Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: THE BARBER SURGEON'S HAIRSHIT by Douglas Lindsay

The Barber Surgeons Hairshirt (Barney Thomson Series)The second book in the Barney Thomson series sees the accidental murderer on the run from police after being sought out for multiple homicides. THE BARBER SURGEON’S HAIRSHIRT is a vastly different book to THE LONG MIDNIGHT OF BARNEY THOMSON insofar as the focus and plotting sets Barney aside to a certain degree and allows for a couple colourful coppers to shine in Mulholland and Proudfoot.

The investigative nature of the story tended to be repetitive, yet this was offset by a saturation of satire. The humorous dialogue and tabloid sensationalism of Barney’s many outlandishly accused crimes provides a nice form of escape from the monstrosity at the monastery Barney finds himself hiding.

Living under the persona of Brother Jacob, Barney adapts to life as a monk, cut off from real world problems yet finding himself embroiled in a much sinister turn of events. A monk seeking vengeance for his father’s treatment by his fellow brothers many years ago makes the halls of the monetary run red with the blood of brothers. Naturally, Barney is once again the unfortunate suspect by virtue of his poor timing and bad luck.

Mulholland and Proudfoot, on the trail to track down the Glasgow Ripper (aka Barney Thomson), bounce from one B&B to another, shining a light on civilian incompetency and their ilk’s inadequate policing until they luck out and land knee deep in the thick of a multiple homicide at the secluded monastery. Douglas Lindsay does a good job at building chemistry between the attractive and available Proudfoot and the man with a marriage on the rocks, in Mulholland – I hope Lindsay revisits these two characters again after putting so much effort into establishing them.

As with any Barney Thomson story there is a fair degree of tongue in cheek storytelling. The emphasis on soap opera tv and entertainment journalism taken to the extreme (i.e. made-up) crosses the border to the outlandish. While Barney himself is the unassuming fool, a simple yet wholehearted fellow who just wants to cut hair.

I enjoyed THE BARBER SURGEON’S HAIRSHIRT and look forward to reading MURDERERS ANONYMOUS.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Review: X-O MANOWAR VOL.1: BY THE SWORD

Conan the barbarian meets space opera.

A Visigoth warrior, fights for freedom against the Romans – used to spilling blood on the battle field he’s accustomed to the sticky red coating his person and soddening the ground beneath his feat. Fearless in the face of death, Aric of Dacia fights to preserve his family’s life and the way of the Visigoth people. The opening pages of #1 of BY THE SWORD conveys this message through beautiful rendered graphics and tightly formulated dialogue. Aric’s warrior nature and thirst for battle are well established and lay the foundation for his eventual capture aboard a Vine colony ship.

X-O MANOWAR: VOL. 1: BY THE SWORDThe Armour of Shanhara – the X-O Manowar suit, cherished by the priests aboard the space ship chooses it’s beholder – time and time again mighty Vine warriors succumb to a painful death upon donning the powerful armour. Aric, a slave , treated little more than cattle orchestrates a plan to rise up against his captures which ultimately leads him to the armour. From there things get interesting. “Shanhara has chosen a human.” - #2

Of the four issues that comprise BY THE SWORD, the opening 3 are the best. I liked the space opera feel aboard the Vine colony ship and look forward to reading more along these lines in the third arc PLANET DEATH (which follows the very good second arc ENTER NINJAK which I bought as individual comics).

While the Vine have some interesting characters, this title is really all about Aric (for this edition anyway). As a result the reader gets to become familiar with the character and is able to feel for his misplacement (some sixteen centuries post his abduction – time has a different meaning in deep space).

Though I have some time to wait until PLANET DEATH is released as a collected trade edition, BY THE SWORD easily caters to my space opera need.

I’ve got to say, the aesthetics of X-O MANOWARD VOL.1: BY THE SWORD is one of the most pleasing I’ve come across in recent times. The issues are separated by their original covers, a heap of information and timeline are provided at the beginning of the book and the extras contain images of alterative covers, listings of other Valiant collections and a blurb of VOL.2 ENTER NINJAK.

Given the ever expanding Valiant interconnected universe, this title has a tone of re-read appeal. Bring on PLANET DEATH – I can’t wait to read more of the Vine on their home turf. 4 stars.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Review: BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami

The blood oozed down his sleave to the Colt .45. and then began dripping from the tip of the gun in a thin line, landing in a pile of moldy leaves by his feat without a sound.
 
Battle RoyaleBATTLE ROYALE is overtly violent, graphic, bloody and utterly terrifying. For 42 school kids aged around 15, an ill fated bus ride leads them to their grave; participants in the latest Government controlled ‘Program’. Placed on an island with one simple instruction ‘kill to win’. With only 1 winner allowable, it takes no time for the bodies to start piling up.

Commonly compared to HUNGER GAMES, more so for the inspiration rather than exact copycat, BATTLE ROYALE is more contained with isolation the key to its horrors. There isn’t an emphasis on entertainment, rather a pure unadulterated evil cast by a corrupt and cruel Government. The plot doesn’t deviate too much from the simple survival horror genre with only momentary glimpses of a broader design mentioned (re Shinji’s aim).

BATTLE ROYLE, despite having a cast of 43 (42 student (equal parts male and female) and a sadistic Program operative), managed to be well rounded and surprising deep towards the characterisation of the school kids pitted against one another until their death. However, 5 characters come to mind, with both Shuya and Noriko the central protagonists and semi love interest (for which much of the story revolves), Shogo, a bad guy misunderstood, Mitsuko, a beauty with a past born of abuse and a body put to work to fatten her purse (previously) and chance of survival (seductive techniques against the weaker minded males), and Zakuo, a fierce and emotionally depraved young man who’s only goal is to cut down as many classmates as possible.

