March 21

Parallel Lines – Steven Savile

Parallel Lines_high resHow far would you go to provide for your child? Adam Shaw is dying, and knows he’ll leave his disabled son with nothing. His solution? Rob a bank. It’s no surprise that things go wrong. What is surprising is that when another customer is accidentally shot, no one in the bank is in a hurry to hand Adam over to the police. There’s the manager who’s desperate to avoid an audit, the security guard with a serious grudge, and the woman who knows exactly how bad the victim really was… Eight people, twelve hours, one chance to cover up a murder. But it’s not just the police they have to fool. When many lives intersect, the results can be explosive.

 

My thanks to Lydia at Titan Books for my review copy and the chance to join the Parallel Lines blog tour

 

Parallel Lines has 8 key characters. At the foot of my review I have a fantastic guest post from Steven Savile which focuses on Richard Rhodes (the Manager of the bank at the centre of events in Parallel Lines).

 

Although I read loads of crime fiction I cannot think of too many stories about a bank robbery. There are books where a bank gets robbed but it is usually only a chapter or two of action then the story moves on. Parallel Lines is all about a robbery, over 80% of the story has the reader in the bank as the crime is taking place and it is a brilliant, brilliant read.

The story opens with a focus on Adam, the robber, and his motivations for holding up a bank.  When things start to go wrong for him (no spoiler, it’s in the cover info) we get to see the other people that were in the bank at the point Adam pulls a gun on the cashier.  From here on Steven Savile will focus on different characters who are also in the bank, we get their backgrounds, their motivations to help or hinder Adam in his predicament and we see how their lives have overlapped prior to the fateful day in the bank.

I cannot get too detailed over how the robbery and subsequent events unfold but I can assure you that Parallel Lives really had me hooked. The author brilliantly set up the different characters – each will act to preserve their own self interest, however, their futures will be linked in a way which they could never have foreseen.

What makes Parallel Lines such a compelling read is that virtually all the characters are required to become a liar at some point in the tale.  For some this comes naturally, but for others they find they are required to play a role which is unfamiliar to them and their discomfort makes for fun and tense moments. But the problem with telling lies is that you cannot keep the lie going forever and, keeping me turning the pages, was the drive to find out which lies would come unstuck and the consequences which may befall the liars.

I am intentionally not giving away much about Parallel Lines – stories told this well deserve to be told in full and I would urge you to seek out this book and discover the fate of Adam and his hostages for yourself. Did I mention that this was a brilliant book?  It is – scroll down and order a copy today via the handy link at the foot of the page.

 

Now as promised, for the blog tour Mr Savile has a few words on one of the key characters in Parallel Lines:

Richard Rhodes

Secrets and lies make the world go around. I’d originally intended to do a short piece now on a few of my favourite liars in crime fiction, the idea of unreliable narrators and purposely misleading the audience as you go along, but as the first name (Frank Abernathy) came to me, I realised that actually this was an opportunity for a little truth. You see there’s a core of lies in Parallel Lines, and people pretending to be someone they aren’t. There’s the Dane, who also calls himself Kage Salisbury, who’s pretending to be a cop, there’s the security guard, Monk, who at one point is pretending to be a dead man, and there’s Richard Rhodes, the bank manager who fancies himself as a bit of a Robin Hood. There’s also a lot of truth in how I see the world wrapped up on their lies.

You see, I come from a line of great liars.

My father was a golden tongued salesman who could charm the birds out of the trees. He ended up featuring in a double page spread in The Sun back in the ‘90s, but that was the end of his story, not the beginning. Back in the day he was one of the leading guys in his field—which was focussed on male vanity, he provided wigs and weaves and hair transplants to the stars. He had all the celebrity clients, members of The Bee Gees and Slade, Crocodile Rockers and footballers. And I remember him telling me once he invented the costs of treatment on the spot, depending upon the wealth of the client across the table. He made a lot of money from sheiks and other men who couldn’t stand the idea of being bald. I used to joke that I was the best advert in the world walking into the clinic and the worst every time I walked out.

