Book Review: The Reddening by Adam L. G. Nevill

THE REDDENING

Author: Adam L. G. Nevill

Publisher: Ritual Limited

Release Date: October 2019

When a stack of human remains and prehistoric artefacts is discovered in the small town of Brickburgh, a media circus descends upon South Devon. One of the reporters pressed into service is lifestyle journalist Katrine, who has escaped her traumatic past by moving to the sedate environs of the Westcountry. Meanwhile, single parent Helene also finds herself drawn to Brickburgh – haunted by the subterranean recordings her dead brother Lincoln made six years earlier. The deeper the two women dig, the more myth and reality start to blur in this sleepy corner of Devon. Are the rumoured disappearances – dating back decades – connected to the shadowy drug plantations? Or are they related to sightings of the mythical ‘red folk’? Or is the truth too hideous to contemplate?

Earlier this year I was walking the coastal path between Paignton and Brixham – a walk I have done dozens of times – when I got distracted by my phone and ended up straying off the beaten track. Unconcerned, I trudged ahead into a ravaged section of landscape I had no recollection of ever seeing before. I felt suddenly disorientated, but unable to turn back. I carried on for another five minutes – each step stranger than the last until something in my mind snapped like one of the rotten branches underfoot and I hastily retraced my steps, through tangled foliage and across uprooted tree trunks, and re-joined the coastal path. I was so unnerved that I joked to some friends that evening that I briefly felt like I had stumbled into a scene from The Ritual! Not long after, I started reading The Reddening. Suffice to say, as a South Devon resident this book had an extra charge for me!

Most Devon horror stories begin and end on Dartmoor, so from the outset The Reddening feels like a particularly refreshing curve-ball of a story. Nevill has an impressive knack for bringing the coastal paths of Devon to life – and imbuing them with a sinister, otherworldly energy. His hyper-literate writing style is queasy and immersive at the same time and adds to the sense of slow building dread. He also shifts gears effortlessly. Whether veering into subterranean folk-horror or gruelling survival thriller territory, the action is always utterly convincing. In addition, all of the main characters and supporting players have meaty, convincing back stories and never feel like unfinished sketches.

Suffice to say, The Reddening is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last year – a fantastic achievement, and a book squirms with the kind of rotten scenes that live long in the memory. There are insidious horrors lurking amongst the mud, shit and foliage in South Devon. I dare you to take a closer look.

Buy The Reddening!

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: A Lovely Way To Burn by Louise Welsh

A LOVELY WAY TO BURN

Author: Louise Welsh

Publisher: John Murray

Release Date: March 2014

A Lovely Way To Burn unfolds in contemporary London, as a deadly pandemic known as ‘The Sweats’ takes hold and cuts a swathe through the population. Set against the backdrop of a city in crisis, the story follows Stevie – a feisty shopping channel host – who is determined to investigate the sudden death of her boyfriend, the eminent Dr Simon Sharkey. As bodies start to pile up across the capital, and London becomes gridlocked with people fleeing infection, Stevie plunges deeper into the ravaged cityscape in search of answers.

I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) this book in January – before most people had encountered the increasingly terrifying Coronavirus – and every time I sat down to write my review the world had seemingly lurched slightly further into pre-apocalyptic chaos… which put me off revisiting the book until now!

It may seem macabre to recommend a relentlessly grim book about a fictional pandemic during an actual pandemic, but A Lovely Way To Burn was first-rate. The prose is fantastic – the line about a teenage soldier’s bad teeth being ‘as crowded and overlapping as drinkers in a station bar’ was one of my favourites. I read Louise Welsh’s excellent debut novel The Cutting Room (2002) nearly two decades ago, and while this is a very different beast, it is no less impressive. It’s a genuinely gripping thriller grounded by its refreshingly down-to-earth protagonist and impeccable attention to detail.

If the sudden onslaught of an inexplicable infection seemed too far-fetched when this book was published six years ago, it now seems uncomfortably prescient. (Note: A Lovely Way To Burn is the first in the ‘Plague Times Trilogy’. I’m sure we’ll have the time to read all three of them before normal life – or something close to it – resumes.)

Review by Tom Leins

 

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Sonia Kilvington

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Sonia Kilvington to discuss her new short story collection, Nightmare Asylum & Other Deadly Delights (Close To The Bone).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Nightmare Asylum! How hard was it to select the stories – and indeed the running order?