In amongst the gore lays a couple of budding love stories, used more as coping mechanisms by the teens rather than serious encounters of the heart. In typical teen fashion, some characters express and discuss their potential love interests during their downtime when in hiding from others. I thought the corny adolescent love obsession was justified insofar as it portrayed the school kids in a manner true to their age rather than the simpleminded violent psychopaths the ‘Program’ wanted them to be. Takami’s approach to instil the sense of youthful hope over the senseless abandonment of life throughout the death match provided a soft contrast to the hard and bloody story.

The edition I read contained a forward by one of my favourite authors in Max Allan Collins who discussed the reason for the movie adaptation’s less than mainstream distribution while the end extras include a discussion with the film’s director and an interesting conversation with the author, Koushun Takami.

BATTLE ROYALE is a must read for any book lover, particularly those who enjoy the darker side of fiction. Absolutely fantastic – 5 stars.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: FIERCE BITCHES by Jedidiah Ayres

FIERCE BITCHES is a novella unlike any I've read before. A haunting and violent slice of noir set amongst a desolate backdrop where ramshackle residents live and die by their vices. The town of Politoburg, a satellite-like town is a lonely place where hearts come to die and hope fades quicker than innocence. The trade push is prostitution and strong arm tactics; for pimps and revellers, a haven of sorts, for those bound to the town limits, a hell as hot at the Mexican desert.

Despite the bleak environment, a demented love story spawns through Ramone and his cast of Maria's (female prostitutes). Horribly beaten, Ramone's physical injuries coincide with the Maria's inner scars. Together they form an uprising to break the shackles of their respective confinement only to roam the desert seeking solace in the blood of men who take advantage of the fairer sex.

Jedidiah Ayres manages to portray a deep and wholly satisfying tale which reads more like a full length than novella. The writing is crisp and concise; not a word out of place, nor scene unwarranted. The sense of atmosphere is unmistakable, Ayres consumes the reader wholeheartedly, I couldn't help but get lost amongst the escapades of Ramone and co., the gringo escape, double cross, and the unforgiving landscape which dominates the story.

The style and substance echoes the darkest corners of Quentin Tarantino's mind; an exploitation of the genre so raw and bloody it's sure to become an underground cult classic. Jedidiah Ayres proves with FIERCE BITCHES that noir has a new prince; readers rejoice for a new dawn of dark fiction is slowly descending upon us.

The cinematic beauty amongst the brutality leads me to think an adaptation to graphic novel would be perfect. In fact, as I read FIERCE BITCHES I couldn't help but picture the story in a Vertigo-Crime-like viewfinder. Here's hoping.

Side note - FIERCE BITCHES is due for release early 2013 and should feature on many noir enthusiasts best novella lists by years end.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: THE BASTARD HAND by Heath Lowrance

The Bastard HandTHE BASTARD HAND is a fine example of neo-noir; a bleak and dangerous tale wielding a paranormal or fantastical scythe splashing sticky blood red across the walls, ending lives and forging new ones. For Charlie Wesley, a grifter with no prospects, a former resident of a mental institution, and one-time cop killer – doing a good deed here and there should go rewarded. Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t look too kindly upon Charley and before long he’s bleeding out on a deserted back street watching a con-woman and her crew walk away with his cash and dignity.

Enter the preacher man. Seemingly through divine intervention, Charlie is saved, or rather, offered an ambiguous role alongside fellow grifter and man of God, Reverend Phineas Childe. On route to a small town in need of his services, Childe strikes up a half hearted friendship with Charlie – surely a con, either man’s motives are convoluted yet kept secure as they bend the township to their will. From women to coin, the Reverend’s vices are more mortal than the word he preaches – yet his unorthodox delivery is at once confronting and respected by the township. Once the spell is cast the real fun begins and THE BASTARD HAND takes on a whole new life.

About midway through THE BASTARD HAND I was comparing the delivery and small-town noir feel to another New Pulp Press title HELL ON CHURCH STREET by Jake Hinkson, the similarities were hard to ignore – while good in their own right I couldn’t shake the need to want more than a run of the mill noir with characters I’d read about before. Heath Lowrance answered the calling and turned the story on its head by evolving Charlie and Childe into something much more than man. With powers unparalleled, Charlie regenerates both his bodily harms and thought process and manages to take his future into his own hands – you could say, his own bastard hands.

Drug money, backstabbing, double-crosses, and ill fated love affairs become commonplace as Charlie addresses his new gift while exposing all that gave him hope in the first place. Temptations of the flesh and monetary security alike henceforth drive this revelation-led new world order. As the past catches up with him, Charlie’s new found survival skills kick into place producing an enthralling read leading to a bloody conclusion.

THE BASTARD HAND is a unique piece of writing by an author with a very bright future. All at once, catering to the traditionalist Thompson noir, urban-fantasy, new-noir, and hopeless romantic genres at once, the concept and plot will hook almost any reader. 4 stars.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Golden Era of Pulps - ReKindled

The Kindle has resurrected a number of seemingly lost or overlooked classics. Publishers like Prologue Books and other indy houses have done a great job at reformatting and releasing these hidden treasures for the avid reader. Below I take a look at three books I read this year that are all 5 STAR reads, and ones that I would probably have never read had it not been for the ease of ebooks.

