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: 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: Welcome to HolyHell by Math Bird

WELCOME TO HOLYHELL

Author: Math Bird

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

Release Date: October 2018

At the outset of the marvellous Welcome to HolyHell youngster Jay stumbles across a briefcase full of cash – which he believes will change his life forever. Unfortunately for him, the money’s disappearance – and abrupt reappearance – was never going to go unnoticed, and before long a number of dangerous, damaged men are sniffing around – all desperate to get their hands on the loot.

Set in north-east Wales in the scorching summer of 1976, Math Bird has crafted a gripping, nerve-jangling story that is part-thriller, part-coming-of-age tale. The characterisation is nuanced throughout and the book is propelled forward by a crackling undercurrent of menace. When I reviewed Bird’s short story collection Histories of the Dead on this site, I praised its ‘noir sensibility, measured storytelling, sense of place and psychological turmoil’. It was a cracking collection, but this novel is even better, as he seizes on the themes explored in his earlier short fiction and runs with them.

Grubby, authentic and deftly plotted, Welcome to HolyHell is possibly my favourite All Due Respect book to date. With its sweaty explorations of lust, loyalty and small-town violence it would sit comfortably alongside plenty of acclaimed British literary fiction and really deserves to tap into a wider audience. Great stuff.

Buy Now!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Rob Pierce

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Rob Pierce to discuss his new book, Tommy Shakes (All Due Respect).

Hi Rob, congratulations on the publication of your new book. How would you pitch Tommy Shakes to potential readers?

Tommy is a career criminal, but not real good at it. He has major drinking and health problems and, in an effort to salvage his crumbling marriage, tries to pull one big job. They pull the robbery but one member of Tommy’s crew gets gun happy and it turns into a bloodbath. Among the dead: a prized employee of a local gangster. Now they’re wanted for murder, and the law is the least of their problems.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

I’ve never thought about that. I want people to go through some of Tommy’s emotional struggles. This was written while my own marriage was falling apart, which is why it took so long to finish. I don’t think I’ve written a good book unless I’m emotionally drained by the time it’s complete.

What would be your recommended drink of choice for people to enjoy while reading the book?

Knob Creek bourbon is a prominent drink of choice for the characters (and for me, although to nowhere the extent of these men). But you’ll probably get through the book faster if you hold it down to beer for the most part. Of course, not every shot in this book is alcohol.

You have published a number of books through All Due Respect in recent years. Do you have a favourite, and which one would you recommend to someone who is unfamiliar with your work?

With the Right Enemies is my favorite to date, but it’s the sequel to Uncle Dust, so I’d recommend starting there. Also, Dust probably has the most crossover appeal to non-noir readers, despite its being a noir novel. Not that any of my books are for the squeamish.

Of all your protagonists to date, who do you have a soft spot for, and why?

I love every protagonist as a character or I couldn’t write the books. You know, after he accepted Uncle Dust for All Due Respect, Mike Monson asked me how I wrote that character. And I found Dust an easy character to write, an extension of me without the suppression of violence (although Dust tries).

The creation of Vollmer in With the Right Enemies, on the other hand, impresses me most, because he has so little to do with me. Or most of humanity.

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

These days I read primarily independents, although I read a lot of older books as well. As to reading mainstream, I don’t think I read mainstream writers, although some of my favorites (Don Winslow, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy), are published by mainstream houses. I’m currently reading Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird, which is published by Mulholland Books, so you tell me.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I don’t write like them, but I feel an affinity with Mike Monson and Tom Pitts, two terrific writers who really push the pace. There are a lot of good current writers, but I write primarily about criminals. I definitely enjoy books with good guys, but I don’t relate to them.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

Tequila Blue by Rolo Diez. It’s about a corrupt Mexican cop investigating a gringo’s murder. As the back cover says, “a labyrinth of gang wars, assassinated prostitutes, and corrupt politicians.” Touch of Evil, indeed.

It’s the only Diez novel translated into English. If I had the money, I’d pay someone to translate the rest of them.

Who are your prime influences?

Hammett, David Goodis, George V. Higgins. Chester Himes and Richard Stark for action scenes. Eastern European post-Holocaust writers for a lot of the overall darkness, I’m sure. I mean, how dark is a crime novel when you’ve grown up with pogroms?

