Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Without Conscience is not great literature. In fact, it isn’t literature at all. Mr Davies’ unique combination of hardboiled detective story, Golden Age murder mystery, and psychological thriller is quite clearly ‘genre’ or ‘commercial’ fiction. Like all good quality crime writing, however, the novel not only entertains, but also challenges the division of literature into ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ with its emotional depth. The story demands attention from the very first page, establishing a recipe for danger, intrigue, and drama as the three main characters are introduced: Harryboy Jenkins, a psychopathic army deserter; Johnny ‘One Eye’ Hawke, a tough private eye with a heart of gold; and Peter Blake, an orphan evacuated from London during the Blitz. The contrast between Johnny and Harryboy is a particularly fine example of the protagonist and antagonist as two sides of the same archetype, paragon and shadow. Both men are haunted by their pasts, and both are victims of circumstance. Where Johnny has emerged sensitive and noble, determined to make the world a better place, Harryboy is a savage killer, hell bent on self-gratification no matter what the cost to others.
Like the characters, the setting – London in 1942, the year after the Blitz – is original and inventive. It provides an edgy, realistic background to the plot, and debunks the myth that Britons pulled together in the face of Nazi aggression. Violent crime, theft, and fraud all actually increased during the war years. While the Thin Blue Line was stretched to breaking point as policemen resigned to enlist, wartime conditions gave birth to new crimes (blackout gangs, looting, billeting fraud), and provided increased opportunities for old (the murder rate in London is estimated to have increased by twenty percent from 1939 to 1945). Never was there a greater need for a knight in rusty armour to rescue a chain-smoking damsel in distress.
Clichés in dialogue and description abound, but they are carefully crafted to recreate a classic film noir atmosphere in print. The only criticism worth noting is in the use of both first and third person voices, which sometimes interrupts the flow of the otherwise cogent storytelling. The conflicting motivations of the characters drive a taught plot: Harryboy murders a clergyman and preys on Rachel Howells, a young innocent lost in London; Johnny accepts a domestic case concerning a cross-dresser that turns into a murder investigation; and Peter resolves to escape from his guardians. The tension builds as Harryboy appears to commit a second and third murder, with Rachel as an unwitting accomplice. Meanwhile, Johnny discovers there may be more to his case than a robbery gone wrong, and Peter arrives at his flat as a runaway, setting the stage for a nail-biting climax.
Without Conscience is the third Johnny One Eye novel, and the best so far; an exciting, informed, and thought-provoking tale of crime in wartime London.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool by Ed Gorman, published by Robert Hale, 2008.
‘A hero with a heart of gold’ is a phrase which has been used to describe a number of fictional private investigators over the years, including Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, and Mosley’s Easy Rawlins. It alludes to the type of protagonist who is tough enough to handle all the trouble that comes his or her way, but also possesses a strong sense of morality and a great capacity for compassion; the kind of sympathetic character with whom everyone can identify. No one – not even the great writers above – has found so perfect a balance of unsentimental pathos as Mr Gorman with Sam McCain: he has created the ultimate ‘good guy’ of detective fiction, a hero whose fate will concern even the most cynical of readers.
McCain is a practicing lawyer who works as a part-time investigator for Judge Whitney in the invented town of Black River Falls, in the American Midwest. In addition to his genuine concern for his clients, McCain’s true colours are shown in his fledgling romance with Linda Dennehy, a childhood friend recovering from a mastectomy and divorce. The subplot is not only touching and revelatory, but also fiercely compelling. McCain finds a dead girl in a gazebo at the party of a wealthy couple. Suspicion falls on David Egan, the local tearaway, who has at least three lovers other than the deceased. When bigoted Sheriff Clifford Sykes Junior decides to arrest Egan, McCain leaps to his defence, and involves himself in an investigation that quickly results in a second death.
Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool was first published in 2004, is the fifth in the series, and set in the summer of 1961. Along with the strong characterisation, Mr Gorman brings a real knowledge of and affinity for the period, which complements the intriguing plot and original voice. There is no artificiality here, no deliberate or forced historical references; there isn’t even a sense of nostalgia. The recreation of time and place is as effortless and natural as if the author had written the novel forty years ago and held it back from publication. Perhaps he did. Regardless, it is an absolute pleasure to read: McCain is a jewel and his world a masterpiece.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
At last I have my new story in its finished form. What a pleasure to have in my hands the published book, set out in a neat, tidy form, no longer the dogeared heap of papers the A4 version had turned into.