I have been writing short stories for the last thirty years or more, and I have always dreamt of having my own collection. I selected my favourite stories with the strongest characters and the most unique situations for the book. Still, I wasn’t sure about the running order and wondered if I should have started it with a horror story or maybe I should have begun with a little more conventionally structured story such as ‘Women’s Work’. I am always second-guessing myself.

Do you have a favourite story in the collection? If so, why is it your favourite?

Yes, I do! It took me about five years to write ‘Nightmare Asylum’ because I did so many drafts, trying to capture the atmosphere of a reoccurring nightmare that I had experienced in my twenties. Night after night I dreamt I was trapped in a Victorian mental asylum and nobody would believe a word I said. I have no idea where that dream came from although I was taken a couple of scary looking psychiatric hospitals to visit a relative when I was young. I channelled my feelings of frustration from the dream into the story as well as my belief in the paranormal. For years it felt like the story I really needed to write.

What is the oldest story in the book? How do you think your style has evolved since then?

The oldest story is ‘Winter Baby’ which I wrote twenty-six years ago. It’s been through many of edits since its earliest conception! My style was a lot more poetic back then, and I have gradually moved away from that, although at times the poetry tends to creep back in.

Your collection has been published by Close To The Bone – do you have any favourite CTTB authors or titles you would like to recommend?

Of course! I am keeping excellent company with writers such as yourself, Chris Roy and the marvellous Paul D. Brazill! There’s a stack of excellent books available from CTTB but, my personal favourites are, Meat Bubbles & Other Stories, Her Name is Mercie and A Case of Noir. For future fun I have pre-ordered, Come Join The Murder by Holly Rae Garcia.

Do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I love audiobooks and will listen to the latest psychological thrillers, crime fiction and noir, especially if the actors/actresses have interesting voices. When I read, I prefer independent books, which don’t usually make it to Audible.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

I have never really thought of writing fiction as a career, it always been a passion that I hoped I would be able to share with people who were willing to read my stories. I greatly admire writers who have many different tales to tell, especially Stephen King, who has had his books made into some terrific films. I would love to have some of my more unusual stories made into movies as they are very visual, especially ‘Nightmare Asylum’ and ‘Perfect Love’.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I am thinking of turning one of the shortest stories from the book, Jake, into a novella as the characters are still lingering in my head and I think they have a lot more to say. I am also planning on re-editing my first novel, the Main Line Murders, before writing the final instalment of my DI Flynn series. There’s a lot to do, so not too much time for messing about re-writing the same sentences for hours on end, as I usually do.

Bio:

Sonia Kilvington is a journalist and fiction writer from Cyprus, who loves to write dark and disturbing short stories in genres such as noir, crime, horror and sci-fi. Credits include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Pulp Metal Magazine and Near To The Knuckle. Her new short story collection, Nightmare Asylum & Other Deadly Delights – published by Close To The Bone, is available on Amazon.

Website: https://soniakilvingtonwriter.com/

 

Book Review: Stay Ugly by Daniel Vlasaty

STAY UGLY

Author: Daniel Vlasaty

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: February 2020

Eric is an ex-con, bare-knuckle boxer better known around the Rogers Park neighbourhood of Chicago as ‘Ugly’. While he wants to ditch his violent past – and his notorious nickname – his criminal associates have other ideas…

When his estranged junkie brother Joe steals $100,000 from a local drug dealer, Ugly finds himself on the hook for the debt – unless he hands the kid over. At a loss for where to turn, he enlists his old buddy, Nicky – a man still dick-deep in the thug-life – and the duo hit the streets to find him. Inevitably, each step takes him deeper into the life he’s desperate to leave behind, and things are going to get seriously bloody before the night is over.

Stay Ugly is raw and nasty in all the right places. Punch-drunk bare-knuckle hardman Ugly is our tour guide across nocturnal Chicago, and his quest to find his junkie brother is a bone-shattering, bullet-strewn treat. The violence and the backdrop feel grim and authentic throughout, and Ugly’s sordid trawl is detailed in tight, gritty prose. This book fights hard and it fights dirty, and Daniel Vlasaty has crafted a brutally entertaining dog-eat-dog thriller.

All Due Respect has published crime fiction spanning a number of different sub-genres over the years, but is probably best known for its savage, unforgiving novellas. This vicious slab of badass storytelling is another winner, and fits right in with the many highlights in the ADR back catalogue. Savage, visceral stuff.

