Book Review: The Cyclist by Anthony Neil Smith

THE CYCLIST

Author: Anthony Neil Smith

Publisher: Bastei Entertainment

Release Date: May 2018

Since dropping out of Navy SEAL training, Judd has found himself in a rut. Living alone, and tormented – quite literally – by Burt, his drunken former SEAL trainer, he takes solace in a burgeoning online friendship with a Scottish girl named Catriona, built on their shared obsession with cycling. As their mutual attraction grows, Judd makes the bold decision to fly to Scotland and meet Cat in person, with a view to taking an epic bike trip through the Scottish Highlands, and getting to know each other more intimately. Nothing is quite what it seems, however, and Judd’s dream trip quickly degenerates into a bloody nightmare, as a mysterious lunatic sets his sights on the couple…

With its transatlantic, fish-out-of-water plot, and its nerve-jangling Catfish-meets-Rambo storyline, The Cyclist represents a well-judged lunge towards the mainstream for cult crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith. The principal characters are unusual and well-rendered, and the narrative is satisfyingly twisty throughout. That said, Smith pulls no punches with the grisly violence, which made me wince more than once.

Sometimes The Cyclist feels less like a cat ‘n’ mouse thriller, and more like a visit to a menagerie of maniacs – and that is definitely a good thing! Entertaining stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

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Book Reviews: A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps + Slaughterhouse Blues by Nick Kolakowski

A BRUTAL BUNCH OF HEARTBROKEN SAPS + SLAUGHTERHOUSE BLUES

Author: Nick Kolakowski

Publisher: Shotgun Honey (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: May 2017 + February 2018

At the outset of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, self-absorbed hustler Bill is on the run from the Rockaway Mob, millions in embezzled cash safely tucked in the trunk of his not-at-all-conspicuous lime-green convertible. Bill is confident he can out-run the handful of undesirables on his trail, but his grand exit strategy hits a major roadblock in the form of a posse of small-town criminals whose initial southern hospitality proves unfortunately short-lived. Happily – for the reader at least – the situation spirals bloodily out of control, and carnage ensues. Follow-up Slaughterhouse Blues picks up the narrative thread, with Bill and (pursuer-turned-lover) Fiona now hunted by sociopathic, well-groomed contract-killers Barbara and Ken! Cue more love, more bullets and more imaginative bloodshed!

With these two novellas Nick Kolakowski cements his position as a contemporary crime writer worthy of further scrutiny. Twisted, amusing and enjoyably violent, these books are a fine advertisement for the Shotgun Honey brand. Rather than risk repeating himself, in Slaughterhouse Blues Kolakowski whisks his protagonists Bill and Fiona off to Cuba and Nicaragua, respectively – furthering the storyline and dragging the characters even further out of their comfort zone. The evocative Latin American locations are convincingly rendered, and give the cat ‘n’ mouse story an extra narrative charge. All in all, a pair of quick, slick crime stories that complement the author’s entertaining body of short fiction.

Buy A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

Buy Slaughterhouse Blues

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Jason Beech

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Jason Beech to discuss his new book, City of Forts.

Firstly, how would you pitch City of Forts to potential readers?

All thirteen-year-old Ricky Nardilo wants is a fun summer before he and his friends part for school again. But, when he and Liz fall through the floor of an abandoned house and come face to face with a dead man, the hot months become charged with danger.

The City of Forts is the name Ricky and his friends have given a crescent of abandoned homes at the edge of Town. Lying in the shadow of a disused factory it is their refuge from the Town’s rust, its drug dealers, and the Ghost Boys.

It’s not a refuge for long. The dead man has triggered a gangster’s warpath. Tarantula Man wants to know how his man has disappeared. And he wants to use the City of Forts for his own purposes.

Ricky, Liz, Bixby, and Tanais will not give it up without a fight – and maybe with the help of Floyd, Mr Vale and his son, Charlie, they’ll rid themselves of the invaders.

City of Forts is a dark coming of age crime drama where every street and alleyway is loaded with menace.

As a Brit living in the US, when you start work on a new piece, is your natural inclination to write an American story or a British one?

I don’t know anymore. I write the first paragraph and see which location it takes me. I set City of Forts in Yorkshire at first, but Ricky’s tone came out all American, so I switched it quickly to the US hinterland, even though much comes loosely from my own childhood.

