Criminal Records #5 – Aidan Thorn on Rival Sons

In the latest instalment of my new series, Aidan Thorn talks us through some of the tracks that influenced his book, Rival Sons (Shotgun Honey, 2018).

Music always plays a huge part in my writing. My first book, When the Music’s Over follows one time band member Benny Gower after he has murdered his business partner, a murder with its roots in the 1990’s when Benny was trying to break through in the music scene. My soon to be released novella, Worst Laid Plans, focuses on the accidently kidnap of a rock star. And Rival Sons, the book released by Shotgun Honey at the end of last year? Well on the face of it there’s very little to do with music here. It’s a dark and brutal tale of the Gordon family, a crime family at war for decades, a war that has laid dormant for 20 years but is brought sharply into focus by the terminal illness of the family’s mother. As I say very little to do with music there, apart from the fact that the whole thing was inspired by being at a gig in Southampton a few years ago. The band’s name appeared behind them on the stage, I of course knew the band I was going to see (I was, and still am, a big fan) but it wasn’t until I saw their name lit up behind them that I thought, that would be a great name for a book. The band was of course, Rival Sons.


While Rival Sons were ripping through their opening track of the evening I was plotting out the idea of two sons, one who aspired to the family’s criminal ways, Graham, and one who wanted nothing to do with it at all, Kyle. That first track was ‘Electric Man’, I was already six or seven beers into a good buzz and my plotting didn’t get much further that night, but it was during this fantastic night of live music that the germ of an idea was born.


Rival Sons begins in a rundown pub on the outskirts of town – Kyle Gordon, a good son, has returned. The dilapidation of the town shocks him. He’s been serving in the armed forces for 19 years and he cannot believe what he’s returned to. This scene sets up the tone for what’s to come, Paul Brazill recently described Rival Sons as an urban Western. As Kyle finishes his drink and leaves the pub for me it’s soundtracked by the greatest country star of all time singing ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’.


When Kyle arrives at the family home, he is struck by how frail his mother is and he’s pulled in by a mixture of emotions. He’s concerned for his mother and he’s uncomfortable at being under his father’s roof – he despises his father, every move he has made as an adult has been to rebel against him. There’s also the nostalgia of returning to his old bedroom, unchanged from when he left in the 1990s. For me any of the early scenes in the family home trigger memories of the more melancholic Britpop tracks from my own youth, few sum up my feelings about these scenes better than ‘This is a Low’ by Blur.


Like most of my work, Rival Sons is a crime story wrapped around stories about relationships. One of my favourite relationships from this book is the one between Kyle’s teenage daughter, Zoe and her barman boyfriend. There is such a freshness about this pair, such an innocence that while they’re together they feel almost removed from all of the tension of the family. That they are pulled sharply into the focus of the trouble is what changes the course of everything for everybody, but in the moments these two are together there’s a lightness and bounciness that takes me to Eels, ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living’).


The story of the Gordon family concludes at a fast pace. There’s no time to catch a breath as it races towards its bloody finale. It’s frantic, fraught and the body count rises quickly. There’s very little dialogue in these closing exchanges, there’s not much left to say. It’s a gritty finale and in my head its soundtrack is equally gritty, it all plays out to the driving bass and tortured vocal tones of Nirvana’s ‘School’, captured best here in this ’92 set from Reading Festival.


Aidan Thorn is from Southampton, England. His short fiction has appeared in Byker Books Radgepacket series, the Near to the Knuckle Anthologies: Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, The Big Adios Western Digest, Shadows & Light, Hardboiled Dames and Sin as well as online in numerous places.

His first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts, was released in 2013 and his second, Tales from the Underbelly, in 2017. In September 2015 Number 13 Press published Aidan’s first novella, When the Music’s Over. In 2016 Aidan collated and edited the charity anthology Paladins for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, working with 16 authors from the UK and USA to deliver this project.


Buy Rival Sons!

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!

