Book Review: May by Marietta Miles


Author: Marietta Miles

Publisher: Down & Out Books

Release Date: January 2018

Troubled May Cosby ekes out a living on the sleepy island of Folly, repairing holiday homes and dealing weed on the side. Struggling to outrun her damaged past, she hunkers down as a destructive nor’easter bears down on her ramshackle home. As the storm approaches, it becomes clear that there are sinister forces at work on the island, and a dark night of the soul awaits…

Route 12 by Marietta Miles was one of my favourite books of 2016, and May provides another welcome jolt of dread-filled small town Americana. The earlier book – which comprised two pitch-perfect novellas – weaved together stunted lives, repressed sexuality and clumsy bursts of violence, to create a gritty compelling package. May – a slow-burner by comparison – explores similar themes, and the writing is as strong as ever.

The book comes into its own during the menacing final third, which sees the various story strands coalesce. Importantly, we get a better look at John Karl, Jr. – a protagonist every bit as nasty as his fictional predecessors, Percy (Route 12) and Pastor Danny Friend (Blood & Sin) – even if his presence is more insidious.

There are a handful of loose ends – not to mention a couple of hideous supporting characters with unfinished business – that make a sequel a seriously appealing proposition. Now that the scene has been set, I’d bet that Marietta Miles raises the stakes next time around – and I hope she goes even darker. Storm-ravaged Folly is not a nice place to be – I’m interested to see how bleak it gets for May!


Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: My Tired Shadow by Joseph Hirsch


Author: Joseph Hirsch

Publisher: Underground Voices

Release Date: November 2017

As a boxer, Ritchie “Redrum” Abruzzi struggled to step out of the shadow of his much-loved world champion father, Ritchie “Bam-Bam” Abruzzi. As a washed-up fighter he has other problems to contend with…

While his reputation remains strong enough to prompt talk of a comeback, there is easier money to be had fighting in high-stakes bare-knuckle matches in run-down parts of LA. Throw in death threats from the son of a man he killed in the ring more than a decade ago, the arrival in town of his own estranged son, and a creepy B-movie director who wants to capitalise on Ritchie’s infamy, and Ritchie’s enforced retirement is about to take some unexpected turns.

My Tired Shadow unfolds in a series of bruising – emotionally and physically – chapters which chart Ritchie’s botched attempt at a comeback, and the mental disintegration that follows. Ritchie is a fully fleshed-out protagonist, well aware of his own deficiencies, but seemingly unable to resist hitting the self-destruct button every time his tentative plans go off the rails.

The combination of fictionalised biography and authentic boxing history is effortlessly done, and the seedy narrative is richly imagined throughout. Crammed with queasy details and mercilessly unsentimental, My Tired Shadow makes for a brutal reading experience. The impressive eye for detail extends to the colourful supporting cast: fight promoters, ruined ex-fighters, B-movie actors and other LA undesirables.

In the final quarter of the book, the story lurches – entirely convincingly – into full-blown noir territory, as Ritchie hatches a wild plan to restore his self-respect and make things right. This is followed by a genuinely unpredictable final act, which sees the narrative come full-circle.

If you are a fan of boxing and lowlife literature, My Tired Shadow comes highly recommended.

My Tired Shadow @ Underground Voices

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With L.A. Sykes

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with L.A. Sykes to discuss The Hard Cold Shoulder (Near To The Knuckle).

Your novella The Hard Cold Shoulder was recently re-released by Near To The Knuckle. The book is set in 2013, and the political backdrop adds to the bleak mood.  Were you tempted to tweak the political context for the re-release, to chart the deteriorating social backdrop?

Not at all. In fact, I actually added the date in the text for the re-release. Events like the striking nurses and the sense of betrayal that followed the Liberal Democrats’ essentially treacherous behaviour in the coalition were part of the milieu.

Also, with the population on the increase and Bobbies on the beat on the decrease, there was something uneasy going on in relation to essentially goading public servants, not to mention jeopardising public safety on a significant scale.

I actually went on strike from a psychiatric hospital, and rather than join a picket line I watched the media coverage. His side of the house of commons roared with laughter when David Cameron described nursing staff walking out as a ‘damp squib’, and I thought these people are going to get it at the ballot box; hence Brexit and a Corbyn led Labour Party, a left-wing alternative not seen since the late seventies.

His smug dismissal ended with him crying outside Downing Street, having not realised how alienated the populace had become.

The novella predicts the deterioration, and rather than alter it to chart the deteriorating backdrop I just wanted it to snapshot the time, seen through the eyes of an ex-cop.

Also, the number thirteen stood out, given the historically erroneous although still prevalent superstitious connotation of unluckiness, which fitted to the thirteen chapter structure of the story.

Are politics and crime fiction uneasy bedfellows, or do you believe that crime writers are the very people who should be addressing these issues?

