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.

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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.

Interview With K.A.Laity

The lovely Kate Laity was kind enough to answer some questions for me. If you want to find out more about her there are links to her many personas at the bottom.

Q. You write and get published a lot. That in itself is impressive. What gets me is the number of completely different types of writing you manage to juggle. How do you manage to keep these different aspects apart and do you have a different persona for each area?

A. The fundamental fact about me is I get bored really easily. Anyone who’s seen me sigh and fidget through a meeting knows how it is. If I had to write the same thing all the time, I would get so bored. On the negative side, pingponging through various genres has made discovering my work more difficult. While I keep writing whatever strange things come into my head, I created the other personas to identify things that do actually fit into genre labels. They’re easier to sell – in fact one of my alter egos is the only one of us to have a Big Six (or is it Five now?) contract.

Q. You don’t just write though. I first heard of you through the Noir series you edited for Fox Spirit. How does that hat differ from your author ones?

A. I keep swearing I won’t do any more editing, then I get an idea that someone like Adele at Fox Spirit Books says, ‘Hey, I’d publish that” and I find myself doing it again. And it’s always fascinating to see where people take the ideas and run with them. Editing is about designing an experience—and immersion really—for the reader. Even if they read out of order (I almost always do when I get an anthology), you want it to have that effect. So you have to read the stories in light of how they will affect one another. Juxtaposition is everything. Plus, it’s fun to persuade writers you really enjoy to write something they wouldn’t have done without that poke.

Q. Tell me about your book release schedule this year and what I should read, or a shameless plug if you like.

A. My noir novella Extricate is just out and very soon will be released again in print form with another novella Throw the Bones and a bunch of short stories. It’s going to have a double cover like the old pulps. I just saw Sarah Anne Langton‘s art for it this morning and wow! What a knockout one-two punch it’s going to be! Coming up in April will be my supernatural noir novel White Rabbit which will come out under my given name because it’s another genre straddling book. It’s like Séance on a Wet Afternoon mashed up with The Big Sleep and a little Blue Sunshine and maybe just a touch of Pynchon. That description should tell you why I love crossed genre publishers like Fox Spirit Books. And it’s got a classy cover by S. L. Johnson that captures the enigma of the book in a timeless image. In an era of cheap photoshop collage book covers I am so very grateful to have amazing artists designing covers that stand out from the crowd. I have lots more coming out: fiction and even non-fiction like my essay on awesome medieval woman, Christina of Markyate in Heroines of Comic Books and Literature and an essay on how I came up with my Chastity Flame thriller series in a collection on the pop culture influence of James Bond that’s supposed to be out this spring. And um, more stuff that I’m forgetting but will be on the websites…

Q. Nobody likes to choose their favourite child but which is your favourite genre to write?

A. At the moment I’m kind of noir-crazy. It’s one of those genres that I have loved for years and years but only started writing relatively recently. I blame Paul D. Brazill, who somehow lured me into the darkness and then got me to write a story for his Drunk on the Moon series and then (probably helped by the fact that I was living in Ireland on a Fulbright) I wrote more and more and more. I love noir: it’s all about people who don’t see the options, who live on the margins and who make bad choices because they don’t think they have a chance of winning.

Q. You’ve won a Clive Barker short story contest. Is that as cool as it sounds and did you get to meet him?

A. My first ‘professional’ acceptance! I won a signed script and the MGM website hosted my story for a time (it’s still at the official Clive Barker site), but I got a letter from him that I framed and hung on the wall because it said such nice things about my writing (‘full of fluent style and poetic dialogue’). I didn’t get to meet until a bit later. He was doing a signing for Sacrament and I waited in line to have him sign a copy. Clive is one of those writers who adores meeting his readers. While he was signing I thanked him for the letter and told him how much it meant to me. He looked up and said, ‘YOU wrote that story?’ He jumped up and ran around the desk and gave me a big hug and told me again how much he loved the story and so did everybody in the office. I nearly exploded with delight. A wonderful writer but also a terrific human.

Q. Talking of short stories. I love short and punchy works, do you see a long term place in the market for shorter fiction?

A. I think there will always be an appetite for it. I love writing shorts, but I swore off them because they just don’t pay anything. And then I keep writing them anyway every once in a while because I get an idea and it has to be written or I get itchy. I do love that ebooks seem to have brought the novella back as a saleable length. Publishing, as you well know, is all crazy right now. All kinds of things might happen. It’s a bit chaotic, but there are so many more options to find writers you might have missed in the old model.