But dad was nothing compared with his dad, and you’ll get the Frank Abernathy reference now, if you’ve seen Catch Me if You Can. See, granddad (who I never met) was special.  For years I’ve toyed with writing the novel of his life, I’ve even got a title (The Last of the Great Liars), but the problem is I don’t think anyone would believe it. Here’s my understanding of how it went down. This may or may not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, but then, we’re talking about secrets and lies here.

Age 18 he signed up with the Canadian mounted police, and actually seemed to have it all there, beautiful fiancé who became wife, great job and eventually three kids, but wanderlust kicked in and he just picked up and walked off, joined the merchant navy and sailed into my grandmother’s life. He was sunk twice on the way, which always makes me think of him as a bit of an Uncle Albert. Anyway, he pitched up in Somerset, met my gran, married and had three kids, including my dad, and again everything was hunky and dory, you know apart from the one telling detail, the wife and three kids back in Canada… but this was pre-internet, hell, to a large extent it was pre-pretty much everything we think of as common place today.  Now, maybe it was a pathology, maybe he couldn’t stand being happy, but even as he’s got Nan and the kids on one side of the country he’s setting up another family on the other coast, another marriage, more kids. My dad told me recently how his father had taken him out to dinner, given him a five bob note and told him he was the man of the family now and how he had to look after his mum, and then just walked out to join the other family he’d set up. Not that they were enough to keep him. He’d reinvented himself several more times during his life, abandoning his family each time, at one point working on the Trans Siberian Railway, on oil pipelines in Eastern Europe and working his way down eventually to Australia where he ended up working as a cook for gold miners and getting himself adopted as a friendly grandfather for a new family. And, in keeping with his larger than life life, his death was the stuff of legend. He told them he had cancer, got in a car and drove into the outback, lay down at the side of the road and waited to die. Of course, there was no cancer. Pretty much nothing in his life was true. Remarkably, he ended up on children’s tv in Adelaide, where he made elaborate model ships, and something like 2,000 people turned up at his funeral. How do we know all this? He kept a travelling chest and in it was all of the documentation, the birth certificates, marriage certificates, pay slips, everything to track him across continents and through reinvention after reinvention all the way back to the beginning. But here’s the interesting thing, all of it was redacted. The names of the people blacked out to protect them. All of it except for my grandmother and their three children. Meaning that at Nan’s funeral, the priest delivered the eulogy, describing her as the loving mother of David, Wrey, Anthony and John… and everyone’s looking around thinking John? Who the hell is John? Only to discover it was one of the bastard children come following the path of breadcrumbs laid down by the travelling chest.

Now, and this bit kills me, he did all of this under his own name. He’d completely reinvent everything about himself apart from his name. It couldn’t happen today, not in the era of the big brother that is the internet where nothing ever gets forgotten. But it happened back then, and looking at my lineage it doesn’t surprise me that I ended up doing what I do, telling stories, inventing and reinventing things. Telling elaborate lies for a living.

Like I said, Parallel Lines has a core of liars at its heart. But the one I sympathise most with is Richard Rhodes. You see he’s a good man, or at least wants to be a good man. But he wants the glamour, too. He just can’t help himself. He may not be up there on the scale with my grandfather, but he’s certainly caught by the glamour of not being his average ordinary self for a few hours when he walks into Archer’s casino. He can’t help himself. He wants to feel the way those other guys do, the cool ones who have the perfect stubble and the gravelly voice and those melt-the-knickers eyes. So he reinvents himself, just like granddad did, and for just a couple of hours he might even get to be all that he pretends to be. The thing is, once the lie is spoken it is only ever going to end badly for him. Which is good for us, because secrets and lies make the world go around.  And stories would be really dull without them.

 

Parallel Lines is published by Titan Books and is available to order here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parallel-Lines-Steven-Savile/dp/1783297913/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490130680&sr=1-1&keywords=parallel+lines

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March 31

Bloq – Alan Jones

BloqA gritty crime thriller.

Glasgow man Bill Ingram waits in the city’s Central Station to meet his daughter, returning home from London for Christmas. When the last train pulls in, and she doesn’t get off it, he makes a desperate overnight dash to find out why.

His search for her takes over his life, costing him his job and, as he withdraws from home, family and friends, he finds himself alone, despairing of ever seeing her again.

