Aside from the day job and promoting my noir thriller Back Door to Hell in recent months, I’ve still been finding time – as always – to read some riveting books.
So to give you a flavour of what I’d recommend at the cutting edge of contemporary crime fiction, below are some reviews I’ve posted for some of my favourite reads of 2019 so far…
Last Year’s Man, by Paul D. Brazill
I’ve always been fascinated by the ageing gangster/hitman theme and this slick and stylish noir thriller from Paul D. Brazill is a barnstorming success.
Tommy Bennett, feeling heat from the London law after a botched job, returns to his native north east (a nice nod to Get Carter) to lay low and regroup. But reconnecting with old underground acquaintances and family members is no easy thing, nor is dealing with a weakening bladder and increasing medication routines, and Tommy needs to show all his grit and resourcefulness to steer clear of dangerous old ghosts haunting him.
Structured within an easily digestible novella length, this is a breezy tale filled with Brazill’s familiar sharp, clipped dialogue. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud one-liners, while the cultural references are relevant and the violence is vivid. The free-flowing narrative makes this a really enjoyable read and a standout addition to this author’s extremely credible back catalogue.
Dread: The Art of Serial Killing, by Mark Ramsden
This smart, sharply observed thriller is a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding read.
Few main protagonists are as entrancing and depraved as the Dickens-obsessed Madden, a spy and a serial killer who’s spinning more than a few plates as he infiltrates a right-wing nationalist group.
Aside from the charismatic and twisted hero/anti-hero, the prose style is a real highlight to this book. Shifting in tone from despair to graphic with a slick rhythm and a healthy dose of perfectly pitched dark humour throughout, the author is effortlessly in control of where he’s steering you.
The tempo and style reminded me of the brutal yet eloquent noir of Matthew Stokoe in places. This is a read that you won’t forget in a hurry – highly recommended.
Townies: And Other Stories of Southern Mischief, by Eryk Pruitt
I love short story collections and I’ve come across some of Eryk Pruitt’s writing in a few crime anthologies, but this was my first experience of a whole book of his work.
His range is impressive – in terms of subject matter, characters and setting – and there’s something here for every fiction fan, from a humorous take on a vengeful tale about profiting via fantasy football to a cruel battle over a lawn mowing route.
The dialogue in every story is convincing and the themes explored – whether it’s violence, the threat of violence, desperation or redemption – are delivered with care an aplomb. Lots of showing not telling, lots of brutality and second guessing, this author has a lot of control over his writing and the stories had me entertained and, in some cases, spellbound.
Dead is Beautiful, by Jo Perry
The Charlie and Rose series has captured the hearts and imagination of many readers, and with this latest instalment it’s easy to see why.
Charlie and his ghostly canine companion Rose, both dead and existing in a surreal afterlife, return to LA in this new mystery crammed with hardened prose, dry humour, and of course dark, dark noir.
A mature tree is felled illegally, throwing the two protagonists into an investigation that leads to a murder and into the path of Charlie’s brother, who’s in danger and needs help. Charlie, who never got on with his sibling, is trapped in a state of melancholy for much of this tale and needs the good-natured and perceptive Rose by his side more than ever if he’s going to power through.
Exploring the city’s homelessness as well as its luxury mansions, this book has great range of setting and character. The profound tone of the story is complemented by the brusque writing style and existential backdrop, all played out with a shrewd, ironic edge.
Fahrenheit Press deserve great praise for putting their faith in this brave and accomplished series. ‘The coolest collection of hardboiled and experimental crime fiction on the planet’ is the blurb of imprint Fahrenheit 13 – on this evidence, that claim is being fulfilled in spades.
Death of an Angel, by Derek Farrell
Danny Bird’s fourth adventure, this book is woven with a delightfully smooth and engaging writing style that really hooks you in from the start.
The stakes are high for the main protagonist, a bar manager/amateur sleuth, as he attempts to solve a multi-layered mystery that is intricately plotted and laced with polished humour. Danny’s exploits see him exposed to a wide range of characters and settings, up against high-powered corruption as well as domestic and personal strife.