Benny Muscles In    Room to Swing No Orchids For Miss Blandish

Of the three authors, I'd only heard of Peter Rabe (largely due to the Hardcase Crime reprint of STOP THIS MAN). While a fan of noir/pulp era dimestore novels, I still lacked the complete appreciation of the genre/time largely due to the inaccessibility of the novels in Australia. With the advent of the ebook and the increased availability of these novels, pulp enthusiasts can rejoice and expand upon their library/collection.

The names Chandler, Thompson, Gooids and Woolrich are well known and are distinguished authors of the genre reminiscent of the golden age. While these aforementioned authors are fantastic and their books must haves on any keen readers shelves (physical and electronic), it's authors like Ed Lacy, Peter Rabe, and James Hadley Chase to name but a few that tend to be overlooked in conversation (at least in my circles). Make no mistake, these books (covers above) are all classics and just as important as any works by Chandler and Thompson.

2012 unearthed many great authors for me and showcased a whole new world noir. My 2013 reads are sure to include many more by these great authors.

My reviews of BENNY MUSCLES IN, ROOM TO SWING, and NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH can be found below:

Review: NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH by James Hadley Chase

No Orchids For Miss BlandishNO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH is a treasure trove of criminal stylings written in a timeless quality. The tale of kidnapping, jewel heist, murder, and gang rivalry is engrossing and utterly captivating.  Not once did this oh so sweet slice of noir feel dated despite the initial publication being in 1939 – a testament to the authors ability. 

Ma Grisson and her son Slim are the catalysts in turning a snatch and grab into mass murder and a show of force in taking complete control of the criminal underworld. Miss Blandish, a wealthy daughter and socialite-like young women with the world at her feet is the unfortunately collateral damage in a heist designed to bring in a million dollars to a group of thugs looking to hit the big time. Before long, Ma Grisson and her gang are privy to the snatch, take out the competitors and hold Miss Blandish captive for a king’s ransom. 

There are some truly unique and well formulated characters in NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, perhaps none more so than the larger than life and menacing Ma Grission. Everything from her physical description to utter contempt of human life oozes noir and shouts crime boss – a formidable figure indeed.  While her son Slim, is equally degenerative in the humanity stakes, his infatuation and desire for someone to call his own – preferably an attractive wealthy woman portrays in him a scary and semi psychotic state. I could elaborate further on the distinguished cast as they all add something to the plot and are enjoyable and realistic in their respective occupation. 
 
NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH is written in a manner to keep the perspective fresh. Each new chapter (act) sees the POV switch from heist, to kidnap, to police investigation, to private eye, to criminal element, to Miss Blandish herself. This was the perfect way to convey the dire situation Miss Blandish and her criminal counterparts found themselves. 
 
Given the linear plot, engaging characters and quality of writing and you’ve got a sure fire classic by James Hadley Chase. I couldn’t get through NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDHISH fast enough – one of the best noirs ever written and a true classic of crime fiction – 5 stars.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: DOUBLE DEXTER by Jeff Lindsay

Double DexterThe opening sequence of DOUBLE DEXTER reads as good as any purist noir written. It’s moody, evocative, harrowing, and dark with a sense of foreboding and dread – a calm before the perfect storm. The opening chapter ties in nicely with the Dark Passenger and exemplas all that it embodies. In fact, so good was it, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Cornell Woolrich – it’s that captivating. Yet, this being dutiful Dexter, the darkly dabbling in domestic bliss Dexter of book 6 – that overtly dark natured opening wasn’t going to last – and it didn’t.
 
The plot is simple enough, though it did feel as though Lindsay changed direction mid stream. While centralised around Dexter and the mysterious and ever allusive Witness to his favourite pastime, DOUBLE DEXTER is also a police procedural – someone is murdering cops in a painful and draw-out manner – crushing every bone until the vic succumbs to death. The investigation led by Dexter’s sister naturally looked set to pull upon their relationship and dabbled into Dexter’s dark side to catch a killer. Stopping short of a full blown manhunt, Lindsay employs a quick-fix to the case only to focus on Dexter assuming the role of a private investigator in search of his Witness or ‘Double’ as touted on the blurb.
 
DOUBLE DEXTER provides a further glimpse into life as a serial killer and that of a devoted husband and loving father. Dexter is in disguise for a large portion of the novel – only once or twice relishing in his darker persona. The interactions with series regulars do little to further the plot or overarching series for that matter, as DOUBLE DEXTER is more about what is going on inside Dexter’s head than those actions around him. The cat and mouse routine, while enjoyable and easy to read conforms to the common formula for such escapades with nothing really earth shattering happening or implications for further series instalments.
 
Dexter is a very strong and well defined character and that portrayal continues in DOUBLE DEXTER. Fans of the series will enjoy this, while those new will want to give it a miss. 3 stars – a good thriller which had a fantastic start only to follow a well defined script.

Review: BREAK YOU by Blake Crouch

Break You (Andrew Z. Thomas, #3)My small-ish review of Blake Crouch's third book to feature Andy Thomas and Luther Kite - while not as good as DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS - it's a must for die-hard fans:
 
The conclusion to the Andy Thomas trilogy focuses on three central characters; Andy, the writer portrayed as a serial killer to the broader community, Violet, the tough ex-cop now shacked up with Andy largely due to them surviving a harrowing ordeal with a crazed killer in LOCKED DOORS, and Luther Kite, the sadistic serial killer who still mourns the loss of Andy’s twin and like-minded killer Orson. The novella’s premise is simple; test character’s endurance by subject them to horrendous physical and physiological torture, all the while showcasing Luther’s truly sinister self and exposing the black hearted serial killer that he is.
 