Now there is another splendid cover by David Young, which makes it plain the story is set in Bath. It was fun to walk the streets there to check the time needed for Greg and the girls to get around town to the Assembly Rooms or the Pump Room. And of course, I'm so fascinated by the scene in Jane Austen's Persuasion where Anne and Captain Wentworth spend ages going up the Gravel Walk that I send my hero and heroine along there too, in homage.
In All Honour is set in 1812 and tells the further adventures of Greg Thatcham. At the end of The Wild Card he was left with a broken heart. It was just not possible to leave such a splendid character like that, however. Life has forced many changes on Greg but he is not the man to refuse a challenge.
In All Honour is published on 31st March.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
It is said that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
But it is the cover image which often attracts a reader or buyer to a particular book.
More importantly, in today’s cyber-savvy world many books are ordered via the internet and the jacket image is the only indication of the essence of the story.
Hence the need for a good cover.
Last night I received a digital copy of the jacket cover for The Condor’s Feather and I am delighted with it.
Artist, Michael Thomas, has not only depicted the sweeping pampas with the jagged peaks of the Andes in the background, but also a pair of Criollo horses, the riders, and the ever-faithful Newfoundland dogs, Byron and Bella, which accompany the party on their exciting and often dangerous expedition across the wilds of Patagonia.
Of course the soaring condor is not forgotten.
To learn more about the book, my recent visit to South America and to discover what inspired me to write this novel, go to: http://www.squidoo.com/thecondorsfeather
The Condor’s Feather is due for publication in July, 2009 and will be available for order on-line from Hale Books, Amazon or good book stores.
My thanks to Michael Thomas.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Stephen Theaker, of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction and British Fantasy Society fame, has his own take on book promotion...
Rafe McGregor's all out of Murder
Rafe McGregor, who contributed Fleet to Dark Horizons 53, is having a fine time of it with his new novel The Architect of Murder, published by Robert Hale Ltd: the initial print run of a thousand copies has already sold out. That's what appearing in Dark Horizons does for a writer's career!
I might just have to send him another short story...
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Paul D. Gilbert, published by Robert Hale, 2008.
This collection is the second by the author, following The Lost Casebook of Sherlock Holmes last year, and marks a definite improvement and maturation of style. Mr Gilbert’s Holmes and Watson are the creations of Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke rather than Conan Doyle, but given the great popularity Brett brought to the Great Detective, his characterisation may be a strength rather than a failing. Regardless, the author’s enthusiasm for Holmes shines through in a remarkably original collection.
All seven of the stories are based on Watson’s references to Holmes’ unrecorded cases, and the titles are worth noting for enthusiasts: Baron Maupertuis, The Remarkable Disappearance of James Phillimore, The Affair of the Aluminium Crutch, The Adventure of the Abominable Wife, The Adventure of the Cutter ‘Alicia’, The Adventure of the Red Leech, and The Mystery of the Mumbling Duellist. Mr Gilbert has been brave enough to attempt two of the most notorious of Watson’s references, and takes the unprecedented step of intentionally linking The Adventure of the Red Leech and The Mystery of the Mumbling Duellist.
The idea is inspired, and not only provides a smooth segue from one to the other, but also reminds us that Conan Doyle either had his tongue firmly in his cheek, or simply forgot how similar the references were. Mr Gilbert’s red leech is in fact Holmes’ client, a man named Crosby who suffers from the skin condition known as solar urticaria, and whose brother is missing. The mumbling duellist is Isadora Persano, who has been driven mad by the bite of a South American worm. Holmes investigates his attempted murder.
Well worth the read for anyone who enjoyed either Conan Doyle’s originals or the Granada TV series. I wonder if Mr Gilbert is daring enough to attempt the Dundas Separation Case in his next collection? For those who don’t remember, this was the gentleman who “…had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling them at his wife…” (from A Case of Identity). Tongue in cheek indeed!
A cautionary note: Hale's choice of title is unfortunate, as it creates confusion with Denis O. Smith's series, The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes, published by Calabash Press from 1997 to 2002. I'm not sure if they're still in print, but Mr Smith's work is a rare treat, and all four volumes reward the effort of tracking them down on the secondhand market.
