took some Israeli political views and extended them in to the future. Of course they’d want their own state on the red planet and even more obviously of course they’d make a statement and use time travel to impact the genocide of their people in World War II.

There are too many clever references to list and I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun. I do have to mention the noir style fictional elements which are also personifications of real (in as much as anything in this story can be called real) characters.

 

A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe

I admire Jack Monroe. Her blog post Hunger Hurts is enough to upset even a miserable git like me. When I was a child there were times when my parents had very little money and I am pretty sure they skipped the odd meal to keep us boys clothed and fed.

Jack Monroe hasn’t been content to concentrate on her family now is gradually moving away from abject poverty. Instead she campaigns about food poverty. Nobody should be without regular food. This book will not stop food poverty. What this book can do is help you think about the way you shop, where you shop and most importantly what you buy. Given how tight my family finances are this book is very welcome at the moment.

There are some great pieces of advice in this book as well as the recipes. Woody herbs like Rosemary are almost impossible to kill even on a windowsill if they are kept damp. Growing chili plants is also great, not only in terms of flavour but also because they have some great health benefits too. Pickling leftover vegetables and freezing breadcrumbs are also great ways to save money and waste less. There are other similar tips in this book.

Soups are great. Even small children who don’t like vegetables will eat soup. My 6yr old loves bean soup without the beans. We blitz the whole soup so he is getting them. Don’t forget that those beans and pulses are sources of protein. There are not a lot of meat recipes in this book because meat is expensive and if you are on a very tight budget it is only ever a treat. There are plenty of breads to make and a surprising number of recipes packed with flavour. This is not a book for a dessert lover though. There are a few and they reflect the same ethos as the rest of the book. Some nice cheap jam for the sweetener is something I’m keen to play with.

These recipes are all quite simple to make. There are few ingredients, few utensils and not many steps to follow. This would be an ideal present for somebody just leaving home and learning to fend for themselves.

Guardians edited by Adele Wearing

This is the third in the Fox Pockets series. I have to talk about the cover. I love what Sarah Anne Langton has done with the covers for this series. They look so simple and bright yet there is so much more to them. This one in particular is a bit like eating ice cream with salted caramel in it. At first it seems to be exactly what expected but the longer you leave it the more levels there are. I could ramble on for ages about this cover (yeah I know I already have) and would recommend going to have a look yourself.

This book feels very different from the other Fox Pockets. It starts out quite slow and cerebral and then picks up pace in the second half. The really odd thing for me was that the pace seemed to gather more like a novel than an anthology. It took me a little while to get used to this as I was expecting it to be a little more spiky (in more than one way).

I have a clear favourite in this book. My Guardian’s Guardian by Catherine Hill is just stunningly well done. I don’t want to say too much about it as that will give away the really clever part. There is a single three letter word in this story that ensure that most people will get it. I’d buy this book for this story alone and would suggest you do too.

The other story that really stood out for me was Defiant by Christian D’Amico. I have always loved stories about heroic sacrifice. Something about giving your own life for the greater good strikes a chord with me. Add powered melee weapons, space ships and advanced guns and I am sold. I want to read some longer fiction by this author.

I felt that I shouldn’t like Fat Angels by Alasdair Stuart in these times of promoting positive body image but I couldn’t dislike it. There is no negativity only a sense of humour and a disregard for what anyone else thinks. It was much better than I expected.

This is a fun little book and I fully intend to have all ten on my book shelf.

Interview with Garnett Elliott

Garnett Elliott writes some hard hitting emotional fiction with a deceptively simple style of writing. This interview is an especially interesting one for me as it has made me think about one of my favourite novels in a different light. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Q. I’ve read at least five books that you’ve featured in. One of those is BEAT to a Pulp: Hardboiled which is probably my favourite short story anthology. I love the deceptive simplicity of noir stories and particularly love them hardboiled. What drew you to writing this kind of story?

A. Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled kicked six kinds of ass. Glenn Gray and Kent Gowran had some particularly nasty stories in it, as I recall . . .

There’s something about the language of the hardboiled/noir story that first hooked me in my teens. I had been reading William Gibson’s landmark sci-fi novel Nueromancer, which was chock-full of innovative ideas, but the way he told it; the pacing, the dialogue, the action, really haunted me. I didn’t know why. Then my uncle read it. “It’s a heist story,” he told me, “and it’s written in the old hardboiled style.”

Q. Before I started writing these questions I did a little search engine stalking. You have a pretty small online footprint. Is this a deliberate persona thing or are you naturally disinclined to broadcast about yourself?

A. I’m a low, low, low profile kind of guy. One of the (polite) things my co-workers call me is “treetop flyer.” This is both deliberate because of the nature of my work and the result of natural inclination. And yes, I know it’s the Kiss of Death in today’s publishing industry.

I don’t have a normal job. I’ll leave it at that. And I learned early on I did not want to call undue attention to myself. I do not excel in politics. The concept of self-promotion beyond, say, trying to do a good job, is alien to me. It’s something I struggle with.

Q. Where do you see pulp fiction in five years time?

A. Not sure where it will go, but I’ve noticed a general trend of ‘pulp’ getting more (some would argue incorrect) usage among fiction writers. People who used to tag themselves as ‘noir’ writers now say ‘pulp.’ I’ve got no beef with this. I’d love to see both classic reprints and new venues (like David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp line) exploding all over the net.

Q. Time some a shameless plug. What writing do you having coming out this year and why should we buy them?

A. I’ve got a story coming out soon in the professional fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and it won’t cost you a dime. Beyond that, I’m working on the fourth (maybe fifth? I’m not sure where it fits in the arc) entry in the Drifter Detective series. You should buy it because, like the aforementioned Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, it’s going to kick six kinds of ass.

See? I’m not so good at the self-promotion thing.

Q. What fictional detective would you like to be and why?

A. Columbo. Hands down. I know he’s more ‘TV’ than ‘literary,’ but still, he’s my hero. He’s got more than he shows, and those asshole, country-club bad guys don’t see it coming until he lays into them with their own mistakes. Plus, I’d get to live in early 70’s LA and hang out at NBC studios. And smoke cigars whenever I want.

Q. If you were stuck on a desert island with only five books to read which ones would you choose and why?

A. Well, that would certainly suck, wouldn’t it? Only five books to read sounds like a personal hell. I’d go for quantity, say ‘The Complete Works’ of HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, because they’d take a long time to read. Probably a “Best of” compilation of Jack Vance, for both the length reason and because I never get tired of that man. But the other two . . . All Shot Up by Chester Himes? An early Hap and Leonard Pine novel? Miami Blues? The whole concept is too Sophie’s Choice for me.

The Girls of Bunker Pines (The Drifter Detective) by Garnett Elliott

I like the books from BTAP. Particularly the noir titles. There are some nice links between the various series. This one for example is about The Drifter Detective Jack Laramie who is the grandson of Cash Laramie. Cash is a western fiction character also chronicled by BTAP. The subtle connections back to Cash in this story are a nice touch and add depth to the character.

The story is set in 1950s America where everything is great on the surface but under that thin veneer lies a seething mess. That pretty much sums up Jack Laramie. In this story we learn snippets of the things he had to endure in prisoner of war camp. He still carries a lot of that baggage around with him. That baggage and a sense of kinship to the Korean war veteran seeking his help becomes quite important in this book.

Things don’t exactly start out well for Jack but they certainly don’t improve much and even he starts to question whether life is passing him by. This book is slightly longer than the other Drifter Detective stories and I think it benefits from it. There is a greater depth of character about Jack in this story. Don’t give that Barista your name, don’t get that frothy coffee. Instead buy this book and go sit out in the park reading for your lunch break.