The prose has a gorgeous, warm flow to it that particularly appealed to me, while the story is skilfully structured as it builds to a fitting crescendo.
Like all good series books, Death of an Angel also works as a standalone, with the various twists and turns – all driven from, or towards, the heart of the main character – unravelled with masterful elegance.
Broken Dreams, by Nick Quantrill
Down-at-heel PI Joe Geraghty, scraping a living in the northern, isolated city of Hull, is hired by a local businessman to investigate a staff member’s unexplained absenteeism. The case soon leads Geraghty into the heart of a murder investigation that carries links to Frank Salford, a key businessman central to the city’s regeneration scheme who is also a ruthless gangland boss.
The pace of this book is strong from the start and the drama heightens nicely as the story unfolds and the stakes rise. Geraghty is a very well-drawn character, the naturalness of his mannerisms, behaviour, outlook and dialogue really flesh out the believability factor in him. So many authors try to make their characters appear real by homing in on their ‘normal’ qualities to make them likeable and it can feel too contrived, but everything about Geraghty – the good and the bad – comes across as authentic in an effortless way.
But there’s another major character that deserves a mention here – Hull itself. Reading the book from the perspective of someone who has never been there but has felt enriched by visiting many northern cities, including living in one for four years, I felt this was a real bonus in Broken Dreams. Getting to know the many parts of Hull, from its past as a fishing fortress to its modern-day cultural renaissance, and feeling its gritty core and warm soul contributes significantly to the success of this urban tour-de-force.
Highly revered author and jazz musician Mark Ramsden, writer of eight novels including The Sacred Blood and Dread – The Art of Serial Killing, gave Back Door to Hell a full five stars in his review on Goodreads.
He wrote: ‘Thrills, spills, emotional depth. Back Door to Hell’s fugitive couple have rightly drawn some comparisons with True Romance . . . this is as exciting as a Quentin Tarantino script.’
‘Events unfold realistically rather than for effect or as an homage. There’s accurate social commentary, good sense of place. This does not take place in an alternative comic book universe: Back Door to Hell is real,’ he added.
‘Very soon after starting you have to know what happens next. Which isn’t what you thought it would be yet makes perfect sense. Highly recommended.’
Another review written by US-based crime fiction aficionado Nicola Parry said: ‘This is a great read.’
‘Paul Gadsby reeled me into this story with a relaxed writing tone that kind of left me feeling like I was an onlooker in it, watching the crime play out . . . I dare you not to be rooting for this crime duo as they trip around England, trying to avoid the consequences of their actions.’
‘I don’t know why, but all the way through this book, I could hear Pulp’s ‘Common People’ playing in my head.’
‘Overall, it’s brilliant, harrowing, and poignant. It’ll definitely leave you wanting more.’
Another reviewer on Amazon wrote: ‘Back Door to Hell takes us on a journey from South London to The Lakes, The North Sea Coast and back again at breakneck speed in the company of two engaging young anti-heroes.
‘If George Pelecanos had come from this side of the Atlantic, his prose would sound like this … Gadsby’s attention to detail and character development within a crisply executed story cannot be faulted.’[Top]
More rave reviews have been flooding in for my noir thriller Back Door to Hell.
After an initial burst of positive feedback from critics and fans on publication by Fahrenheit Press, the novel has received a further batch of excellent reviews from all corners of the globe.
Critically-acclaimed crime author Aidan Thorn called the book ‘A very British True Romance’ in his review posted on the Fahrenheit website.
‘So much to enjoy here,’ he added. ‘The relationship between the two young thieves, reminiscent of Clarence and Alabama in True Romance, the depth to the often neglected bad guy, Crawford, with a glimpse into his home life. All of that is wrapped in a cat and mouse that despite the depth remains tense and interesting.’
Over on AustCrime, a website based in Australia that focuses on Australasian crime fiction as well as books from around the world, Gordon Duncan wrote: ‘Back Door To Hell really stands out.’
‘The story of boy meets girl, boy is convinced by the girl to take part in a robbery, all does not go to plan and boy and girl go on the run seems on the surface to be a familiar one, there are however many more layers to this excellent noir novel.’