Criminal Records #4 – Kurt Reichenbaugh on Sirens

In the latest instalment of an occasional series, Kurt Reichenbaugh talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his book, Sirens (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013).

When I wrote Sirens, I wanted to write my own version of a coming of age story, set in my Florida hometown during the ‘70s, and stock it full of songs from the soundtrack of my youth. The result was something quite a bit different than what I had intended. Instead of a coming of age story, it became more of a corruption of youth tale, complete with zombies, conspiracies, psychotic wrestlers, UFO folklore and deadly strippers. But the soundtrack remained. In the end, it’s something of a scruffy, undisciplined, novel with its share of sloppy notes, like a bootleg Jimmy Page solo. But its heart is pure.


One of the oldest songs that inspired Sirens was ‘Venus’ from Frankie Avalon. Not exactly a hardcore rocker. Instead, what appealed to me in this song is the idea behind it. My lead protagonist, Kevin, dreams of finding a girl to love, a girl that doesn’t exist. Early in the novel he’s riding with his father in the family car and ‘Venus’ comes on the oldies station. To Kevin, ‘Venus’ represents the kind of girl he could wish for, yet never have. It’s a romantic ideal that is like that blue light across the bay from Jay Gatsby’s house. The lead siren and femme fatale, Suzie, sees the romantic ideals that Kevin has and uses that to toy with him throughout the story.


‘Bip Bop Boom’ by Mickey Hawk and the Night Raiders is pure rockabilly rave-up. Our group of friends in the novel: Kevin, Brad, Nick and Otto are represented by this song in the spirit of youth and cars and rock n roll and abandon. Not a whole lot had changed for teenagers in the ‘70s from the ‘50s. Yet, the Vietnam War and Watergate separated the two generations, and ‘70s kids probably had even less of a reason to believe in authority than any generation before them. They came of age in a decade of rampant domestic terrorism. They knew they were being sold a lie, and from their cynicism Punk Rock was born.


In Sirens, Kevin does not find the girl of his dreams. ‘Cherry Bomb’ by the Runaways is the flipside to ‘Venus’. It’s the ultimate dirty girl song in a way. Instead of debutants with silver gowns and white gloves, Kevin and Brad get strippers and prostitutes. ‘Cherry Bomb’ is playing in the strip club they go to when looking for Suzie, the queen Siren of the novel. I used my own youthful experience for this part of the book. I’d managed to sneak into a few strip clubs in my teens, thanks to a “doctored” driver’s license, and had my own encounters with hard strippers and aggressive bouncers. There is nothing quite like the lure of a bad girl to get a (sometimes not-so) nice guy in trouble.


The sirens represent a variety of dreams and nightmares for our heroes. They’re either good or evil, and various shades of gray between. ‘The Revenge of Vera Gemini’, written by Patti Smith and Albert Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult, inspired the mood of the book. Blue Oyster Cult was one of my favorite bands when I was a teen, in addition to the Rolling Stones, Santana and so many others. I don’t pretend to know what the lyrics of ‘Vera Gemini’ mean, but the mood and the spirit of the song is one of many that I attempted to feed into my writing of the book.


Lastly, I include ‘The Six Teens’ by Sweet. Adolescence ain’t easy for anyone; forget about zombies and murderous sirens from other worlds. In the opening paragraphs, our protagonists are in Nick’s bedroom and Desolation Boulevard is playing on the stereo. There is even a “Suzie” in the song. Its lyrics describe teenagers from 1968, nearly 10 years prior to the setting of Sirens. But adolescence is timeless. Life goes on and we’re all part of the sixteens, as the lyrics say. Not all of my characters make it to the end. No one gets through life unscathed, but we try to do our best along the way.


Kurt Reichenbaugh is the author of the novels SIRENS and LAST DANCE IN PHOENIX.  His short stories have appeared in PHOENIX NOIR, Southwest Noir, HUNGUR and Out of the Gutter Online. His day job as a financial analyst interferes with his hobbies and his real life.

 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!