While not as good as it predecessors, BREAK YOU will entertain, primarily by virtue of the shock and awe methods used for torture and manipulation (of human joints that is). For me, BREAK YOU didn’t really add anything to the trilogy – certainly not anything new. The core characters were already established and the chain of events leading to this point had left a lasting impression. I suspect, more than anything else, BREAK YOU is more a pit stop and bridge to STIRRED than actual stand-alone or designed specifically for the Andy Thomas series. That said, readers of the fiction set within the serial universe will lap this up – it’s violent, confronting, scary and entertaining. A one sitting read that will leave goose bumps. 3 stars.
 
Check Goodreads for my reviews of DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS (also review on this blog)
 
 
 
The covers of the trilogy:
 
Desert Places (Andrew Z. Thomas #1)Locked Doors (Andrew Z. Thomas #2)Break You (Andrew Z. Thomas, #3)

Review: SIX BAD THINGS by Charlie Huston

Six Bad Things (Hank Thompson, #2) SIX BAD THINGS, the second book in the Hank Thompson trilogy echoes Elmore Leonard’s dialogue with Charlie Huston’s trademark dark humour, action packed violence and comedic-like killer routine. Following on from the events of CAUGHT STEALING, Hank finds himself living a life of leisure on an off-the-grid beach haven surrounded by colourful characters who know just enough to buy his cover as a wealthy American taking time out from his high pressure, fast living lifestyle. Before long, the Russian Mafia learns of his whereabouts and Hank is once again transformed from average Joe to accidental murderer.
 
Much like CAUGHT STEALING, SIX BAD THINGS has a lot of descriptive violence. The scenes Huston depicts aren’t designed for the squeamish, after all it’s called noir for a reason – this stuff is supposed to be bleak and dangerous. Somehow Hank managers to escape the clutches of the Russian Mafia, police, crazed Mexicans, and strung out strippers as he attempts to track down his 4 million dollar bounty held safe by a friend in New York recently located to Vegas while promising pay offs to keep his mother and father free from harm.
 
SIX BAD THINGS is pretty action heavy. Hank is put through the grinder more times than I care to count. However, his resilience and survival instinct are commodities which bleed nicely into A DANGEROUS MAN, the last book in the trilogy while also opening up some new job prospects along the way. Huston manages to make Hank endearing and dangerous at the same time. Despite often harming people in very graphic and seemingly painful ways, you cant help but feel him. Continuing on from the ‘wrong man’ theme of CAUGHT STEALING, Huston maintains a semblance and Hanks former self while further developing him into the character he’s ultimately destined to be in A DANGEROUS MAN.
 
I liked SIX BAD THINGS much better the second time. Having read it initially in June 2008 and giving it 3.5 stars, the second read was easily 5 stars. The back of the book compares Huston to Crumley and co. SIX BAD THINGS is the reason why.
 
My review of CAUGHT STEALING can be found here:

Review: THE NIGHT GARDNER by George Pelecanos

The Night GardenerCrime in a George Pelecanos novel is so confronting and unnerving that it is almost as unsettling as reading true-crime. His depictions of squalor, violence, bangers, urban poverty, and police procedures are as real and engrossing as his characters. In THE NIGHT GARDNER, Pelecanos delivers everything I’ve come to expect – deep characterisation, a free flowing yet multidimensional plot and most of all, pure noir amongst a backdrop of a heinous crime. Adding yet another string to this impressive bow, is the sense of continuity with Gus and Doc living in the same fictional world as Derek Strange (Quinn and Strange PI novels) and the criminal known as Red Fury (WHAT IT WAS) of which the wannabe gangers of THE NIGHT GARDNER idolise with a deluded sense of hero-worship.
 
Detective Gus Ramone, haunted and a little segregated from the inner circle of policing due to his sting in IA is tasked with solving a homicide of a young man which has similar hallmarks to a string of murders 20yrs ago. Back then, Gus as a green beat cop along with Doc were in awe of the T.C. Cook, a solid detective with an exception case closure rate. Fast forward to present day, Gus is now a leading homicide police, Doc is driving cars after a less than honourable discharge from the force and Cook is retired and on his last legs – yet all three become reunited by a crime never solved which seems to have surfaced once again.
 
THE NIGHT GARNDER, while predominantly a police procedural with noir trappings is really about character and the challenges that face inner city living minorities and heartache. Gus, a father first, sees this latest crime hit too close to home with the latest vic, Asa, a boyhood friend of his teenage son. Coupled with that loss is the undercurrent of racial vilification at the school Gus’ son attends and other such incidences which threaten to send Gus’ family into a downward spiral.
 
While Doc, a cop turned driver turned bordering alcoholic, the chance to be involved in a real case literally falls in his lap. Adding to the discovery of the body is a shady recollection through a drink infused haze which also threatens to test the mantle of another cop who may or may not have been in the vicinity of the crime when it was committed. Doc, seeks out Cook in a bid to right his wrong and shine his somewhat tarnished rep that forced him out of policing and finally put a stop to the killings.
 
THE NIGHT GARDNER is one of the best novels I’ve read by Pelecanos. He manages to create a real sense of time and place, putting the reader inside the shoes of Gus, Doc, and others. While THE NIGHT GARNDER is a standalone, I found it beneficial and more enjoyable having read WHAT IT WAS prior, as the character Red Fury, eluted to in THE NIGHT GARNDER is seen in a whole new light having read about his escapades and criminal legend in the Derek Strange novel.
 