Q. What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the internet this week?

A. Probably this.

Q. You are stuck on an island with only five books to read. Which ones would you choose and why?

A. Oh god, I hate choosing! My whole life is about having as many opportunities open to me as possible all the time. I’d cheat with The Riverside Shakespeare and The Collected Works of Christopher Marlowe because then I could entertain myself playing all the parts. I’d bring The Complete Jane Austen as I wouldn’t be able to do without it. Now the hard choices: hmmm. Let’s say Jane Eyre and The Thin Man. Or The Long Goodbye. No, The Thin Man. Probably. Can’t I just bring my ebook collection? I need art, too! And music! I hope there are pens, too. I suppose I can make a stylus and use blood. Five books! If nothing else, that would prompt me to escape. After a while—it would be nice to be stranded on an island for a while. The quiet would be nice.

All the sites:

KALaity.com (general madness), Twitter, Facebook, G+, Medium

GrahamWynd (noir & crime)

Kit Marlowe (historical/romance/adventure)

C. Margery Kempe (erotic romance)

The Year I Died Seven Times Book #2 by Eric Beetner

This is the second part of a serialized novel. The first part set the scene nicely and killed the main protagonist Ridley. That doesn’t count as a spoiler as the title kind of gives it away. I like the idea of a serialized novel in principal but I’m rapidly finding it really annoying. I don’t want to wait until the third part is released. I want, no I need to read it now. Whilst the two parts are so far self-contained to an extent I don’t want to wait, I hate waiting. I also don’t want to risk forgetting the initial part by the time the story concludes. On the other hand that could open up an extra level of surprise as my brain struggles to catch up. I’m interested to see how I feel about this as the series continues.

The story itself carries on nicely from the first part. Ridley really is rather pathetic when it comes to a main character in a crime novel. So far there is no hard-edge and although persistent this is usually confined to the realms of screwing up and getting beaten up. The misogynistic needy wannabe alpha-male in me (it is there somewhere) has the urge to shout “Suck it up buttercup, grow some balls and be a man”, but most of me is loving the fact that there is very little macho in the character as he curls in to a ball and gets pulped.

I enjoyed this part of the serial and will definitely be reading the next part.

Dark Waters by J.B. Turner

Dark Waters is a follow-up to Miami Requiem. I was fascinated to see where Mr Turner took the character of Deborah Jones but also a little concerned that the first book was such an emotional roller-coaster for Miss Jones that it would be hard to follow. I was pleased to find that there were plenty of depths yet to explore.

I knew the bloke in the bar at the beginning had to be dodgy.  He was drinking Laphroaig and water and that is just plain wrong. Somehow that shocked me more than the first murder. This is one of those crime stories that makes you wonder if you could be the victim of some of the state sponsored surveillance techniques featured. It is hard not to be a little paranoid whilst reading this book and I did consider taking the battery out of my phone at one point.

The story is about a hacker that finds more than he expected to but gets killed before he can pass the information directly to the reporter he contacted. Some of the information is sensitive to high level intelligence officials that will stop at nothing to get their data back. The things done to bury the story are plain scary because each and every one is easy to imagine happening. Although this story is mainly about the insidious conspiracy it still manages to be primarily about the characters.

One of the differences between this authors and some others that I’ve read is the way that he treats the supporting cast. It would be easy for some of the less salubrious characters to be down on their luck and staying there, but in this book most of these characters have a way to better themselves. The prime example of this is the ladies soccer team (it is set in Miami so I can’t say football) that Deborah plays for. Unlike other crime stories I find myself uplifted after reading Mr Turner’s work and it makes a nice change.

The Year I Died Seven Times Book #1 by Eric Beetner

This book has one of those titles that draws you in. I found myself wondering how somebody could survive one death let alone multiple deaths before I’d even opened the book.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the way the author managed to get me feeling empathy for the wastrel Ridley. He really is an annoying and self-pitying little man but somehow I found myself starting to like him.

Nobody likes to be left in the lurch without an explanation. Forever wondering why. It sucks. Ridley isn’t content with that. Miho is the only thing in his life that has made him feel good about himself in years. Don’t expect to find the answers in this book though. What you get are more questions and a hint of something sinister. The one thing I am sure about is that I must read the second part of what appears to be a serialized novel.