Buy Stay Ugly!

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Slow Bear by Anthony Neil Smith

SLOW BEAR

Author: Anthony Neil Smith

Publisher: Fahrenheit Press

Release Date: January 2020

Micah ‘Slow Bear’ Cross used to be a reservation cop – until his left arm was shot off in a violent altercation. Like many men with lax moral codes, he did well in the lawless Bakken oil fields of North Dakota – but those days are long gone. Now he spends his time nursing warm beer, lazily flirting with casino barmaid Kylie. A spectacularly poor decision earns the wrath of his former boss, and Slow Bear finds himself forced into a thankless fact-finding mission. His target is Santana the Exile – a man with fingers in lots of unsavoury pies. The ex-cop’s mission starts badly and quickly gets worse – a lot fucking worse.

Slow Bear is an unofficial sequel to Worm, which was published in 2015 by Blasted Heath (since re-released by Down & Out Books). Slow Bear was a memorable supporting character – in a book full of memorable supporting characters – and this new book picks up his story further down the line. Worm ranks as one of my favourite crime novels of the last decade, so I was excited to see what Smith had up his sleeve this time around.

Slow Bear reads like Worm’s weirder, shiftier little brother. The boomtown is now a fracking-wracked ghost town, and the seedy pleasures on offer are now queasier than ever. Everything is dingier, nastier, more savage, except Slow Bear, that is – who has lost his edge as well as his arm.

This brisk book (it clocks in at around 130 pages) is a bleak, surreal page-turner – so hardboiled it hurts. While Slow Bear doesn’t quite hit the delirious heights of Worm, it is a great book – and one that teases at future misadventures for its hapless anti-hero. I can’t wait!

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Tommy Shakes by Rob Pierce

TOMMY SHAKES

Author: Rob Pierce

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: September 2019

Tommy Shakowski AKA ‘Tommy Shakes’ earned his name as a heroin addict, but now he’s just a drunk. A drunk who has convinced himself that his next big score will be enough to win back the affections of his increasingly distant wife and son. When the opportunity to join a couple of freelancers and take part in a heist emerges, Tommy attempts to clean up his act and wrestle control of the scam. People skills aren’t high on Tommy’s CV, however, and the stress of managing a crew of sociopaths drives him back to the bottle. Little does he know, the target – a popular restaurant that runs an illegal sports book out back – is affiliated with a notorious Chinese mobster, and Tommy is about to enter a world of shit and pain.

Tommy is a colossal fuck-up, incapable of real change, and whatever charm he once had has been eroded by years of hard drinking and low-level criminality. His booze intake is staggering enough, but his gastrointestinal problems are even worse, and Pierce details the whole sorry ordeal in gleefully graphic detail. Indeed, it is this unflinching approach that sets the story apart from similar material – and highlights Pierce as a writer that is willing to go where other writers fear to tread.

The tone is paranoid, booze-fuelled and distrustful throughout and Tommy Shakes plays out like a shit-streaked nightmare, with the title character lurching between toilet bowls and terrible decisions – unaware how bad things are really getting. If taciturn tough guys, simmering violence and pungent criminality are your thing, then this book is a memorable addition to the heist sub-genre.

Tommy Shakes reads like an excrement-splattered George V. Higgins caper, and – take it from me – no one is going to get away clean – least of all the hapless Tommy…

Buy Tommy Shakes!

Review by Tom Leins

 

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Daniel Vlasaty

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Daniel Vlasaty to discuss his new book, Stay Ugly (All Due Respect).

Congratulations on the publication of Stay Ugly! How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

Eric is an ex-con, bareknuckle boxer better known around his Chicago neighborhood as “Ugly.” He wants to shed his past, build a life with his family, but his past won’t be so easily left behind. His junkie brother Joe has stolen $100K from a powerful drug dealer—and Ugly’s on the hook unless he hands Joe over.

I loved the energy, the violence, the tone… but the book may prove too visceral for some crime readers’ tastes. Do you think too much contemporary crime fiction pulls its punches, or are our tastes too extreme?
I never really gave much thought to the violence I put in my books. But that’s probably because I do write about violent people doing bad things in a violent neighborhood in a city known worldwide for its violence. So, it just feels natural to me. I don’t think you can set a crime story in gangland Chicago without there being excess levels of the shit.

