Review: A Day in the Life of Jason Dean by Ian Ayris

Jason Dean is an a hard man, a very hard man, the kind of scary-looking bloke who gets sent to collect debts and, if needs be, kill people, which is exactly happens on this particular day, but the problem is that his heart isn’t really in it any more. He has a wife who hates him, and the only thing he truly loves is his daughter, Sophie, who occupies his thoughts a lot on this particular day.

So when local gangster, and all-round Wagner-loving psychopath, Mickey Archer, tells him to deal with some debts and then kill a skinhead car dealer who has sold Archer a dud vehicle he does so more out of fear of his boss than any desire to flex his muscles.

Jason’s debt collecting duties happen with mixed success. One of the men, an elderly soldier, commits suicide in front of him, and the other involves dealing with a nightmare family of the kind you’ll find on many deprived council estates. Jason ruminates on writers during many of these incidents, partly because although Jason isn’t a well educated man, due to parental negligence, among other issues, he is a well read and intelligent one.

Finally, he has to face up to the dealer and go through with Archer’s request, but even that is fraught with surprises…

A Day in the Life of Jason Dean is a very strong performance written in a stylised local vernacular that helps burrow into the mind of its protagonist. The character of Dean, who could so easily have been a cliché in the wrong hands, comes across as a sympathetic and even sensitive soul, albeit of the kind that you wouldn’t ever want to upset. The disagreement, although it’s more one-sided than that, between Archer and Dean about Wagner and Shostakovich is both funny and scary, and there’s a similar feeling of unease in another meeting between the two men later in the story – you always get the feeling that Dean is treading on eggshells around his boss. Similarly, Dean’s love for his wife and daughter is equally well evoked, and pays dividends towards the end of the story. Jason Dean is a very well written tale with a genuine compassion towards people on the lower rungs of British society and comes highly recommended.

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Review: The Scent of New Death by Mike Monson

When Phil Gaines’ new wife, a kinky young barmaid called Paige, and his business partner, a psychopathic pervert and genius getaway man called Jeff, run off together it’s a case of so far, so bad. But when he realises that they’ve also made off with his life’s savings, accumulated from years of bank robberies executed with zen-like calmness and precision, it’s a matter of life and death. Until this point, Gaines has managed to live a quiet and controlled life of meditation in his modest apartment in Modesto, California apartment and successful robberies out of the state.

But now his life is anything but quiet and controlled. He wants his money back and his wife and partner dead.

However, his ex-cohorts have plans of their own, which include framing and killing Gaines in a big robbery that will make them a lot of money if they can pull it off. But when the plan goes awry and Gaines escapes it leaves the main players chasing each other across the state to the home of an ageing pornstar, where their blood-soaked destinies await.

Mike Monson is a fairly new author to me. I’d read a couple of pieces of his flash fiction over at Shotgun Honey (Tough Love being an especially memorable tale), but The Scent of New Death is I believe his first longer-length work. Although the title page calls it a novella the story manages to cram more incident and character into its pages than many works that are twice the length. And I honestly loved every second of it. The characters of Phil, Paige and Jeff are fully realised and are starkly contrasting. Phil is controlled and calm most of the time, thanks to his zen meditation, but he also has a sociopathic disregard for human life, which means he’ll kill anybody who gets in his way. Paige is wild and initially fun-loving, though her idea of fun differs markedly from that of most regular people. Jeff is as vile as they come – a sexually deviant psychopath with absolutely no regard for human life and enjoys murdering for the sheer thrill. Even the minor characters have a feeling of interior lives, rather than as pieces to be moved around an elaborate literary chessboard. The prose is clear and precise and doesn’t get in the way of the action and incident, of which there’s plenty, and the dialogue is sharp and snappy without being showy. It is a superb crime thriller with some very, very violent and kinky moments. If you’ve got the stomach for it I can’t recommend The Scent of New Death highly enough. Superb.

Review: The Disassembled Man by Nate Flexer (Jon Bassoff)

Having been impressed earlier this year by Jon Bassoff’s psycho-noir stylings with the cracking Corrosion, I decided to find and download some more of his work, which led me to The Disassembled Man under the pseudonym of Nate Flexer.

This novel shares some traits with Corrosion (grimy first-person setting with an unreliable and insane protagonist, a keen eye for blue collar American life, and a rich cast of repulsive low-lives) but also diverges in some respects, bringing in a sense of the supernatural with one of the cameo characters (although this seems open for interpretation, at least in my reading of the text (the protagonist is insane, after all)).

The protagonist, Frankie Avicious is man at the end of his tether. He’s a heavy-drinking slaughterhouse worker who is in love (more obsessed) with a stripper. His obese wife, whom he hates, wants to leave him for another man because she believes he married her for her father’s money, which happens to be true. But his father-in-law, who owns the factory where he works, has such little respect for Frankie that he’s placed him in a dead-end post on the slaughterhouse killing floor rather than in a more palatable post in the office. Frankie decides to murder his father-in-law and then his wife in an attempt to get his hands on the inheritance money and run away with his stripper, with a little guidance from a mysterious and creepy watch salesman. Like all noir plans it inevitably goes wrong in the worst possible way, but it takes a few wild twists and turns before the gruesome and nightmarish finale.