In summary – a must read for fans of Derek Strange, Washington D.C. crime fiction, THE WIRE, and noir. 5 stars.
 
George Pelecanos recommended reading list:
 
Hard Revolution: A NovelWhat it WasThe Night Gardener
 
 
My review of WHAT IT WAS can be found here:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Author Interview: CHRIS ALLEN on INTREPID

I recently interviewed Chris Allen, author of DEFENDER and HUNTER, the first two published books in the action thriller series INTREPID. Having devoured both books in quick succession, I was keen to delve deeper into the world of Alex Morgan and that of the author who created him.

Defender: INTREPID 1 (INTREPID, #1) Hunter: Intrepid 2 (INTREPID, #2)

Josh (OzNoir): HUNTER reads like one long action sequence. You’ve spent time in the defence forces, did that experience influence your writing style?
 

Chris: Most definitely. I think anybody who has undertaken military service, especially within the airborne or special forces community, will know that things don’t ever happen in slow motion like they do in the movies. I actually get quite annoyed when I’m watching a movie and every action scene gets slowed down just so that we can watch every millimetre of a bullet’s trajectory or the excruciating frame-by-frame of someone’s jaw getting dislocated as they’re punched. It worked well in the Matrix because it was new then, but now it’s a cliché.

People who like to read action thrillers or watch action movies want the pace to be fast and the reason for that is because it's exciting. When things are happening in real time there’s no chance to slow them down. You’ve got to run with it. That’s exactly what I try to achieve with my writing. I want the reader to feel unsettled, like they are right in the midst of the action. So, when I’m recalling things that I’ve done or I’m capturing the experiences of my friends and colleagues and attributing those experiences to my characters, I want the reading experience to be as realistic as possible. If I can manage to get someone to miss their bus stop on the way to work or make it a little more difficult for them to get off to sleep at night because they’ve been so engrossed in a scene of mine, then I’ve achieved my objective. That is, to entertain them.


You introduced some interesting new characters in HUNTER, namely, The Key – where do you derive inspiration for your character designs?
 

You know, I’m extremely fortunate in that the career I’ve had has been anything but the standard military or law enforcement career. For one reason or another I’ve crash tackled my way through a particularly diverse array of experiences, so I consider myself lucky enough to be a guy who has done a bit of everything.
 
As a result, I’ve developed some incredibly tight and enduring friendships across the range of military, law enforcement and aid environments from almost every corner of the globe. When it comes to conjuring characters, I’ve no end of individuals upon whom I can base a character and, where necessary, add or subtract actual personal character and/or physical traits as required to fit the story. In the case of the Key or even Dave Sutherland, for example, those two characters - critical members of the INTREPID team and Alex Morgan’s closest friends – are based on two of my own closest friends. Of course, I’ve enjoyed messing around with them a bit but the core elements remain true to the men themselves. Again, the reason I take this approach is because it’s very easy for me to build the story around the characters and create interplay between them because to me they're real.


HUNTER showcases Morgan’s talents towards policing and more investigative nature whereas DEFENDER cast Morgan in light of a soldier – was this intentional? (or am I simply misinterpreting the feel of the books)


You’re absolutely right. It was definitely intentional.
 
In DEFENDER it was important for me to introduce Alex Morgan from the perspective of his core persona: soldier. The storyline - chasing down corrupt officials and arms dealers against the backdrop of a coup d'etat in Africa – gave me the perfect vehicle within which to showcase Morgan’s skills and attributes as a soldier. But, as we now know, there’s more to him than that. He is after all a member of INTREPID and, therefore, has been selected and trained to operate as an INTREPID agent: part-policeman, part-soldier, part-spy.
 
In HUNTER I wanted to introduce Morgan’s investigative skills without the story becoming a whodunit. So, in order to take the reader on a new adventure and, being at such an early stage in the INTREPID series, I wanted to bring that other dimension of the character to the fore. It think it brings him to life and introduces new possibilities in terms of what he can do.


Arena Halls was one of my favourite characters in DEFENDER. What was the decision to have her appear in a less prominent role in HUNTER? (I suspect the introduction of the sassy Charly may have something to do with it)


I'm glad you enjoyed Arena so much. She's based on someone very close to me.
 
With HUNTER being such a different story to DEFENDER, I needed a fresh take on the lead female character and I’m thrilled with how Charlotte-Rose ‘Charly’ Fleming has emerged as such a stand-out. As you say, she’s sassy, as well as self-assured, accomplished and, when she needs to, she can absolutely look after herself.

In the same way that I enjoyed seeing Charly emerge from the pages of HUNTER, I also enjoyed creating the Arena Halls character in DEFENDER and seeing her come to life. As the first female lead in my INTREPID series it was really important to me that Ari would be intelligent, strong, independent and, above all, able to hold her own within a pretty dire set of circumstances.

The last thing I would ever want to be accused of would be that my heroine’s are simply vacuous two-dimensional window dressing stuck into the middle of the action as eye candy. So, I’ve worked really hard to ensure that they are anything but that and, based on the reactions I’ve had to Arena and Charly, especially from other women, I feel confident that I’ve achieved it. I’m particularly pleased that they’ve both resonated so well amongst the male readership.

So, don’t despair, while Arena didn’t really appear in HUNTER – other than a few passing references– I wouldn’t write her off just yet. Never say never, right?


Your books are being touted as a mixture of James Bond and Jason Bourne, however I see a little bit of Scarecrow (by Matthew Reilly) in Morgan, you’re obviously a fan of the genre – what books would you recommend that have influenced you?
 
