A blog feature which I haven't run for about a year or more returns with the highlighting of a couple of Stanley Ellin books in my collection.
Ellin was an American mystery writer from New York.
Born in 1916, he died at the age of 69 in 1986. He's probably better known for his short stories than his novels. A few of his short stories were filmed for an Alfred Hitchcock mystery series.
James Flood, just released from a Florida prison, has a desperate scheme. He and his recruits, all hardened criminals, will move in upon a prominent upstate New York family, holding the Hayworth women as hostages while awaiting delivery of a four-million-dollar ransom. Flood expects no resistance. Marcus Hayworth, small-town banker and leading member of the Quaker community, is convinced he can subvert Flood's plan. Instead of going to the police, he will bring his family's crisis before his meeting, asking the Quaker community to back him in nonviolent opposition. Subsequent events isolate both hostages and captors within the Hayworth house, waging a war of nerves that involves more than a clash between good and evil. For Flood cannot be taken for granted. Much deeper than the profit motive is his need for revenge, a most urgent and specific need. And Hayworth's principles have never been put to the ultimate test.
The Blessington Method (1964)
Includes 9 more short stories of the macabre.
Not sure when I will get around to reading these two, but I'd better not read them after dark. The old Penguin text doesn't agree with my aging eyesight!
Not sure which I prefer the sound of most - on balance probably the novel as opposed to the short story collection.
I did read Mirror Mirror on the Wall from him back in 2013 - thoughts here.
Monday, 14 August 2017
Tommy Ruzzo is a disgraced NYPD cop who follows his coke fiend girlfriend back to her hometown in Florida. She leaves Ruzzo high and dry just before he's named Head of Security at Precious Acres, a beachfront retirement community populated by wisecracking New Yorkers. Ruzzo is stranded among the local losers until the day he discovers a murdered senior citizen on the Precious Acres bocce ball court.
The bodies pile up as Ruzzo uncovers a dangerous trail of clues that brings everybody in his new world under suspicion.
"The suspense starts on the first page and doesn't let up. A unique setting with unforgettable characters."
- Terrence McCauley, author of SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
The first in a two book series (so far at least) from S. W. Lauden and featuring an ex-cop Tommy Ruzzo. Ruzzo left New York in disgrace and is working as security at a retirement community in Florida. Some of his retirees start getting killed and Ruzzo works with the local law to try and catch the killer.
In a nutshell, enjoyable but not especially memorable if I’m honest. It’s quite a busy book. Ruzzo’s ex-girlfriend, Shayna Billups and the cause of his disgrace flits in and out, still managing to lead Ruzzo around by his pecker. Her ex-husband is also on the scene, someone with contacts to the top cop involved in the case - Sgt. Badeaux. Ruzzo’s mystery employers also have an agenda of their own. There’s a crossword clue theme which runs through the book which keeps pointing to the next victim, I think. This facet didn’t particularly work for me.
I think I was thrown a bit when reading. The publisher Down and Out Books have a habit of back-loading their editions with extended samples of other books in their canon. I forgot this, so when the tale ended around the 80% mark it caught me unawares.
Interesting main character and an enjoyable setting. A fair bit of humour on display and some great scenes involving Ruzzo and Shayna, Ruzzo and Badeaux and Ruzzo and his employers – maybe a case of some of the parts being more enjoyable than the whole.
3.5 from 5
I have the second in the series – Crossed Bones to get to at some point.
The author also has another series to his name featuring Greg Salem - Bad Citizen Corporation and Grizzly Season are out so far, with Hang Time coming early next year.
Read in July 2017
Page count – 158
Source – purchased copy
Format - Kindle
The shocking true story of the first British politician to stand trial for murder
Behind oak-panelled doors in the House of Commons, men with cut-glass accents and gold signet rings are conspiring to murder. It's the late 1960s and homosexuality has only just been legalised, and Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of the Liberal party, has a secret he's desperate to hide. As long as Norman Scott, his beautiful, unstable lover is around, Thorpe's brilliant career is at risk. With the help of his fellow politicians, Thorpe schemes, deceives, embezzles - until he can see only one way to silence Scott for good.
The trial of Jeremy Thorpe changed our society forever: it was the moment the British public discovered the truth about its political class. Illuminating the darkest secrets of the Establishment, the Thorpe affair revealed such breath-taking deceit and corruption in an entire section of British society that, at the time, hardly anyone dared believe it could be true.
A Very English Scandal is an eye-opening tale of how the powerful protect their own, and an extraordinary insight into the forces that shaped modern Britain.