This series is an interesting concept and I hope each parts has a great hook at the end as otherwise it will be easy to lose readers. Personally I can’t wait to read the next part.

Last Orders (a Gus Dury crime thriller) by Tony Black

If, like me you read up on Tony Black before reading his work you’ll see praise from Irvine Welsh and style comparisons to Ian Rankin. After reading this book neither of those things surprises me. It has been a while since I read the Rebus novels but there is certainly that same gritty feel. It is more gritty than a butt crack after a day at the beach. The is a bleak hopelessness that surrounds Gus Dury and anybody that gets anywhere near him. He has his reasons and having been in a similar place for similar reasons it makes perfect sense. Add to that a bleak and an unforgiving backdrop like a Scottish inner city and you have a setting that just screams brooding and anguish.

This is a Scottish book and there are phrases that will not make much sense if you don’t have any Scottish links. I was quite proud that I only had to look one thing up. All those holidays up there paid dividends.

The plot is simple and very easy to work out from the beginning but that takes nothing away from the enjoyment of this book. Like all good noir it is all about the characters and this one is no different. The interactions are pitched at exactly the tone and I can hear the accents of each character.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book after not reading anything for a few weeks. I must go and start something else now.

Miami Requiem by J.B. Turner

This book pulls no punches. It doesn’t skirt around the horrific acts it concerns and yet it is written in such a way that it doesn’t glamorize them. This book isn’t about the rape at the centre of the plot. It is about consequences. The Butterfly Effect. Every action or inaction adds to a chain of events that keeps on gathering pace. There are parts of this book that are not pleasant to read given the subject matter but they do add colour. The author does an excellent job of getting across the isolation and crushing panic that accompanies anybody finding out about an attack.

The story is about a young reporter that becomes obsessed with seeing a death row victim being able to life out his natural life. William Craig saw his daughter’s rapist not only walk away free from court but after the trial drive by harass her. He killed the rapist and was sentenced to death for killing the senator’s son. I really liked Deborah Jones. She starts out with flaws and problems. She doesn’t overcome them, she deals with them the best she can. This made her seem much more real to me. She also shows at the end of the book that she’s capable of being nasty and manipulative to do what she feels is right as the expense of a not so nice politician.

I don’t normally include quotes from the book in my reviews but this line at the end of chapter one sets the scene for the rest of the book so well I just have to share it.

“Florida may be the Sunshine State to most people, but it’s not. It’s a swamp. Don’t ever forget that.”

This is a hard-nosed investigative thriller that left me wanting more. I’ll certainly be looking out for more Deborah Jones stories.

Grandville/Mon Amour/Bete Noire by Bryan Talbot

I like to start by mentioning the cover of pretty books. Unusually for me this time I’m going to talk about the feel of a book. It is in a standard size graphic novel format but it feels like an old hardback book. The cover art is then embossed on to this to complete a piece of tactile heaven. It took me a couple of minutes before I managed to tear myself away and open the book. That’s when the artistry really starts. From the simple and evocative cover you go open the book and find an inside cover that looks like William Morris just discovered steampunk. It would make an awesome wallpaper for a feature wall.Again I spent a minute or too admiring the inside cover. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. As I turned the page I couldn’t help but notice the amazing quality of the paper. That is a theme throughout this book. There has been an obvious drive to make sure that every part of this book lives up to the artwork and writing contained in the story. It may not seem important but it lets you know that you are about to read something important. Something of quality.

It delivers. On a simplistic level is Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond using anthropomorphism to portray different strata of society. The basic premise is that Napoleon won the war, subjugated Britain and has only just escaped the yoke of French oppression. Add in a healthy dose of steampunk and crime noir and you’re pretty much there. There is more though. These books will make you think about oppressive regimes. I couldn’t help but think of Northern Ireland and the middle east. There is an undercurrent of politics running through these stories. What if we had a socialist Britain or France? Would the historical ruling elite accept that? Would somebody else want to grab power for themselves? These are the kind of questions you’ll be asking yourself when you finish reading this book. Anything that makes me question or think about things is good. The story line, the world building and most importantly for me the characters were believable and interesting.

These are more than books. They are works of art. you will not regret buying them.