I set the one I’m writing now, Never Go Back, in the US, but that has shifted back to my Sheffield hometown, maybe because it’s about an expat coming back to his roots. This bugger is all made-up, but is full of dee-dars as well as Spaniards.

Getting the American tone right for City of Forts proved a challenge. I initially called it City of Dens, but an American pal noted that a den on this side of the pond is where you put your office, so that title went out the window head first.

I’m not a native, but when I first came over here I lived with dozens of American families from all political backgrounds – hardcore Republicans and live-and-let-live liberals, as well as independents in between. I’ve sat at their breakfast tables in my shorts, been to their churches, slid off their double-decker boat slides into lakes outside John Mellencamp’s house.

And I’ve lived here for years now, so I felt comfortable writing from an American perspective, from all their perspectives. I hope I got it right, and I hope I’ve scrubbed all references to shopping trolleys away.

You have produced short stories as well as novels – which format do you enjoy writing the most?

I prefer short stories when I’m writing a novel, until I get past about 20,000 words in a novel and then I prefer the novel. Once you’ve lived inside it a while it’s easier than a short story, which is over almost as quick as you started.

What are the main positives behind self-publishing – and what are the chief drawbacks?

The freedom to write what the hell you want is the top selling point of independent publishing. As long as you iron out all the work’s deficiencies and get other eyes involved, it is brilliant for creativity.

The biggest drawback is getting your work seen. I’ve sold a few, but I’m a terrible marketer and I’m sure I could reach a lot more readers with the skills pro publishers have in their hands.

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

There’s a market for any taste nowadays, so I don’t think it’s safe if you know what you want and know how to get it. You’ve got to be careful not to buy any old guff just because it’s ultra-violent. That veers towards torture or misery-porn. But there have been many mainstream crime fiction books I’ve read where I got to the end and wondered, “is that it?”

I’m mad for James Ellroy, which scares me half to death. But I also like Ian Rankin, who’s nowhere near as off the rails. I can mix it with the independent stuff. If I want a laugh I’m all Paul D. Brazill. Ryan Bracha comes up with some off the wall crackpottery I enjoy. Ray Banks, Keith Nixon, Thomas Pluck, Paul Heatley, Gareth Spark, Kate Laity/Graham Wynd, Aidan Thorn – loads to enjoy.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

Bloody hell, I don’t know if I can answer that until I have a wider readership. I’d love to say Aidan Thorn, Paul D. Brazill, you, Paul Heatley, Sonia Kilvington, Ryan Bracha, Keith Nixon, and a whole bunch more, but they are all way ahead of me.

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

I’d want to mix James Ellroy and Iain Banks in a stew and have that career. I don’t know where I am with Ellroy – is he a right wing nut or an Obama supporter? – but his books make your head spin. I love Banks’ characters and could live in his The Crow Road world, easy.

I could live with their success, though I’d find Ellroy’s public persona hard to keep up with, and I couldn’t pull off his bullshit pronouncements.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

My new novel, City of Forts, is out on 15 April this year – out for pre-order right now. I hope to get Never Go Back out for Christmas.

Bio:

Jason Beech hails from Sheffield, England, but now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. He’s the author of Moorlands and the Bullets, Teeth, & Fists Collections. His next novel, City of Forts, is out soon, and he has a number of shorts in various digital magazines.

Website:

https://jdbeech.wordpress.com

Twitter:

@beech_jason

 

Under The Influence – Richard Brautigan – by Chris Orlet

Richard Brautigan was not a great novelist. He was a worse poet. He did, however, have a remarkable – and fleeting – talent for tapping into a certain substrata of the national zeitgeist.

Thus, for a few years Brautigan was the unlikeliest of counter-culture icons. One critic noted that in the 1960’s, the release of a new Brautigan book was akin to the appearance of a new Bob Dylan album.

I was introduced to Brautigan’s works through the dog-eared copy of his novella In Watermelon Sugar that my older sister had abandoned in the bathroom closet–which may be the most effective way yet devised to introduce fifteen-year-old boys to literature.