As far as how my stuff compares to other contemporary crime fiction, I can’t speak to that. I just want my shit to feel authentic.

But I will say that my other books have been criticized for being “unrealistic.” I’ve been told people don’t talk the way my characters talk. People don’t act the way my characters act. Shit like that. But I think that just depends on the kinds of people you know, the kinds of places you frequent, the kind of life you live.
For the last 14 years I’ve worked in methadone clinics and psych hospitals all throughout Chicago. I used to run a detox unit for heroin addicts and alcoholics. I’ve facilitated groups for people coming out of prison, people court-ordered into treatment. I’ve sat and counseled and talked with and laughed with murderers and active gang members.

And I can tell you that my shit comes off sounding pretty fucking tame when compared to some of the stories I’ve heard.

This book was published by the fantastic All Due Respect; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

I try to read everything. I don’t ever want to be about only one thing — if that makes any fucking sense at all. That being said, I do tend to favour indie crime fiction, obviously.

I like to read stories that hit quick and hard. I don’t want to be bored. I don’t like things to be overly descriptive. I don’t want to read a crime story with long, flowing prose. I want to read a story that fucks my shit up and doesn’t even give me a second to catch my breath.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I’m pretty comfortable over here with the rest of the All Due Respect family.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?
For some reason I’m drawing a complete fucking blank on novels right now but my brain keeps going to comic books. I feel like crime comics don’t get enough play in “literary” circles. I love anything and everything Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have done together — Criminal, Bad Weekend, Scene of the Crime, The Fade Out, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, Fatale, Kill or Be Killed, etc.

Also if you haven’t read it, most def check out Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M Guera. It’s about an undercover FBI agent assigned to infiltrate the police force on the reservation where he was raised. It’s violent and dangerous and beautiful and sexy and blah-blah-blah.

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
I would just love to quit my fucking job and be able to support my family with my writing. So, I guess any writer that is able to do that would be my answer. And the reason would be because I hate going to my current job every single day like some fucking sap.

But you know, money and bills and responsibilities and all that shit.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans? Without giving too much away, the ending to Stay Ugly appears to pave the way for a sequel…?

Paul D. Brazill was the first person to suggest a Stay Ugly sequel to me. Prior to that the thought never crossed my mind. I figured I was done with Ugly and Nicky. But I liked the idea and started to mess around with it a bit. I got a few chapters outlined right now and I’m having fun with it. It’s set two years after Stay Ugly and shit’s already getting bloody. Its working title is Please Come Back to Us

Aside from that I’m “working” on at least three other books.

Methadone is a fictionalized version of an actual robbery that happened at the methadone clinic where I currently work. The real thing was crazy, I’m talking machine guns and a score of about $1,000,000 worth of methadone.

Them Animals is set in the aftermath of a drive-by shooting/massacre. The story alternates between the only survivor of the shooting (a sixteen years old girl and her family) and also the inner workings of the gangs on both sides of the shooting.

Gets You Dead is about a dude getting mixed up with some mobsters after his uncle, another low-level wise guy, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Bio: Daniel Vlasaty is the author of The Church of TV as God, Amphetamine Psychosis, Only Bones, A New and Different Kind of Pain, and Stay Ugly. He lives a few miles outside of Chicago with his wife and daughter and works at a methadone clinic.

Website: Facebook, mostly. I used to have a website but I let the domain lapse and now danielvlasaty.com sells some kind of Japanese space heater or some shit.

 Buy Stay Ugly!

 

 

Book Review: Wonderland (A Spenser Novel) by Ace Atkins

WONDERLAND (A SPENSER NOVEL)

Author: Ace Atkins

Publisher: No Exit Press

Release Date: March 2014

Robert B. Parker may have died in 2010, but Spenser – his most famous creation – continues to live on… Boxing trainer Henry Cimoli and Spenser go way back, but the old man has never had to ask the private eye for a favour – until now. When a shadowy property developer attempts to buy up Henry’s condo on Revere Beach – and sends his thugs to help expedite the process – Spenser and his Native American apprentice Zebulon ‘Z’ Sixkill follow the trail to a charming but dangerous Las Vegas tycoon, only to discover that he isn’t the only person interested in the land. As in all good stories, carnage ensues!