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

Career? I write books, I don’t have a career. Not in this. This is far more an addiction than a career. My idea of fame would be a large cult following. A lot of great writers haven’t gotten even that.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

The book after Tommy Shakes will be the conclusion of the Uncle Dust/With the Right Enemies trilogy. It’s called Blood By Choice and I’ve recently sent it to All Due Respect; no word on a publication date yet, but 2020 sometime is the goal. Like all my books, it pulls in characters from the other books and adds a few new ones who I’m likely to write more about in the future. Hell, Tommy Shakes is a standalone but it includes one character from my previous work and another is mentioned. And a major character in Tommy returns in Blood. It’s one thing to kill off a character, another to end an entire world.

Bio: Rob Pierce wrote the novels Tommy Shakes, Uncle Dust, and With the Right Enemies, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet. Rob has also edited dozens of novels for All Due Respect and freelance, and has had stories published in numerous ugly magazines. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.

Website: https://allduerespectbooks.com/authors/rob-pierce

Buy Tommy Shakes!

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Andrew Davie

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Andrew Davie to discuss his new book, Pavement (All Due Respect).

Hi Andrew, congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch Pavement to potential readers?

Thank you so much! McGill and Gropper are unlicensed private investigators. McGill, the face of the operation, works out of a diner in Charleston, South Carolina. A former police officer, now incredibly out of shape, he rarely leaves the diner. Gropper is well versed in fighting, tactics, and does the heavy lifting. While protecting prostitutes from a trucker, they draw the ire of some dangerous and well-connected foes who will stop at nothing to settle the score and get revenge.

I’m intrigued by the blunt title – how did you decide on that name for the book?

A while ago, I learned that prostitutes who work at a truck stop are often referred to as “Pavement Princesses.” I thought it would be fitting. Also, it seemed like a good metaphor for being able to make a quick escape if necessary which suits Gropper’s temperament.

Your protagonists are unlicensed private investigators: is PI fiction making a comeback, or did it never go away?

I don’t think it ever went away. The genre has undergone some changes over time, but it’s always been there.

Who are your prime influences in that field?

I had read a lot of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser for Hire series when I was younger. Over time, I began to read Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Crais, and John D. MacDonald, among others.

What draws you to PI fiction ahead of other crime sub-genres?

I enjoyed reading and writing about characters who have a code, and the genre seemed to focus on characters who followed a code. They might be willing to get their hands dirty, but there were still some ground rules.

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

I tend to go back and forth between the two, although these days I’m making more of an effort to read independent authors.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

I would suggest reading The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. This is the opening line: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”

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

I would choose Rex Stout. His detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are similar to McGill and Gropper with regard to their business arrangement. Wolfe rarely leaves his apartment, and McGill rarely leaves his diner. Both Goodwin and Gropper do most of the legwork. Similarly, Stout was also prolific with his output.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I hope to write more about McGill and Gropper’s exploits, but I’ve also written another novella in the crime fiction genre which takes place during The Great Depression.

Bio: Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. He’s also taught English and writing in New York, Hong Kong, and Virginia. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His first book Pavement will be released in July of 2019 by All Due Respect Books. Links to his work can be found on his website.

Website: http://www.asdavie.wordpress.com

Pre-order Pavement!

Book Review: Man Standing Behind by Pablo D’Stair

MAN STANDING BEHIND

Author: Pablo D’Stair

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

Release Date: May 2019 (first published 2011)

At the outset of Man Standing Behind, protagonist Roger is apprehended by a gunman while withdrawing money from a cash-point. It isn’t Roger’s money that the interloper wants, however, it’s his company – and the reluctant Roger soon becomes complicit in a series of seemingly random crimes perpetrated by his new associate. As the night unfolds, the affable gunman takes Roger on a twisted tour of the city, meeting his friends, enemies and lovers. Realising that one wrong move could mean a bullet in the head, Roger chokes down his nausea and accompanies the stranger on his increasingly bloody mission.