 

I received my review copy from the author in return for an honest review.

Bloq is going to be a tricky review to write.  I like to provide the official book description (as above) and in my review I generally include a personal overview of the story and explain why I liked the book I am discussing. However, I cannot tell you WHY I enjoyed Bloq as it would just mean dropping massive spoilers. I CAN tell you that I loved it and didn’t want to put it down.

For no reason I can really explain (other than that I love an ongoing crime series) I had expected Alan Jones to set his new book in Glasgow and bring back Eddie Henderson, the lead character from his fantastic thriller Blue Wicked. I met Alan at the end of 2015 and although he wouldn’t tell me anything about Bloq he was quite happy to assure me Eddie was not returning!

So I picked up Bloq with no idea of what to expect and I tried to avoid other reviews before I read the story so that I could approach the book with a totally open mind. What I found was a gripping tale of a father’s obsession over his missing daughter, a deeply disturbing ‘bad guy’ to loathe and the dark shocking twists which turn a good thriller into a great thriller.

Bloq is the name of a London nightclub. Lead character, Bill Ingram, has travelled from Glasgow to London to try and find his daughter – the only real clue he has to her whereabouts is that she was a regular visitor to the Bloq nightclub. Bill visits the club but there is no sign of his daughter, the club manager gives Bill the owner’s address but that trail leads nowhere either and Bill is stumped where to turn next. What Bill does not realise is that his enquiries have caught someone’s attention and that he is now being followed.

As I alluded to previously, everything that is good about Bloq needs to be discovered by the reader as they follow Bill around London. You cannot know too much about this book in advance – avoiding spoilers is the key to maximum enjoyment. It is not the easiest of reads at times as Alan Jones seems to enjoy being really nasty to his characters. There are tough times ahead for Bill and as he leans more about his daughter’s potential fate you begin to wonder if you actually want Bill to find her!

Bloq scores a ‘must read’ 5/5 review from me.

Bloq Blog Tour

 

 

Bloq is published on 1st April through Ailsa Publishing – you can order your copy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bloq-Alan-Jones-ebook/dp/B01CLH5AUE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459374016&sr=8-1&keywords=bloq

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February 3

Beyond The Rage – Michael J Malone

Beyond The RageEven though he’s a successful criminal, Glasgow villain Kenny O’Neill is angry. Not only has his high-class escort girlfriend just been attacked, but his father is reaching out to him from the past despite abandoning Kenny as a child after his mother’s suicide. Kenny is now on a dual mission to hunt down his girl’s attacker and find out the truth about his father… but instead he unravels disturbing family secrets and finds that revenge is not always sweet.

An intelligent, violent thriller shot through with dark humour, Beyond the Rage enthralls and disturbs in equal measure. With an intricate plot, all-too-believable characters and perfectly pitched dialogue, this is a masterclass in psychological crime fiction writing.

 

Thanks to Michael for giving me the chance to read his book (and for signing it too).

Some books are hard work to grind through: they are too self-indulgent or have lots of random characters that bog down the plot. Then there are the books which I put down and cannot even recall the lead character’s name – bland and unremarkable. However, there are also the diamonds – the books that are a joy to read. These are slick, they are entertaining and have a captivating story. I am happy to report that Beyond The Rage falls very much into the latter category, I was swallowed up in a great story while a web of lies, deception and danger was spun around me.

Despite being a successful criminal and dangerous bad guy our protagonist, Kenny O’Neill, generally comes across as a nice guy. He is an engaging character and his dubious occupation is easily overlooked as we empathise with the situations he finds himself in. As the story begins we dip back into the past to learn about Kenny’s parents, we hear that his mother died when he was just 12 and (almost immediately afterwards) his father walked out to leave Kenny in the care of his aunt and uncle.

Jump forward to present day and Kenny is a successful player in the Glasgow criminal sub-culture. So when someone attacks his girlfriend Kenny takes it very personally and sets out to uncover who may be responsible and vows to make them pay. His investigations bring him into contact with gangsters, politicians, thugs, the police and a fair few prostitutes yet Kenny takes it all in his stride.