Wow, nice of you to mention Matthew Reilly. I had the great fortune of meeting Matthew just a couple of weeks ago in Canberra at a fund raising launch for an independent film called 'BLUE WORLD ORDER'. I've enjoyed Matthew's books for years and I actually have a signed copy of TEMPLE from back in 2000 when he was on book tour in Perth. So, it was a real buzz to meet him properly and chat about his books. He's a great bloke. The thing I enjoy so much about his novels is that they are designed to entertain. They are at times absolutely outrageous and total unbelievable, but they're a great read. So, yeah, Matt Reilly's books for sure.
 
In terms of my primary influences, Ian Fleming is the standout. His were the first books I read by choice. I discovered them when I was about thirteen and I've been reading them ever since and I still love them. The shelf behind my writing desk is all Fleming - various editions of the Bond books, biographies, movies - you name it. The second major influence on me is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I am a nut for the Sherlock Holmes books. He was such an incredible writer and it's still an absolute joy just to read his descriptions of people and things. The banter between Holmes and Watson is timeless.
 
Others in no apparent order: Clive Cussler, Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins, Fredericks Forsyth, Andy McNab, Wilburn Smith. You get the idea!


Keen Aussie readers have been crying out for decent, well priced ebook publishers – how have you found working with Momentum to publish the INTREPID series?
 

Well, the partnership with Momentum came at the perfect time for me. While it’s been pretty much a ‘start-up’ entity this year - as Pan Macmillan’s new digital imprint –the team has had an incredibly successful year in launching and supporting a number of great new Australian authors across a range of genres. The editorial support particularly has been absolutely outstanding. It really has been an enjoyable, if sometimes stressful, process for me to work with such professional editors – at the structural, copyedit and proofreading stages – in order to turn two books around in the same year with the results that we’ve achieved.

I’m sure that under the leadership of chief publisher Joel Naoum, Momentum will continue to go from strength to strength.


The INTREPID series is really gaining momentum (publisher pun intended), what’s next for the All Australian action hero Alex Morgan?


My plan is to get Alex Morgan straight back to work. There’s far too much going on in the world for him to be sitting around resting on his laurels. So, at the end of HUNTER I’ve announced that he will return in his next adventure AVENGER. Obviously, the details of that operation must remain classified at this point. That said, I did drop a hint here and there within HUNTER.

In the long term, I’d like to write at least ten or so Alex Morgan adventures. I’m two down now and the third is in development. So, how hard can it be!



END QUOTE:

“The aftertaste of blood and gunmetal makes it clear these books are written by a real soldier. I cannot wait for the release of Hunter.”
Bradley Trevor Greive, New York Times Best-Selling Author
 
Links:
 


Review: THE CRAVING by Jason Starr

The Craving (The Pack, #2)

Starr once again makes werewolves seem plausible. Hiding in plain sight, the werewolves of Starr's New York are far from the blood thirsty hounds of vampiric/lycan mash-ups of other novels. Their craving and blood lust held in check by coping mechanisms passed down by members of the pack to the newly converted. The pack held strong by a unique bond that segregates them from the rest of the world while also keeping them part of it.
 
While THE CRAVING conforms the to hallmarks typically associated with the horror genre, this is mostly a birds eye view of domestic life gone wrong - a failing relationship on the brink with a joyful young son the collateral. For Simon, coming to terms with his condition is the catalyst behind a noir-like relationship that leads to unfaithful persons, private investigators, and murder.
 
Starr is a master of white-collar noir and its easy to see elements of that bleed in THE CRAVING. As with THE PACK, THE CRAVING is a multi dimensional tale encroaching across multiple genres to deliver a very well written piece of inner city fiction.
 
There are many jaw dropping moments in THE CRAVING as cannibalism becomes a reality, humans a food source, and heightened senses a weapon. The evolution of Simon and his conflicting emotions towards pack leader Michael are a joy to read. The camaraderie between the members of the pack is both heart warming and at times scary, almost as unpredictable as the wild animals they share DNA.
 
THE CRAVING is a decent follow-up to THE PACK. It expands upon the lore and provides glimpses into the future. Starr has established a solid foundation upon which to build his characters and their related stories. I look forward to reading more. 4 stars.

Review: HUNTER: INTREPID 2 by Chris Allen

Hunter: Intrepid 2 (INTREPID, #2)


HUNTER, the follow-up to the first in the INTREPID series, DEFENDER, is just as action packed as its predecessor. This time round, Intrepid agent Alex Morgan dons more of a police/investigator persona in search of kidnapped star Charly. Further enhancing his mission is that Charly, not only a famous pianist, is also the goddaughter of Morgan's boss, Davenport and the daughter of a prominent ICTY judge heading up a complex trial to put away a bunch of dangerous war criminals.

Comparisons between Bond and Morgan are easily apparent yet Morgan has more of a hardened blue blooded edge - think Shane Schofield (aka Scarecrow) by Aussie author Matthew Reilly. Author Chris Allen continues to build on Morgan by bumping up the Aussie bloke angle, incorporating more of the mannerisms typical of the stereotype. This creates a more realistic feel to Morgan, making him come across as a good-hearted, honest and reliable down-to-earth character. In a way, the perfect compliment to the ruthless bad guys.

Wolves in sheep clothing, a Serbian mafia inner circle power struggle, double crosses by informants and Interpol agents alike, all formulate the latest Intrepid novel which sees conflict traverse the globe via one long high octane action sequence which incorporates brutal hand to hand and elaborate stunts. I made the comment in DEFENDER that it was like a big budget Hollywood blockbuster and this is no different, the combat scenes are delivered in efficient brutality, the stunts akin to the finest Bond.