The first bit of non-fiction I’ve read for a while and an eye-opening account of one of the most famous trials in Britain in the 70s. As a teenager of 15 or 16, I can vaguely recall the headlines of the time as Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe was acquitted of murder at the Old Bailey. I was kind of hoping he got off because my mum and dad always voted Liberal. I was too young to really comprehend what it was all about.
John Preston is not a Jeremy Thorpe fan and his account portrays Thorpe as unlikable, conniving, and someone shorn of any scruples or decency. We see the background to Thorpe’s political career and his rise to prominence in the Liberal party. There are allegations of male rape made against Thorpe. Thorpe was homosexual at a time when it was illegal to indulge in sexual relations with other men and would also have been political suicide if the public became aware of his sexual leanings. Many homosexuals were at great risk of blackmail. Blackmail is at the heart of Thorpe’s downfall.
I read this late last year and what sticks with me if I’m honest is the sense that the author has it in for Thorpe. Perhaps rightly so. It’s a masterclass in character assassination. The book was probably unpublishable before Thorpe died in 2014. You can’t libel a dead man.
Other characters in the book merit great sympathy, especially Peter Bessell. Bessell was a fellow Liberal MP and slightly in awe of Thorpe. Thorpe repeatedly takes advantage of Bessell’s naivety and amenable nature throughout the book. The trial sees Bessell’s reputation trashed and his reputation eviscerated. Unfairly so.
Was Thorpe guilty? Did the establishment put the fix in so one of their own got off? I wasn’t necessarily convinced, but I wouldn’t be unduly surprised if they had. They were some notable miscarriages of justice in the 70s – The Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven.
An interesting read. Inevitably there’s a fair bit of he said, she said. On the whole a bit of a hatchet job, but an entertaining one.
4 from 5
Read in November, 2016
Published – 2016
Page count – 340
Source – review copy from publisher Penguin Viking
Format - paperback
Saturday, 12 August 2017
Ridley has already died once trying to find his missing girlfriend, Miho. When a mysterious phone call rouses him from his recovery he is off on the trail of clues again. Reenergized for the hunt, Ridley will follow clues all the way across the country and enter a world darker than he imagined and face off against men--and women--more vicious than he expected.
This time Ridley has traveled a long way--and death is there to meet him. But it will take more than dying to keep him from finding the truth.
Book #2 of this thrilling adventure is more non-stop action. Watch for book #3 in April.
Also available in a collector’s edition print edition.
The second installment of Eric Beetner's The Year I Died Seven Times was read in November 2016.
In the first we meet Ridley and join him on his quest to track down his missing Japanese girlfriend Miho. Obviously he's been unsuccessful thus far and episode one ends with his death.
Or does it? Well no. Clinically dead for six minutes and successfully revived and recovered, Ridley has sunk into a state of torpor and depression. His friend advises him to forget Miho and move on, but our love sick puppy isn't prepared to do that.
A pleading phone call out of the blue, from Miho demanding his help re-energizes our man. He's going to rescue his girl, but is bereft of clues as to where to start.
Back into the lion's den and the Ginza House where his girlfriend worked is a good a place as any.
A narrowly avoided ass-kicking, a clue on a napkin and a plane ride from LA to New York to another Ginza Lounge; a stake-out, a proper ass-kicking this time from a bunch of girls and Ridley's getting closer to the truth but closer to danger.
Our tale doesn't end well with our man getting beaten, hand-cuffed and some bladder loosening electric-shock treatment as the Ginza masters want answers. A cracked pipe, with a bang on the head and the introduction of some liquid to our electrically charged basement brings our second installment to a close.
Great character, interesting scenario, a bit of humour, 40 pages long, what more do you need to entertain you.
4.5 from 5
This one's no longer available as an individual episode or installment, but has been re-released as a single book in it's entirety.
Episode one was looked at here - The Year I Died Seven Times: Book 1 (2014)
About time I dusted off number 3
Eric Beetner has his website here.
A ton of his books too numerous to mention sit on the kindle awaiting a read.
Read in November, 2016
Published - 2014
Page count - 40
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle
Friday, 11 August 2017
"Delaney ratchets up the suspense till the book seems poised to explode from the tension."
What's the difference between violent justice and brutal revenge?
A Dublin funeral, and three friends come together on a solemn mission to strike back against the city’s drug dealers. For Santy it’s a sacred duty to the community. For Leo, it’s an opportunity to indulge violent tendencies and pay off some debts at the same time. For Dean? Unemployed and still living at home, it isn’t as if he has anything better to do than go along with his friend’s plan.