Meanwhile Kenny’s aunt has some news regarding his long-lost father. She has been holding onto a letter that arrived on Kenny’s 18th birthday, could it be possible that his father was still around? Kenny is not sure yet, despite all the time that has passed, he decides he wants to find out more about his absent parent. Ignoring warnings about raking up the past, Kenny enlists the help of his best friend Detective Inspector Ray McBain to learn more about his father. (McBain is the star of two of Malone’s previous books and it is great to see him making a couple of cameo appearances).

Beyond The Rage puts Kenny through emotional and physical turmoil. He finds himself pitted against the adversarial Mason Budge. Budge is responsible for attacking Kenny’s girlfriend and clearly he enjoyed the experience as he is stalking her keen to get the chance to repeat the experience. Budge is a constant threat to Kenny (even if Kenny is not always aware of it) yet we know that Budge is acting under orders and Malone deftly keeps the real reasons that Kenny is being targeted just out of our reach.

The finale provided a few unexpected shocks and, with hand on heart, I can confess I was totally wrong in most of my assumptions as to where the story was heading. Beyond The Rage is a brilliant read…the characters are well realised, expertly utilised and the story is gripping. I have no qualms over scoring it 5/5, it’s an absolute gem.

 

Beyond The Rage is available now from Saraband books. Follow Michael J Malone on Twitter @michaelJmalone1

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August 21

The Drop – Dennis Lehane

The Drop follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski through a cover scheme of

Movie Adaptation incoming
Movie Adaptation Incoming

funnelling cash to local gangsters — ‘money drops’ — in the underworld of Boston bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families and foes all work together to make a living — no matter the cost.

 

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for review.

 

Several years ago I discovered Dennis Lehane’s excellent Kenzie-Gennaro novels and at the time I thought they were one of the best collections that I owned. I persuaded friends and colleagues to read them and bought multiple copies of some of the titles as my books were not returned if I lent them out.   The fifth book Prayers for Rain came out in 1999 and then…

…Lehane moved on to new projects and didn’t return to Kenzie and Genarro until 2010 with Moonlight Mile (which I missed as I didn’t know about it until yesterday). During the intervening 11 year period he penned several other works which included Mystic River and Shutter Island both of which were adapted to film and became box office successes.

Getting the chance to read The Drop was something of a treat – by reading it I indirectly discover some of my favourite characters have retuned while I was not paying attention AND I get to enjoy a story by an author I have not read since 1999. Yup didn’t read any of the stand-alone novels – planning to go back though.

The reason I know I will go back to Lehane’s work is that The Drop was fabulous. It is a story about people. Nice people, bad people, mis-understood people, missing people and scary people but it is the author’s skill at making their lives intertwine that make this story so strong. Oh, there is a dog too!

The principle focus of The Drop is barkeeper Bob Saginowski. Through Bob we learn about the Chechen gangsters that have taken over the organised crime in his corner of Boston. They use the bar where Bob works as a ‘drop’ to pass money gained from gambling and prostitution. During the story someone robs the bar on the night a drop is to happen. This leads to some unhappy gangsters and places Bob in a predicament as he has to find a way to replace the lost money. He also has to find a way to stop his new dog fouling in his house. Both these issues seem to have equal concern for Bob such is his approach to life.

While Bob is a laid-back and uncomplicated fellow he crosses paths with an ex-convict who is borderline psychotic – their clashes are peppered through the tale and I found myself rooting for barkeep Bob to repel the bully. When a writer engages my sense of injustice I find myself more drawn to the story – naturally I want the bully to get a taste of their own medicine.

The beauty of The Drop is how the characters are developed as the story unfolds – to even allude to some of the best twists would be criminal – this is a tale you need to enjoy for yourself with little pre-conception as to what may be about to happen.

The strength of this story is the characterisation and the interchange between characters – this is not a book that ends every chapter on a dramatic cliff-hanger or rolls from set play to set play in a frenzy of adrenaline. To be clear though, this is not a boring story either – far from it. You engage with the characters and want to hear more about them, pages fly past and you get drawn into their small Bostonian corner. I loved it and was sorry to reach the last chapter all too soon.

The Drop is available from 2 September.

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