With HUNTER there is a noticeable focus on character development with Morgan's boss Davenport growing into a more fatherly role and a clear sense of camaraderie evident between the two. Some major players from DEFENDER, notably Arena Hall are less prominent in HUNTER yet this is offset by the introduction new characters, with the most impressionable being Key (Messrs Braunschweiger), a man mountain who looms as a larger than life agent and fast friend of Morgan's.
 
HUNTER is a must read for fans of the series. The action is first class. The writing precise and the plot wholly enjoyable throughout. Chris Allen is onto a winner with Intrepid - 4 stars.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: LOCKED DOORS by Blake Crouch

Locked Doors (Andrew Z. Thomas #2)LOCKED DOORS is the sequel to DESERT PLACES and features as a pivotal early piece in the ‘serial universe’ alongside other titles by Crouch and Konrath. Central character, Andrew Z. Thomas returns, the accused novelist now living in hiding is thrust into the dangerous world of serial killers once more when he learns of the re-emergence of Lucifer, a deranged and emotionally detracted killer.
 
LOCKED DOORS doesn’t have the same polished feel as DESERT PLACES with the second instalment in the Andrew Z. Thomas trilogy reading much like a typical serial killer tale. Yet, it’s the overly brutal manner by which it’s delivered that separates it from the pack. No character is safe as Lucifer does whatever it takes to enact revenge on Andrew for leaving him to bleed out at the end of DESERT PLACES.
 
At its core, LOCKED DOORS is driven by revenge. Lucifer, let to live regains his strength and targets those who were previously close to Andrew – once the bait is set and subsequently latched upon – the real gore begins. 
 
Despite the graphical content, I felt it was warranted. Unlike other serial killer novels where the blood leads to distraction, the brutality and cruel ways of the killings served to enhance Lucifers lore and establish a truly menacing character. 
 
I also liked the inception of a more investigative angle this time round. Violet, a young detective is on the hunt for Andrew – accused for murders his deranged brother committed, ends up forming a rather unique and interesting relationship with Andrew and Lucifer for that matter. I really liked the way Crouch wrote Violet – her story adds further humility to the series. 
 
LOCKED DOORS is a pretty decent serial killer novel with plenty of gore with cause and thrills typical of the genre. Andrew Z. Thomas continues to grown on me as a ‘man wronged’ with his resolve tested to the fullest in this instalment. I’m interested to see what transpires in BREAK YOU, the conclusion to the Andrew Z. Thompson trilogy. 
 
On a side note – Crouch includes a very handy read list of the Serial Universe up to LOCKED DOORS at the end of the novel in the kindle edition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: THE UNWANTED by Brett Battles

The Unwanted (Jonathan Quinn #3)THE UNWANTED continues to push Quinn further from his occupation as a ‘cleaner’ and more towards spy/counter-terrorism territory. Not that the transition is a bad thing, however the feel of THE CLEANER (book 1) and BECOMING QUINN (prequel) are much more in-tune with the character I’d come to enjoy.

THE UNWANTED is pure action laced with conspiracy theories and a separatist group known as LP which is determined to change the face of American politics and big business. The Office, headed by Peter, Quinn’s boss, looses some of its allure as the LP rise to prominence.

THE UNWANTED almost signifies the end of an exciting chapter in the Quinn saga with the emphasis on alphabet agencies and more extreme missions rather than clean-up jobs of past books.

Nate and Orlando are just as important as Quinn himself with Quinn assuming the role of a father-type figure to Nate and husband to Orlando to create a family dynamic built upon events of THE DECEIVED (book 2) and THE CLEANER.

There are some really interesting plot twists, though not as earth shattering as THE DECEIVED, the reasoning behind the disappearance of a kidnapped 5yr old will shock the reader – it certainly did me.

Overall, THE UNWANTED, is a solid spy thriller and one that doesn’t read well as a stand-alone (I had to refer to past books to determine the significance of returning bad guys). I’m jumping straight into THE DESTROYED (book 4) to ensure the events of THE UNWANTED aren’t diluted by ability to recall important actions/characters. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE by Carter Brown

Aussie pulp from the golden era - a look back at a Carter Brown special: SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE (1966)
 
So, What Killed the Vampire?
 

TV  Script writer Larry Baker is hired to pen a new horror series. On location at an old castle he encounters more drama than the second rate TV actors could muster in all too realistic vampires, fear inducing bumps in the night, and dames that are both vicious and voluptuous. 

SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE is pure pulp from beginning to end. Despite being formulaic, it's still entertaining and driven by mystery. The whodunit aspect alone is worth the price of admission. 

Carter Brown takes aim at b-grade horror, detailing some of the genre's traits in colourful jest. I liked the light hearted approach to this mystery which complimented Larry Baker - a guy who is hard to take serious in any event. 

SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE is one of the better Carter Brown pulps. I've read it twice now and will likely keep coming back. The haunted atmosphere of the castle and colourful characters are fun to read.

I rate this Aussie author pulp 4 stars, initially 3.5 when I read it back in March 2009.

Hit up the labels/tags for more Carter Brown reviews.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN by David Goodis

The Wounded and the Slain (Hard Case Crime #31) THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN exemplifies the derailment of human decency as a subsequent of vice and childhood induced trauma. In James and Cora Bevan, Goodis creates a pair of dysfunctional lovers tainted by their past and victimised by their future. For James, the consummate alcoholic, the amber liquid serves as a means to rid the reminders that hold true his reality; a hopeless sense of foreboding, crippling depression, a sham of a marriage to an almost trophy wife without perk, and a need to experiment in self obliteration. For Cora, her past dictates her every movement, life is one great horror movie, every man hides behind sinister and dirty motives, ones that threaten to soil her to the very core. 
 