Despite the fine reviews for his Quinn Colson series, I had yet to tackle a book by Ace Atkins – the crime writer selected by the estate of the late Robert B. Parker to continue his iconic Spenser series. Further, while I’ve read a whole bunch of Spenser mysteries over the years, I feel like I’ve read as many unconvincing ones as I have great ones, so this was something of a speculative purchase. Happily, Wonderland was a little cracker!

Whereas I have sometimes found Spenser’s idiosyncrasies off-putting in the past, Atkins weaves the source material into something new and improved. The knockabout tone he recreates is pitch-perfect, and his brand of literary ventriloquism feels like a genuinely affectionate tribute, but the storytelling verve is fresh and exciting. Factor in a slow-burning mystery, a succession of appropriately brutal fight scenes and a heavy-duty dose of emotional clout and you have a genuinely riveting novella. Regardless of your level of Spenser fandom, this bruising PI thriller is well worth checking out!

(Note: after finishing Wonderland I discovered that it is currently being filmed by Peter Berg for Netflix, with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. The cast list suggests the story will deviate slightly from the novel – with Hawk installed as Spenser’s sidekick, rather than Z – but I’m intrigued nonetheless!)

Review by Tom Leins

Criminal Records #8 – Jason Beech on Never Go Back

In the latest instalment of the Criminal Records series, Jason Beech puts together a playlist to accompany his new book, Never Go Back (Close to the Bone, 2019).

REBELLION (LIES) by Arcade Fire

Barlow Vine has just killed a man – his lover’s lover. Now he’s heading from Spain back to his hometown in the vain hope that his actions won’t catch up with him.

There’s a scene in the basement of the abandoned house where Barlow doesn’t quite know if his confused, concussed mind is dreaming or the shadows on the wall of dancing kids are real. The lyrics aren’t the main thing, and Arcade Fire are not British, but there’s a feverish folksiness to the sound which fits the strangeness.

GHOST TOWN by The Specials

 

Barlow’s arrival back in Sheffield is not what he dreamt. To start, he’s committed murder in Spain so he can’t just throw himself back into the swing of things. So, Sheffield has turned into a Ghost Town, where people just swish past him without acknowledgement to a soundtrack of wind. Lots of wind in Sheffield…

ETON RIFLES by The Jam

Barlow’s a big fan of The Jam. So is his crush, and so is his oldest friend. The Jam’s music runs through the novel. Barlow and his old mate, Denise, love them. His newfound love, Surraya, strides about in an Eton Rifles t-shirt. It’s also one of my all-time favourites.

COOL FOR CATS by Squeeze

There’s a piano in the cellar of the abandoned house Barlow hides in. What better way to cheer a man with a splitting headache than a jolly romp through Squeeze’s classic? The piano’s out of tune, so turn the wonky up to eleven.

THE UNIVERSAL by Blur

 

His head is beating, there are men either trying to kill him – or use him – and he’s in mental turmoil at the murder he’s committed. What else to take the edge off but the soothing strings of Blur’s The Universal? It has a mournful quality to fit Barlow’s many regrets.

Buy Never Go Back!

Bio:

Sheffield native, New Jersey resident Jason Beech writes crime fiction. His coming-of-age crime drama City of Forts was described as “tense, atmospheric, and haunting” by UK crime writer Paul D. Brazill. You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Pulp Metal Magazine. His new novel, Never Go Back, is published by Close To The Bone on 29 November 2019.

Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

Book Review: The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney

THE QUAKER

Author: Liam McIlvanney

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: June 2018

Glasgow. 1969. A serial killer known as the Quaker has lured three women from the same nightclub and viciously murdered them. As the police’s laborious investigation drags on, the sense of fear is palpable and the cops are seemingly no closer to establishing the killer’s identity. Enter DI McCormack, a talented young detective who has been dispatched to Glasgow to shut down the botched investigation. Before he can pull the plug on the case, a fourth woman is found dead in a derelict tenement flat and McCormack becomes determined to win over his suspicious colleagues and nail the culprit.

Winner of the 2018 Scottish Crime Book of the Year, The Quaker is a visceral, relentless police procedural that drags the seemingly clean-cut McCormack through the grit and grime of late-60s Glasgow. The seedy atmospherics are utterly convincing and the level of period detail is similarly excellent.

The Quaker is a ferociously entertaining thriller that successfully blends a pungent David Peace-style Red Riding ambience with a dose of Glasgow grit and a genuinely gripping plot. Fantastic stuff.

Review by Tom Leins