I’ll answer the latter part first: it’s entirely down to the individual writer whether or not they want to address issues, be it politics or anything else. I think crime fiction is the perfect place to address transgression, given society is malleable to political influence. Also, given politics is essentially corruptible, these things go hand in hand.

Take for example the political choice to cut police officers on the beat; the criminal will take full advantage and street level crime will go up. So realistically political decisions have a knock on effect to the criminological. The criminal operates in a societal milieu, whether they choose to think about it or not.

Again it’s up to the writer, I don’t think it’s a should, it’s a can if they choose to, and if they choose to then the crime novel can be the perfect vehicle to reflect a time and a place.

The Hard Cold Shoulder is a defiantly British story. Who are your favourite British writers – past or present? How have they influenced your own writing?

Derek Raymond, reflecting the essence of British noir, writing about the everyman victim, just blazed a trail started by the great Ted Lewis. David Peace, Alan Sillitoe and David Storey immediately also jump to mind. The latter two so-called ‘angry young men’, who showed me you can write about stuff relevant to working class lives, with passion and anger.

Crime-wise, Peace’s Red Riding Quartet has elevated the genre in my opinion. While you can see plain as day the influence of the master himself, James Ellroy, Peace’s British twist and research into the history of the times he writes about is meticulous. Plus with the darkly poetic prose style I honestly think he’s one of the best novelists of our generation in any genre.

Victor Headley’s Yardie novels were great too. They influenced me by writing stories I wanted to read about, rather than cozy mysteries, or whatever, that didn’t get the pulse jumping, they all had edge, and I knew I wanted to write about similar topics. They showed that it was ok to write what you want.

There are many, many others, most importantly the Irish writer Ken Bruen, and lots of American writers, but that’s a different question…

In terms of current UK writers – I hate to start as I’ll forget some – but I’ll go with the likes of Paul Brazill, Gareth Spark, Aidan Thorn, Paul Heatley, yourself, Keith Nixon, Nigel Bird, and plenty of others.

Manchester seems like a city that lends itself to noir fiction – are there any notable works that you would recommend?

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood, set in 1930’s Salford. It depicts the indignity of unemployment and living conditions in the thirties. It’s not noir, but its setting is one Dave Goodis would have had a field day with.

I suspect there are lots of police procedurals set in Manchester, in particular I like Col Bury’s Jack Striker, but noir fiction wise I don’t know many others apart from Ray Banks’ McInnes series, which is partially set there, and whose work I would definitely recommend.

Do you find yourself gravitating towards independent publishers, or does mainstream crime fiction satisfy your tastes?

To tell you the truth, I find a lot of mainstream fiction too safe, too predictable, and I find myself going back more and more to re-read older stuff. At the end of the day I’m a reader and I like to read good prose and edgy writing, and I definitely find it much more from the independent publishers when looking for newer books.

It seems to me the independent scene is bringing out great stuff that mainstream would not touch because of financial reasons. Les Edgerton’s brilliant The Rapist is a prime example.

There’s a real emphasis on passion for writing that’s shining through. So, I don’t look at the publisher any more, I look at the story and the style, and there is a fantastic amount out there, which is great.

I think that people are starting to wake up to the fact that the big publisher is not a guarantee of better quality than the independent one, and it’s high time that realisation took place.

Which current writers do you consider to be your peers? Any recent books you would care to recommend?

I don’t know how to answer the first part, I’ll leave that to others to decide.

As for books, instead of recent ones, I’d like to recommend A Rage in Harlem and its sequels by Chester Himes. It kicks of the Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones detective series, one of the finest written in my opinion, and I see lots of recommended reads and rarely do I see Himes get a mention, so I’ll go for him.

The Hard Cold Shoulder is a violent book in places. In crime fiction terms, how far is too far?

I think this can easily slip into a censorship debate.

My personal view is that it’s naïve to shy away from the violence of human beings. Fact is, at this moment in time someone somewhere is doing something horrific, and if the violence is repellent, then good, it’s supposed to be. People can pretend bad things don’t happen all they want, but they’re frankly deluding themselves.

To put it plainly, we know repulsive things happen, so why shouldn’t they be written about?

I’m not saying there aren’t lines that shouldn’t be crossed however, I do understand that there are limits, but at the same time to ignore depraved human capabilities rather than expose them means things will never change.

It is a violent book in places like you say, yet regardless of the righteousness of violence, once you cross a line there are often irreparable consequences. I think it shows that too.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m currently drafting some longer standalone works which should hopefully see the light of day late next year and just after. Also, I’m working on some more short fiction which I hope will be ready to go throughout the coming months.