Goodis writes the alcoholic induced protagonist to perfection. Much like STREET OF NO RETURN, the vice provides the key to the leads chemical make-up, building character (for good and bad) and driving the sordid tale.  
 
Set amongst contrasting locales in Jamaica, THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN provides equal billing to the desirable and undesirable alike. The slums are without hope, an emotionally desolate place of structures where criminality is commonplace - whereas the fine hotel where the Bevan’s are situated is all tourist guide perfection – sunshine and a healthy lifestyle. This does well to enhance the Bevan’s facade’, a circle that doesn’t fit inside a square. 
 
I’ve read THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN twice now and am still drawn to the raw feeling of depression and complex nature of the Bevan’s. As a couple and as individuals they are hopelessly flawed yet both provide glimpses of redeeming qualities as the story progresses, all it takes is a little blood and the realisation of a harsh truth.
 
THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN is one of my favourite Goodis noir novels and perhaps the truest to the overall feeling of noir. It’s bleak, grey, unnerving, and true grit. There are no bells and whistles in this tale – just an easily believable plot and smart story telling. 5 stars.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: BECOMING QUINN by Brett Battles

Becoming Quinn - A Jonathan Quinn NovellaOne of the better 'origin' stories I've read. Jake Oliver (Quinn) is an honest cop too smart for his own good. First on the scene of a suspected arson, he soon uncovers clues about a more sinister crime, one that will lead him down a path of shattered dreams, fallen friends, and ultimately, a new profession.
 
Author Brett Battles instils a sense of the familiar to the origin tale by opening the novel with a scene likened to any of the Quinn books to date: A hit team on a mission with the 'cleaner' the eyes of the op. Durrie, the cleaner in BECOMING QUINN is cold, calculated, highly observant, and somewhat weighed down by the seemingly incompetent hitmen accompanying him on the op. It's easy to draw comparisons between Durrie and Quinn even at this early junction. Jake the 22yr old cop from Phoenix, Durrie, the professional clearer of murder sites operate in a similar manner despite their initially differing occupation.
 
I liked the way Battles added an emotional element to this take on the rookie cop. Enlisting the services of fellow rookie, Berit, a hard working female officer who recognises the seriousness of the crime and implications associated with evidence overlooked by the subdivision detectives, Battles ensures that the omnipresent danger lurking within the unsanctioned duo's investigation is more reality than sidebar.
 
BECOMING QUINN is fast paced, while not in league with other Quinn novels, the police procedural aspect borders on noir - it's perhaps more darker than the Quinn cleaner novels by virtual of it's unsanctioned, off-the-grid investigation by Jake and Berit which ultimately culminates in the creation that is Jonathan Quinn. I really enjoyed this - 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: THE COLD DARK HOURS by A.G. Yates (Carter Brown)

The Cold Dark HoursTHE COLD DARK HOURS by A.G. Yates is far different from his works as pulp novelist Carter Brown though some traits remain the same. Like any Carter Brown novel and dimestore novels of the era, the depiction of female leads borders on soft porn. Whether it’s through their garment shedding occupation in shady nightclubs or a brief description of an office receptionist upon her arrival at work the overt and unashamed objectification of their physical attributes conjures imagines of curvaceous and willing young women placed in front of the male character in similar fashion to a course of red meat. Bear in mind, in Carter Brown novels this perception of a female lead as eye candy is generally a smoke and mirrors tactic with that same character developing into a pivotal piece of the story.

THE COLD DARK HOURS is grounded and perhaps driven by the female leads in Lavinia Sloan (wife of Electronics GM Jason) and Peggy Bush (Keith’s personal secretary). Both are vastly different characters from one another and surprisingly rich in back-story and characterisation. Lavinia is the picture perfect housewife stuck inside a broken frame, a model for her executive husband with a secret past that’s far from glamorous. While Peggy is a distraction of the good kind for Keith, the central character and P.R man at the front of THE COLD DARK HOURS, a young woman with ambition, drive, and willingness to do whatever it takes to make a name for herself in the world of public relations.

I couldn’t help but think of MADMEN while reading THE COLD DARK HOURS; similar concepts, similar era, similar male business executives and women secretaires true to the stereotype. The plot centralises around a failed television set and the company’s (Electronics) attempts to change the public’s perception of their product through crafty advertising and public relations. Keith Kirkland, recently returned home to Sydney from New York is thrown in at the deep end, forced to disregard his workmates and adopt a ‘take charge’ attitude to turn the company fortune around. Despite many of his co-workers being displeased with Keith’s sudden rise in the P.R ranks, he manages to establish loyalty, but not before encountering some drama along the way.

A.G. Yates pays homage to the old adage ‘what comes around goes around’. Keith’s rise to prominence is not without fall. It’s interesting to read Keith as a ‘yes man’ only to see his staff eventually assume the role once his stake in the company is realised. I thought A.G. Yates pulled this role reversal off beautifully. There is a lot of humanity to THE COLD DARK HOURS and the take on 1950’s office etiquette which I found enjoyable and insightful in comparison to the present day. 

THE COLD DARK HOURS is one of the better works of fiction by the author famously known as Carter Brown which, despite the over use of exclamation marks, is well written and free flowing. 4 stars.