I’m sure there are a lot of writers out there who would cut off one of their fingers for a blurb from an author of the stature of Bret Easton Ellis, who has praised Pablo D’Stair’s knack for creating a ‘languid kind of suspense’. Ellis’s name is a slightly misleading indicator, as this book contains little that resembles his own lurid, transgressive storytelling style! That eye-catching blurb is just one of the many oddities that this quirky novella coughs up.

The low-key everyman noir set-up means that Man Standing Behind fits snugly into All Due Respect’s back catalogue, but the existential tone marks it out as something quite different. Unlike a number of ADR books – which hinge on memorable moments of extreme violence – D’Stair seems to purposely bleed the drama out of his major plot points. Significant developments are tossed out casually, in a matter-of-fact tone – so much so that I ended up re-reading passages to check that I hadn’t lost the narrative thread altogether!

Roger’s deteriorating physical and mental wellbeing is convincingly rendered throughout, and while the unbroken, chapter-free style helps to maintain the eye-rubbing nocturnal vibe, the result can be disorientating.

Man Standing Behind is interesting and enigmatic, and D’Stair has a unique way with words, but it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. That said, I’m intrigued by ADR’s planned reissues of D’Stair’s other books in 2020, some of which focus on a petty con artist called Trevor English. I’m not sure whether these other books have the same tone as this one, but a mixture of downbeat existentialism and petty cons could prove to be a potent mix. Consider me intrigued.

Buy Now!

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Histories of the Dead by Math Bird

HISTORIES OF THE DEAD

Author: Math Bird

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

Release Date: August 2018 (first published November 2016)

Set in the borderlands of northeast Wales – a landscape of forests, hills and ruined small towns, Math Bird’s short story collection Histories of the Dead (which comprises work first published between 2013 and 2016) is a bruising excursion into small-town noir. Bird’s protagonists are a mixture of taciturn tough guys and wide-eyed youngsters, and while revenge figures heavily, it is rarely anyone’s first course of action.

Damaged men with dark secrets may be his stock-in-trade, but the stories don’t follow typical hardboiled narratives, and emotions churn like the River Dee in winter. Admittedly, when slotted in alongside the five longer, anthology-length pieces, the two pieces of flash fiction have less impact, as Bird specialises in cultivating a creeping sense of dread – which builds up slowly in the meatier stories – as he edges the reader towards a grim narrative precipice.

US publisher All Due Respect specialises in lowlife literature, but these stories wouldn’t be out of place in a mainstream contemporary short story collection. They are all undercut with a noir sensibility, but the measured storytelling, sense of place and psychological turmoil suggests a writer not easily pigeonholed.

A cracking short story collection that comes highly recommended.

Buy Now!

Review by Tom Leins

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.

ELECTRIC MAN

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.

GOD’S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN

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’.

THIS IS A LOW

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.

HEY MAN (NOW YOU’RE REALLY LIVING)

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’).

SCHOOL

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.

Bio:

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.

Website:

https://aidanthornwriter.weebly.com/

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!

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Tess Makovesky

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Tess Makovesky to discuss her new book, Gravy Train (All Due Respect).

Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch Gravy Train to potential readers?

Thank you! I’m going to start with the same question I used to pitch the book to my publisher: how far would you go for £80,000?

Luckily, they didn’t report me for attempted bribery because this really is the premise of Gravy Train. It’s a breathless romp in which a group of low-lives and losers chase a bag of ill-gotten money around the back streets of Birmingham. They’re great at nicking it, but hopeless at hanging onto it, so when it all blows up into a showdown by the local canal it’s less about who wins and more about whether any of them manage to get their hands on it. Aside from the action (which has already been described as ‘raucous’ and ‘barnstorming’), there’s also a more serious message about greed, and just how far people are prepared to go for that much money. Violence, blackmail, sexual favours… Would you? Probably not – and I know I wouldn’t. But these guys are desperate enough that they just might.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

Apart from square eyes from reading it too quickly, you mean? Well, I hope they have as much fun reading it as I had putting it together, because it really was a joy to write. Even though (or perhaps because) the characters are so hopeless, they ended up getting under my skin and I hope the readers will care about them too. I also had a great time with the humour in the book – the slips, the trips, the sheer blazing coincidences – and I hope it will give everyone a giggle.