I didn’t get In Watermelon Sugar, which isn’t surprising since most book reviewers didn’t quite know what to make of it either; a surreal allegory with a post-apocalyptic setting and a sun that shone a different color every day and what the hell was watermelon sugar anyway?

I had a sense that I wasn’t supposed to get it. We were entering strange new territory, having left the familiar and safe land of John Steinbeck and Willa Cather around the last forested bend.

I kept coming back to In Watermelon Sugar, like a hippie fisherman to a dependable trout stream. Perhaps I was attracted by the subversive themes of revolution and peace and other radical ideas my parents and the Catholic Church would have disapproved of.

Or perhaps it was because it made me laugh:

“Here is a list of the things that I will tell you about in this book. There’s no use saving it until later. I might as well tell you now where you’re at—

      1:  iDEATH. (A good place.)

      2:  Charley (My friend.)

      3:  The tigers and how they lived and how beautiful they were and how they died and how they talked to me while they ate my parents, and how I talked back to them and how they stopped eating my parents, though it did not help my parents any, nothing could help them by then, and we talked for a long time and one of the tigers helped me with my arithmetic, then they told me to go away while they finished eating my parents, and I went away. I returned later that night to burn the shack down. That’s what we did in those days.”

Brautigan was a master at creating poignant mood-scapes with just a few words. Partly it was his naive, childlike narration. Always terribly sad and terribly funny at the same time.

Years after the forty-nine-year-old author discharged a revolver into his mouth and followed his hero Hemingway to the great library of unpublished books in the sky, Brautigan’s daughter Ianthe sought to discover the spring of her father’s sadness.

From time to time, he’d hinted at the causes in his fiction, particularly in his semi-autobiographical novel So the Wind Doesn’t Blow it All Away, where he described a mystical Pacific Northwest childhood full of wonder and sadness and tragedy. Ianthe wrote that Brautigan’s mother would leave him and his little sister terrified and alone in their welfare motel room for days upon end, while she went out looking for a new husband. She wrote that her father was so hungry once he threw a brick through a police station window so he wouldn’t starve.

Most of what I read fades immediately from memory. Plot, characters, setting, mood, all vanish like a used bookstore in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood.

But Brautigan has remained with me like a deep and fresh scar.

A few of the stories in his short story collection The Revenge of the Lawn have especially stuck with me.

I’m thinking of his story “⅓, ⅓. ⅓,” chosen by Raymond Carver as one of the great American short stories of the last century. The story is about a young couple who are attempting to write The Great American Novel only they have no typewriter. They ask the narrator, whom they have heard typing away in his cardboard box, if he will collaborate with them.

“I was about seventeen and made lonely and strange by that Pacific Northwest of so many years ago, that dark, rainy land of 1952. I’m thirty-one now and I still can’t figure out what I meant by living the way I did in those days.”

The three strike a deal in which they will split the immense profits of their book into thirds. The story ends with the narrator “pounding at the gates of American literature.”

Brautigan’s best work is not the cult classic Trout Fishing in America, which is as meandering as a shimmering north Pacific stream and as uneven as the floor of an old rural Oregon shack, but his short story “A Short History of Oregon” which tells of a young man who goes hitchhiking and hunting in the rain and comes unexpectedly upon some children on the porch of a shack. There’s more to it, but it’s in the telling. Brautigan’s telling, not mine.

The story’s ending couldn’t be more perfect. So why don’t I leave you with that?

“I’ll have to admit that I was a strange sight coming down their muddy little road in the middle of God-damn nowhere with darkness coming on and a 30:30 cradled down in my arms, so the night rain wouldn’t get in the barrel.

The kids didn’t say a word as I walked by. The sisters’ hair was unruly like dwarf witches’. I didn’t see their folks. There was no light on in the house.

A Model A truck lay on its side in front of the house. It was next to three empty fifty-gallon oil drums. They didn’t have a purpose any more. There were some odd pieces of rusty cable. A yellow dog came out and stared at me.

I didn’t say a word in my passing. The kids were soaking wet now. They huddled together in silence on the porch. I had no reason to believe that there was anything more to life than this.”

Bio:

Chris Orlet is the author of the forthcoming A Taste of Shogtun (All Due Respect) and In the Pines (New Pulp Press).

Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write a short piece about one of your formative influences? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!