Why would I be amused, you might ask? Shouldn’t I be jumping for joy? The fact is, I immediately took that list with a very large pinch of salt (make it a spade, or even a whole wagon-full). The bestselling list is compiled by Tower.com Books, an offshoot of Tower Records, and my book is number 16 on their list of Mystery and Detective: Historical Fiction Top 100. Since I’m in excellent company -- listed just after an audio recording of Danielle Steel, with Mary Balogh, one of my favorite regency authors, heading the list -- I have no intention of complaining, naturally.
You’ll still be wondering then why I’m not jumping up and down with joy.
Well, first, because it is quite difficult to find the aforementioned bestseller list on the website. It would take a dedicated searcher some time to find it. In fact, with all the interest in the world because it was my own book and I wanted to track it down, it took me some time to find the list myself.
Second – and far more importantly, because herein lies the crux of the matter, An Improper Suitor has been classified as Mystery and Detective Historical Fiction. You’ll understand my misgivings about this when you know that I never set out to write in either genre! Talk about the arbitrary nature of publisher’s and bookseller’s categories…
On the other hand, what was that saying about looking gift horses in the mouth?
Once I had finally come to terms that I was a bestseller on a very obscure list of books not in my genre at all, imagine the extent of my disappointment when I realized that the Mystery and Detective: Historical list was simply arranged by order of publication…
Sherlock Holmes in Russia by Alex Auswaks, published by Robert Hale, 2008.
This is an excellent collection of seven Sherlock Holmes adventures, written by two Russian authors; a rare treat for all crime fiction fans, and long overdue. The introduction, by George Piliev, tells the fascinating story of how these tales came to be written, in the context of the Sherlockian phenomenon in Russia. Conan Doyle’s detective came to Russia in 1893, via Germany, and was so popular that a host of (presumably unauthorised) imitators sprung up, creating a subgenre of it’s own in the first decade of the twentieth century. Mr Piliev explains how Holmes reached an even greater audience when Russian writers decided to transport him and Watson from Baker Street to Russia, on the premise that they travelled widely in the country and became fluent in the language.
There is something very appealing about Holmes going on another eastern excursion after his last case in 1903, rather than retiring to keep bees (Conan Doyle’s tongue must have been sore from the number of times he placed it in his cheek). While Doyle quite rightly guarded his creation jealously (he took action when Maurice Leblanc included Holmes in an Arsène Lupin story), one can’t help thinking he might have enjoyed the Russian approach, especially once he began to regard Holmes as a burden: two of these seven stories end with the Great Detective missing, presumed dead.
Most of the cases concern thefts of different sorts, which perhaps reflects the concerns of the Russian middle class at the time. The first two, by P. Orlovetz, are the best: The Brothers’ Gold Mine has a fiendishly clever solution, and despite a dull title and very slow pace, The Railroad Thieves is superb. The richness of atmosphere and detail in the depiction of life on the Siberian railway is completely compelling. The Strangler, by P. Nikitin, has the most potential, but is let down by a poor action sequence in the finale. It is nonetheless a brooding, grim Gothic mystery in the spirit of The Copper Beeches and The Speckled Band, with a touch of The Final Problem thrown in.
One mystery remains: absolutely nothing is known about the two authors who created these marvellous tales. Mr Piliev and the publisher both deserve the thanks of mystery fans worldwide, but the greatest credit should go to Alex Auswaks, the translator, for his painstaking work in building such a fantastic bridge from Baker Street to Vladivostok.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
From Texan author Bill Crider, who has an excellent blog of his own over at Bill Crider's Popular Culture Magazine:
Rafe McGregor maintains an excellent blog, well worth your time. He’s also the author of a fine new novel,The Architect of Murder, published by Robert Hale.
The story involves a number of real and fictional characters, including Cecil John Rhodes, whose last will and testament kick off the events of the book. One of the witnesses to Rhodes’s will, Eric Lowenstein, is murdered. Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Melville, head of the Special Branch, recruits Major Alec Marshall VC, just back from the fighting in South Africa to help investigate. As it happens, Marshall’s sister has also recently died under mysterious circumstances. If you’re a mystery reader, you already know that the two events will turn out to be connected.