On top of that I hope that the book’s setting helps readers see Birmingham in a new light. Too often it’s portrayed as nothing but dull 1960s concrete when in actual fact it’s a fascinating and historic city full of odd nooks and unexpected sights. Although I can only put a fraction of that into each of my books, I’m hoping readers will be intrigued enough by the descriptions of Five Ways island, Gas Street canal basin and the Victorian suburbs of Moseley and Acocks Green to want to go and find out more for themselves.

Oh – and then there’s the scattered references to Pink Floyd lyrics (mostly from Have a Cigar, which also spawned the book’s title), which people might have fun tracking down. And then there are the elephants…

Birmingham seems like a great setting for a crime caper – are there any notable Birmingham/Midlands crime novels that you would recommend?

Your readers will probably shout at me but off the top of my head I can’t think of many crime books set in the city, which surprises me because it’s such a classic location for crime fiction. However, there is one author who leaps to mind – the late and much missed Joel Lane. He wrote two or three novels set in and around the city, and my own favourite is From Blue to Black. This noir masterpiece is set mostly in the leafy Birmingham suburb of Moseley, where I lived for many years, and involves a musician falling in half-love, half-hero worship with the lead singer of a rock band. Needless to say, there’s no happy ending, but the use of language is incredible and the strange, pared-down grey-scale palette with occasional flashes of colour left a lasting impression on me.

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

Although I read almost constantly, I have to admit that I don’t read a huge amount of crime fiction. But when I do, I’m happy with a mixture of traditional print, small indie companies, digital, self-published – basically, whoever publishes the books and/or authors I like. That ranges from household names like Peter May and Ann Cleeves, via the domestic noir of Sarah Hilary and Michael J Malone, to the more unusual (John Connolly’s paranormal crime or Mark Mills’ mysteries with a historical edge, for example). And I’m constantly looking for new books and new authors, in pretty much any format I can get my hands on.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

There are two main groups that I kind of ‘grew up’ with as a crime writer. First, there’s a bunch of us who started out writing noir short stories for the indie publisher Byker Books at around the same time, and who have kept tripping over each other in anthologies and magazines ever since. This includes Nick Quantrill, Aidan Thorn, Ian Ayris, Craig Douglas, and of course the king of Brit-Grit himself, Paul D Brazill, and it’s a pleasure to feel I have something in common with their work.

Secondly, there’s the Crime and Publishment gang, who came together thanks to the wonderful annual crime writing course organised by Graham Smith. Since he set it up, around 8 or 9 authors have gone on to get publishing deals, many of us as a direct result of contacts made at the course, and we’re all fiercely supportive of each other’s work. As well as me, the list includes Graham himself, Mike Craven, Jackie Baldwin, Lucy Cameron and Les Morris, amongst others, and I can thoroughly recommend their books.

But this is very much the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. Crime fiction has exploded recently and there are so many amazing authors coming through the ranks. I’m lucky to know even a fraction of them.

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

You’re probably expecting me to choose someone like J K Rowling – and who wouldn’t want to be hugely famous, sell squillions of books, and make more money than some small countries? Well, me actually. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for someone else, and I’m happy following my own path, at my own pace, through life. It’s fun finding out what that path leads to, and even if it sometimes seems to be taking a while to reach the top of the mountain, at least I get to stop and admire the scenery along the way.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

I’m currently working on another Birmingham-based crime caper called Embers of Bridges, featuring loyalty, a heist-gone-wrong and a getaway on a canal boat, and I have two or three others that are kind of part-finished. Nothing is certain in the world of publishing, of course, but I’d love to place all of them with All Due Respect over the next few years and build up a catalogue of fun, gritty books that, hopefully, readers will enjoy.

Bio:

Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep.

Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines, including Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, ‘Drag Noir’ (Fox Spirit Books), ‘Rogue’ (Near to the Knuckle), and ‘Locked and Loaded’ (One Eye Press). Her debut novella, a psychological noir called Raise the Blade, is available from Caffeine Nights Publishing, and her first novel, Gravy Train, is due imminently from All Due Respect.

You can follow her ramblings (both literary and literal) at her blog: http://tessmakovesky.wordpress.com

Buy Gravy Train!