The Disassembled Man is another very fine piece of noir from Jon Bassoff. It’s very well written with a neat line in glib metaphors and hardboiled one-liners. It isn’t as strong as Corrosion, partly because some of the supporting characters feel a little underdeveloped, like they’re just there as Frankie’s cannon-fodder, but the prose conjures up some wonderful images, especially during the hellish finale, and there are some great set-pieces and intense moments of suspense. If you have a strong stomach for violence, this novel comes highly recommended.

Review: The Long Lost Dog Of It by Michael Kazepis

Hello there, dear readers. Sorry I’ve been away for so long. It feels like it’s been ages.

I’ve been quiet for a while, partly because I’ve been writing frantically to get a decent first draft of The Glasgow Grin together, but here I am – back again and ready to plough through my backlog of reviews.

The Long Lost Dog of It is the debut novel by Michael Kazepis, a writer who I hadn’t heard of previously. It’s published by Broken River Books, who are fast becoming one of my favourite indie publishing houses, and is available as both an ebook and a paperback.

It’s set in Athens during one of the anti-austerity protests that brought the city to a halt in 2011. The narrative focuses on the lives of a vagrant who used to be a police officer, a young lesbian couple who are having serious relationship difficulties, and a hitman who has returned home for his father’s funeral. They have nothing in common with the exception of a violent incident that occurs in the latter half of the tale – an incident that impacts on their lives in ways both major and minor.

TLLDOI is quite an original spin on the ensemble cast novel. Usually, these kind of ensemble cast novels are linked by an event that happens at the beginning or first half of the tale, and the characters’ tales develop out of this event. TLLDOI turns this on its head and deals with what happens to these people before the main event. It unfolds at an unhurried pace, taking its time, revelling in the details – the sights, sounds and smells of Athens – and lets the characters breathe a bit before finally tightening its grip on the story.

TLLDOI is superbly written. Kazepis has a poet’s eye for a descriptive turn of phrase. He doesn’t ladle on the metaphors, nor does he waste words in getting to the point. He builds his characters well and brings them to life with some choice dialogue and dramatic moments. Of course, some characters are stronger than others. Maniotis, the hitman, is incredibly strong, as is Varia, the vagrant, and some of the supporting characters like Karras and Mesrine are just as fully realised. The tale of Junesong and Pallas, the lesbian couple, although strong, didn’t hold my attention as well as the other stories, partly because the main focus of the narrative, involving Maniotis, would have worked just as well if they weren’t in it. Still, that’s a minor caveat.

And it also has one of the best action sequences I’ve read in several years. A gunfight between two of the characters that escalates into a wider conflict with the police and ties most of the characters together in one way or another. I doubt very much that I’ll read a more stunning setpiece this year.

TLLDOI is a very confident debut by a writer with real promise. It’s another hit for J. David Osborne’s Broken River Books, and it comes highly recommended.

Twelve Mad Men – Ryan Bracha interviewed

When the outrageously talented self-published author Ryan Bracha (Paul Carter Is A Dead Man, Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet) contacted me about being part of a wild anthology idea that he had regarding twelve mad men in an institution I jumped at the idea. It was an exciting project involving a lot of seriously talented writers (Paul Brazill, Keith Nixon, Gerrard Brennan, Les Edgerton, just a few of those participating) – how could I not get involved? The concept involved 12 tales featuring fictionalised versions of each author around which Bracha would construct a bridging tale before tying the strands together at the very end. Kind of like one of those anthology horror movies from the 70s, but much better. I’d be bloody mad if I shirked this opportunity (especially as I’d never submitted a story to a collection before).

And now Twelve Mad Men is finally finished and out there – adding some serious craaaaazy to Amazon’s website. I interviewed Ryan about the project and what brought it about etc. Have a gander at how it went.

How did you come up with the concept for Twelve Mad Men?
It came to me one night when I was a bit tipsy and spouting off at fellow writer and friend Mark Wilson about how, as indie writers, we’ve got a better opportunity than ever before to experiment with our work. It was all about how there are so many writers out there trying to rip off what’s worked on a massive scale in the past (Harry Potter, Fifty Shades, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett etc.) and trying to grab a quick buck rather than use the creativity and imagination they were gifted with to do something awesome. Mark tends to feel the brunt of the ideas factory that is my brain. I come up with several ideas every week to try to do something original, most will be completely ridiculous and fall by the wayside, but some of them grow legs and I can run with them. This one was one of the latter. I wanted to put a bunch of wildly different, but equally talented writers in one place, and see what they did when given the exact same brief. I wanted to challenge myself to think on my feet, so the improvisation aspect jumped into the picture. The narrative theme just gave each writer the scope to be as ridiculous, violent, intense or comedic as they wanted to be.