But not everyone is playing straight, and there is more to uncover than just the name of the next target on the list. Between vengeance, idealism and greed, each begins to question the motives of the others. And when the Garda start nosing around it’s clear that somebody’s been talking, but who?
They’re about to find out that some secrets are buried for a reason.
"More than the sum of each brilliant part, The Pact is a brutal, funny and cleverly weaved together slice of hard-boiled crime. A time bomb of tension." -Paul Brazill (author of The Guns of Brixton and Cold London Blues)
Number Thirteen Press are building a list of 13 quality crime novellas by 13 different authors, published consecutively on the 13th of each month. For more information go to
I’m a big fan of this particular publisher and intend over the next year (yes it will take me that long) to read all thirteen of their offerings. Turlough Delaney's The Pact was my sixth outing in this venture.
Having hailed from Dublin over 50 years ago myself, I’m always happy to read a crime tale set in my old home town. Married with a tale of drug dealers and low-life characters and a gang of vigilantes, I was sure I was onto a winner.
I liked elements of the tale…….the plot itself and the differing motivations of the characters involved. I enjoyed the increasing levels of tension in the relationship between them as Santy seemed intent on controlling the other two involved in the cause – Leo and Dean. I enjoyed the involvement of the Gardai into our vigilante tale and the intimation that the authorities were keen to curb our seekers of justice, less in the pursuit of law and order, more in the protection of a politician with some dubious sexual habits.
I liked the pubs and nightclubs, the funerals and the involvement however peripheral of family. I liked the bookies and the incidental violence, and the strange goings on at the knocking shop out of town.
Where it fell down for me was the unevenness of the time line. Usually I don’t mind dipping backwards and forwards in time during a narrative, and when it’s done well it adds to my enjoyment of the book. Here, I found it confusing. Perhaps some tiredness when I was reading didn’t help and maybe my mental faculties weren’t razor sharp, but there was no signposting indicating the chopping and jumping about of the story and for me it would have been helpful if there was.
I was left with the impression that the pages in the manuscript got knocked on the floor by accident and were picked back up in a somewhat haphazard fashion. Maybe the story would have read better chronologically, maybe it wouldn’t.
3 from 5
Turlough Delaney is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. No author website or photo I can find.
Read in July, 2017
Published - 2015
Page count - 151
Source - review copy from Chris at the publisher - Number 13 Press
Format - Kindle
Thursday, 10 August 2017
While Chicago cabbie Eddie Miles drives the city streets at midnight, two killers--one targeting prostitutes, the other cab drivers--are out plying their trade.
"From the driver's seat of his cab, Eddie negotiates a city splintered by race and class and rapidly losing its economic underpinnings. Nobody's Angel has the wry humor and engaging characters typical of the best of the hard-boiled genre, but Clark's portrait of Chicago in the 1990s, with its vanishing factories and jobs, its lethal public housing projects, its teenage hookers climbing into vans on North Avenue, is what gives it legs. Sure there are a couple murderers on the loose, but the larger violence is coming from systemic forces wreaking havoc in a place that, maybe, used to be better." -- Chicago Reader
"'Nobody's Angel' is a gem...which doesn't contain a wasted word or a false note... Its real beauty lies in Eddie's bittersweet existence and the special romance and danger of the cabdriver's life--lives we often glimpse but rarely give a second thought." -- Washington Post
"[A] fine atmospheric thriller. The cynical, melancholy cabbie point of view is perfect for this kind of neon-lit, noir-tinged, saxophone-scored prose poem, and Clark hits all the right notes." --Booklist
"[A] slim, sparse, and heartbreaking novel." --Publishers Weekly
"Heartbreaking... Captivating... Clark's true subject [is] his city. Each page turn feels like real, authentic Chicago." --Chicago Sun-Times:
Shamus Award finalist, Nobody’s Angel was the last book I read in 2016 and a great book to sign off on the year with.
Penning a few thoughts on this over seven months after reading the thing is inevitably a bit tricky. My memory isn’t what it used to be. What still rings loud and clear is the setting of Chicago in the 90s and its portrayal through the eyes of our main protagonist, cab driver Eddie Miles.
The fact that we have a murderer targeting cab drivers and another one taking out prostitutes is kind of incidental. I’d have been entertained if it had been a normal few weeks in the life of Miles, giving me a sight-seeing tour around Chicago. We see the competition and camaraderie between the drivers and the way they view their customers. The rides they pick up, the lightning quick profiling of the clients they avoid, the areas they steer around rather than drive through. The myriad of rules and regulations the city imposes on them. Each of these used as chapter intros -
All taxicabs shall have affixed to the exterior of the cowl or hood of the taxicab the metal plate issued by the Department of Consumer Services. No chauffeur shall operate any Public Passenger Vehicle without a medallion properly affixed. City of Chicago, Department of Consumer Services, Public Vehicle Operations Division.