‘Nate and Jen . . . not only need to trust each other, they must also decide who else to trust if they are to survive. I highly recommend reading Back Door To Hell to find out if they do.’
On The Irresponsible Reader blog, based in Idaho, USA, HC Newton said of the novel: ‘This is a fast-moving book, and the pages just melt away . . . It’ll draw you in and keep you riveted through all the twists and turns. And each time you start to think you know what’s going to happen, Gadsby will tell you that you’re wrong. And then he’ll throw a curveball at you.’
‘This is a treat folks, you’d do well to indulge.’[Top]
The #Fahrenbruary online festival, a spontaneous brainchild of book bloggers @laughinggravy71 and @thatmattkeyes, ran throughout February and encouraged fellow bloggers as well as authors and crime fiction fans of any description to get involved by reading a Fahrenheit book and posting a review, whether that be on their own site or on Fahrenheit, Amazon, Goodreads etc.
As well as spreading the word about all things Fahrenheit and celebrating the company’s glorious and daring output, the campaign achieved a wider scope of promoting the efforts and importance of indie publishers in general.
I contributed by writing a guest post on the Laughing Gravy blog titled ‘Couples on the run that inspired Back Door to Hell’ which ran through some compelling and famous books that I used as inspiration for the plot behind my noir novel Back Door to Hell.
I discussed further details about the book and also talked about my writing background and my thoughts on the independent publishing sector in a Q&A article on the Laughing Gravy site.[Top]
My newly-released noir thriller Back Door to Hell is going down a storm with crime fiction critics and fans.
Early reviews have praised the novel’s pace, characterisation and the tense storyline which keeps readers on the edge of their seat until the end.
American freelance writer and book reviewer Brian Greene posted a review on the highly revered website Criminal Element, labelling Back Door to Hell ‘an exhilarating thriller’ and ‘a novel that seems ripe for film adaptation.’
He adds: ‘What sets Back Door to Hell apart is its naturalness… While other contemporary crime fiction scribes go out of their way to make sure their books have the fashionable noir qualities, there’s no such affectation in Gadsby’s work. His characters are believable, his storylines are interesting, and his writing is organic. And he excels at revealing the multiple dimensions of his characters’ life situations and internal makeup.’
Meanwhile on another illustrious crime website, Crime Fiction Lover, reviewer Louis Bravos said the novel was a ‘brilliant slice of British noir which packs a lot of punch and says a lot about modern-day Britain.’
His review adds: ‘Back Door To Hell is as tense and edge of your seat as any heist novel, packing a lot into 200 pages plus change. What really separates it from others in the genre is how believable and contemporary it is.’
Over on Goodreads, one reviewer said: ‘The action & plot twists alone are enough to keep you turning the pages… The prose is smooth & clean with enough detail to provide atmosphere but never at the expense of pace… As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think ahead & wonder how it would end. There are several choices, at least one of which would have been disappointingly unrealistic. Thankfully, the author chose an ending that is sobering yet oddly hopeful. And now I have a new (to me) author to follow.’
The reviews on Amazon have also been extremely positive. One review said: ‘Fast moving story well written. Couldn’t put it down for wanting to find out the next twist and turn. Lots of action with plausible characters.’
Another wrote: ‘What a great book, fast, pacey, I couldn’t put it down. I would highly recommend it, you won’t be disappointed,’ while another said: ‘A fabulous read! I was engrossed in the story and really rooted for the main 2 characters. I highly recommend this book.’
‘A thrilling read from start to finish,’ wrote another. ‘A great plot and moments of genuine tension throughout with a climax that plays on the emotions. Gadsby sets the scene from the mean streets of south-east London to a cross-country chase superbly. A real page-turner.’
The popular, award-winning ‘Beardy Book Blogger’ also loved the novel, saying it was ‘a true rollercoaster of a book. It is short and to the point and really draws you into the story. There is no dead air here; Paul Gadsby keeps the pace high and the tension is palpable throughout.’
Click here for more details about Back Door to Hell and how to buy direct from publisher Fahrenheit Press.[Top]