Book Review: The Hard Cold Shoulder by L.A. Sykes


Author: L.A. Sykes

Publisher: Near To The Knuckle

Release Date: December 2017

The Hard Cold Shoulder is the story of Ben Pitkin, a traumatised ex-cop now scraping a living as a private investigator in Greater Manchester. Lured into taking a sordid missing persons case by local bottom-feeder Tommy Rellis, Pitkin’s unstable existence is about to get even darker…

This pitch-black novella from L.A. Sykes delivers a stark, bracing blast of Manchester noir. While Pitkin’s increasingly violent trawl through the city’s seedy underbelly drives the book, the story is also underpinned by a clear sense of social conscience, which adds depth to the proceedings. The disgraced-ex-cop-turned-private-eye may sound clichéd on paper, but in Sykes’ hands it is stranger and edgier – and completely gripping.

The Hard Cold Shoulder is a quick, brutal read, and fits in very well with the rest of the Near To The Knuckle back catalogue. Good stuff!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Marietta Miles

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Marietta Miles to discuss her new book, May (Down & Out Books).

Firstly, congratulations on the publication of May! How would you pitch the book to potential readers?

Thank you. You’ve been so supportive. This is the story of a woman with a dark and painful past. After burning bridges and chances, she finds herself living alone on a small resort island, drifting through her days.

As a destructive nor’easter plows towards her remote pocket of peace, May tries to hunker down after the island is evacuated, but she finds she is not alone. There are others on the island and they are in a very dangerous state of mind. For the first time, May can’t run away.

In May – as in Route 12 – the backdrop feels very authentic. How much of the location is real, and how much is imagined?

I’m lucky, I’ve moved around quite a bit and have experienced different places. So far, I’ve set my books in places inspired by where I’ve lived. Right now, I’m finishing up a book based on May so it takes place on the coast, but I think the next one will be set in Los Angeles.

Your books have a real emotional impact. How much of yourself do you put into your characters?  

I’m motivated by the stories of others and my characters are usually a soup of many people. There may be aspects, events or locales, of my life that I add because it fills out or moves the story, but I get very bored with my own narrative. I think, an uncomfortable dose of empathy for my fellow humans helps me to imagine my characters.

What do you hope people take away from the new book?

I hope that the individuals in the book stay with readers for a long time. That is what I always hope for when I write.

May has been published by Down & Out Books – do you have any favourite D&O authors or titles?

That is a challenging question. Eric and the gang have made so many wonderful additions to their list of authors. Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden are two of my favorites. Tom Pitts does dark well and I love everything he has ever written. Down & Out will also be releasing new books from Ed Aymar, Sarah M. Chen, Rob Pierce, Beau Johnson, Michael Pool and a bunch more.

I politely decline to answer.

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

I do not read a lot of mainstream crime fiction. My tastes run to the darker side of things and I think independent crime allows for that a bit more.

I also read a lot of horror. Grab you by the guts, fear for your life and soul kind of horror. Stories that make you turn on the lights and hide under the covers.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I don’t think about having peers, believe it or not. In my head, all of my writer friends are better than I am and I’m lucky to be in their midst. Likewise, I cannot imagine my stories having a place alongside my favourites. It’s like I live in a lovely, unrealistic vacuum.

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

I try not to think about that too much, I have no expectations. I’m happy every time I get the chance to write. I do hope I am able to tell a moving tale, that is my focus.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’ll be sending something new to Down & Out very soon. Fingers crossed.


Marietta Miles’s short stories and flash can be found in Thrills, Kills and Chaos, the Flash Fiction Offensive, Yellow Mama, Hardboiled Wonderland and Revolt Daily. Her stories have been included in anthologies available through Static Movement Publishing, Out of the Gutter, and Horrified Press. She is rotating host for Noir on the Radio, Dames in the Dark. Her first book, Route 12, was released February of 2016. Her new book, May, was released in January 2018 with Down & Out Books. Born in Alabama, raised in Louisiana, she currently resides in Virginia with her husband and two children.


Book Review: Accidental Outlaws by Matt Phillips


Author: Matt Phillips

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

Release Date: December 2017

Accidental Outlaws – the follow-up to Matt Phillips’ Three Kinds of Fool – comprises three loosely linked blue-collar crime novellas that take place in a lawless, hardscrabble desert community known as The Mesa. In these stories, everyone wants what someone else has, and they are all looking for the quickest way to take it. Whether these characters want drugs, money, cars, women or respect, scumbag scams are the order of the day.

I like it when writers play to their strengths, and Accidental Outlaws finds Phillips back in the kind of low-life California stomping ground familiar from his earlier books: dust-streaked trailer-parks, greasy trouble-makers and random acts of violence. The stories move at a brisk pace, but he doesn’t skimp on the nitty-gritty, and conjures up bone-dry atmospherics with rich, detail-heavy prose.

‘The Feud’ – a story of petty, pointless acts of violence – is my pick of the bunch. Draped in sadness, it finds hapless characters fumbling around for their place in a grim, uncaring world, and really hit the spot for me. If you have enjoyed Phillips’ previous works, this collection comes highly recommended.

Buy Accidental Outlaws

Review by Tom Leins