The dome light when lit, must be visible at 300 feet in normal sunlight. The dome light shall be installed and maintained in such manner that the dome light will automatically be lit when the taximeter is not activated and that the dome light will automatically be unlit when the taximeter is activated.
In addition to Eddie’s company and our traversing of Chicago’s streets, we have a pretty good murder mystery. Stopping for a back alley comfort break, Eddie discovers the near dead body of a young prostitute. We have some interaction with the police as they open an investigation. Eddie’s contact with the detectives on the case continues through the book, as does a follow-up with the victim, whose life he helped save.
Additionally one of his cab drivers friends gets murdered and Eddie is puzzled as to the circumstances of his demise. His friend was too sharp and street-wise to have been in the particular area of the city he was found, at the time he met his end. I wouldn’t class Eddie’s involvement thereafter as a bit of amateur sleuthing, more musing out loud as to the whys and the wherefores and the keen eye subsequently applied to his interactions with customers, fellow drivers, the police and pretty much everyone who crosses his path.
Really enjoyable – setting, character, pace, plot, resolution, length. A book that I would have been happy restarting just as soon as I’d finished it.
4.5 from 5
I’ve enjoyed Jack Clark’s work before – Hack Writing &Other Stories.
There’s a few more from him on the Kindle – Dancing on Graves, Highway Side and Westerfield’s Chain. There was a second Eddie Miles book released last year – Back Door to LA.
Jack Clark's website Hack Writing is here.
Read in December, 2016
Published - 2010
Page count - 224
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle
Wednesday, 9 August 2017
Frank’s Wild Years is a story of betrayal and last chances at the frayed and fading edges of the south London underworld.
IN THE TWILIGHT days between Christmas and New Year, ageing Frank Neaves is about to drink away his last tenner in a Deptford boozer. A former friend and associate of long-dead local villain Dave Price, Frank’s scotch-soaked meditation is interrupted when it’s discovered that Carl, Price’s son and the pub’s landlord, has disappeared leaving an oblique one line note for barmaid, Adeline.
After a visit to Carl’s mother, Rose, they discover he has gone to Hull to bring his young daughter, Grace, back to south London to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Adeline knows this means coming up against the malevolent James O’Keefe, Carl’s ex-wife’s new bloke and small time crook. Certain of a violent confrontation that the Carl can’t win, Adeline persuades Frank to join her and together they take a slow train for Humberside.
Over the course of the next few days, Frank, Carl and Adeline each have a chance to redeem past mistakes, none more so than Frank, whose past comes back to haunt him in ways he could never have imagined.
'An urban masterpiece; riveting from first to last. Nick Triplow is the true successor to Ted Lewis.' Mike Hodges, Film Director - Get Carter
The best book I read last October and confirmation of the foolishness of my decision to disregard British crime fiction for about 20 of the past 25 years reading.
Frank is coerced away from his bar stool to try and help Carl. Carl has embarked on a suicide mission to Hull to try and get his daughter back from some pond life up North. Does Frank still have it in him to sort things out, with one last hurrah or is he an old soak better suited to frittering his days away in the corner of a grimy pub?
We're about to find out.
Fantastic characters, particularly Frank, with some able support in the guise of Adeline and a great South London setting, both in the present and the past of Frank's heydays.
I enjoyed reading and the discovery of Frank's past - his actions, the consequences and his regrets.
Tremendous writing, I was hooked from the opening paragraph........
You know Frank, he’s the bloke who used to line up dry roasted nuts on a bar towel and flick them at Adeline every time he needed a refill. And Adeline, she’d take the hit, usually on the bare roll of flesh between her too-short, too-tight sweater and too-low, too-tight jeans, then top up his pint glass without a word. It was like that for as long as anyone could remember, and that’s longer than most of the regulars who think of the John Evelyn as home.
Ticks in every box. If I had a complaint it would be that at a shade of over 200 pages this was too short.
My kind of book.
5 from 5
I've previously enjoyed Nick Triplow's The Debt.
He has a couple of non-fiction books to his name and a soon to be published biography of Ted Lewis - Getting Carter.
He has his website here.
Read in October 2016
Published - 2012
Page count - 216
Source - purchased copy
Format - Kindle