How do you feel about the finished product?
I’m extremely happy with it. All eleven of the men I invited to contribute surpassed my wildest expectations, and gave me some phenomenal material to work with. The finished product is a seriously good signifier of the talent currently writing and publishing today.
Did the fact that you were improvising the tale that linked the stories cause any problems?
Not as many as I thought it might. Getting the stories submitted in the staggered manner that I did gave me the opportunity to really think about how I was going to introduce a character, and how I might leave that character be, taking what I needed to push the main plot on. Sometimes I did get carried away and went off on a tangent, but rather than delete and rewrite, I’d just go further back and drop some clues in about what was to come. I enjoyed the process immensely, truth be told. The challenge excited me.
Do you prefer anthologies with an overall unifying theme?
Yes and no. If it’s an individual writer’s collection then I like it to be a broad spectrum of what they can do with words, a whole range of themes, characters and styles. If it’s a multi-author piece of work, then yes. I like to see different takes on the same theme. I always loved those projects at school where everybody got one word, and had to write a piece of fiction with that word as the title. It shows how diverse we are as thinkers.
Do you hope to start a trend with this collection?
Definitely. I devised and implemented the idea according to a set of rules that I’ve termed The Rule of Twelve Manifesto 2014. It’s a series of guidelines for getting it written and published. I stole the general basis of rules from the Lars Von Trier spearheaded cinematic movement, Dogme 95, where the story would be the driving force, with no effects, or music to drive emotion. I wanted the writers involved to come up with something reasonably quick and without retrospective editing to get the essence of them as creative types. I would hope that somebody else might take the ball and run with it, and come up with their own Twelve project but if they don’t then that’s fine. The process isn’t for everyone. I’ll just continue to do them myself.
What are your future writing plans?
Before the writing I intend to kick off my new imprint Abrachadabra Books which will embody my approach to the writing game, and submissions will open once I get the first book out. I’m in talks with one of the Mad Men about putting his new one out. That’s a secret, though!
As far as my own work I have the second novel in The Dead Man Trilogy (The first of which is Paul Carter is a Dead Man) to finish hopefully for a January release, then I’m going to do another Twelve project, which will have some of the same names involved as this one, with some fresh blood in there too. On top of that I’m going to work on some shorts to go into a new collection. But the best laid plans and all that. Ask me next week and I might be planning a novel written entirely on cash that’s currently in circulation. Until Wilson talks me out of it!

Twelve Mad Men is out now. All proceeds go to Teenage Cancer Trust, so there’s really no excuse for you not to buy it here.

Review: One Of Those Days In England (A Case of Noir) by Paul D Brazill

As regular readers know, I’m a fan of Paul Brazill’s work. His snappy dialogue helps bring his characters to life, whilst his rich metaphors and descriptive powers imbue his tales with a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere. I’m particularly fond of his Luke Case tales (now collected into one volume entitled A Case of Noir). However, instead of reviewing the work as a whole, because I had been reviewing the short stories (which are available individually), I’m going to review the final story and then just do a round up of the work as a whole.

In this tale, Case is sent to Cambridge by his very shady publisher Pedro to be part of an assassination attempt on a writer of crime thrillers. He doesn’t ask why, because ignorance is bliss after all, but knows that it is definitely in his best interests to do as he is told. So he interviews the man with the intention of leading him to a place where the humourless French hitman Cyprien can do his job. Of course, it doesn’t quite turn out as planned…

The final part of the Case’s story also happens to be the funniest. Lots of nice little one liners and droll asides are woven nicely into the tale. And the final hit is a moment of sublime black comedy that marks the hitman out as more Clouseau than Carlos the Jackal. It is a very solid ending to the story and comes highly recommended. However, for those readers who haven’t read any of these tales yet, I highly recommend that you get the full Case of Noir. It is an excellent read from an author whose talent grows with every new work he writes.

Review: Out There Bad by Josh Stallings

Regular readers of this blog might remember my review of Josh Stalling’s superb crime thriller Beautiful, Naked and Dead, which featured the compelling voice of his anti-hero Moses McGuire, a former soldier working as a bouncer in a strip club, who ends up investigating the murder of a woman he’d taken under his wing. It was superbly written and tough – just the kind of thing I like.

Now McGuire is back in the follow-up, which starts some period after the first book. He is alone again, filling his time with self-loathing and booze. He ends up crossing paths with the Russian mafia, and promises a dancer that he’ll help her find her missing underage sister. At the same time an assassin is taking out Russian mobsters and Mexican pimps south of the border. Eventually, McGuire pushes the mobsters hard enough that he’s forced to travel to Mexico with a tough-talking journalist, whose might be more trouble than he’s worth, to find the little sister. This brings him into contact with the assassin and a whole heap of trouble…

Out There Bad is a very strong follow-up to BN&D and Stallings makes McGuire’s voice as compelling and readable as ever. The dialogue crackles and the pace is well handled. There’s a high bodycount for those that like action and plenty of sleazy atmosphere for those who like to see the dark corners of the world from the comfort of their Kindle readers. It’s another cracking tale from Stallings, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one. Highly recommended.