The setting is London, 1902, and it’s evoked quite well. If you know a little bit about the history of the time and the events in South Africa, you’ll probably enjoy the book even more. There’s some dandy police procedure (McGregor is a Sherlockian), and plenty of interesting characters to carry the story along. Not to mention action. Even a swordfight! I got a kick out of some of the things I thought of as little in-jokes (Melville is referred to once or twice as “Mr. M.” and there’s also a “Mr. Q.”) The plot has plenty of twists, and I suspect that hardly anyone will figure out all of them. I know I didn’t.
The Architect of Murder looks like a hit to me. The ending plainly sets the stage for a sequel, and I think we’ll see one for sure.
Monday, March 9, 2009
I received a little bit of good news from Hale last Friday: the first print run of The Architect of Murder sold out earlier in the week, several days after publication on the 27th February. A big thank you to all my readers; I hope you aren't disappointed.
Hale are taking pre-orders for the second print run direct, and also through the usual channels like Amazon, Borders, etc...
Westminster, 1902: Major Alec Marshall VC, newly back in London, is enlisted to make inquiries into the will of the late Cecil John Rhodes, the wealthiest man in the British Empire. That same night one of the witnesses to the will, Eric Lowenstein, is found beaten to death in a seedy boarding house, where he was lodging under a false name. As London prepares for King Edward VII's coronation, Marshall discovers that Lowenstein harboured a deadly secret concerning not only the vast fortune Rhodes amassed, but the very future of the Empire. Marshall's investigation takes him into the dark heart of a flawed genius, and sets him on a personal journey that will change his life forever.
During the Second Boer War, Great Britain lost her most famous queen, her wealthiest citizen, and twenty thousand soldiers. Back from the veldt, Alec Marshall thinks the fighting is finished, but a new battle has begun...on the mean streets of Westminster.
"excellent writing" Bernard Knight
"a fascinating marriage of investigative mayhem with keen attention to historical detail" Graham Hurley
"a fine new novel" Bill Crider.
"hugely enjoyable" Books Monthly
Friday, March 6, 2009
Still getting some great reviews for Murder Most Welcome which came out last May. This one is from the Historical Novel Review.
MURDER MOST WELCOME
Charlotte Richmond is an outwardly grieving Victorian widow who comes to live with her husband’s family. Her husband’s apparent death in India came as a welcome relief to Charlotte, and she hopes to settle down to a quiet life in an English village after her own rather shady upbringing. When her husband returns unexpectedly he puts the house in an uproar. It is when he is murdered for a second time that the fun starts and Charlotte’s own past threatens to catch up with her. Villains and fainting Victorian ladies--this book has it all. Nicola Slade’s attention to period detail and fast action with a mix of romance makes this a worthy successor to those 19th-century sensation novelists. It is a well paced and witty read from start to finish, and one of the most entertaining books I have ever read.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
A new century brings change to the carefully ordered world Eden Harris maintains - change that threatens all she holds dear.
Despite years of devoted service to the Bradburys, the leading family of the community, Eden hides a secret that would affect them all, a secret shared only with her husband, Nathan and grandfather. Then an enemy returns, shattering her world and exposing her secret.
Torn and provoked, she strains to protect her family until a devastating accident robs her of Nathan, and she is alone and frightened. As the threat against her grows, Eden takes her precious daughters and flees from the country estate and the cottage she's called home, to live amongst masses in York.
Her attempt to start anew is not so simple as the past haunts her, and the one man she thought lost to her so many years before, returns to claim what has always been his. Eden must gather her strength and look into her heart to accept what the future offers.
Woodland Daughter is available from Amazon UK and The Book Depository.
Monday, March 2, 2009
The blog will try to keep readers updated on all the new BHW related material as it becomes available. In time the blog may provide new material itself, but in the main it will be a place for readers to visit to find out what the latest BHW news is without having to trawl through dozens of different western-related sites.
I am unsure if this resource will turn out to be useful. As I don't wish to merely duplicate information that is readily available elsewhere after a while I will review how effective it has become and how difficult it is to manage. But it is hoped that this blog will help bring together the on-line Black Horse community and provide a valuable tool for readers.
The site is available here: http://blackhorseexpress.blogspot.com/
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Chap/Keith's story can be foud HERE...please support and spread the name of the Hale Authors by leaving a comment on the story. I know Chap/Keith will appreciate it. The webzine is very popular and takes fiction in many genres. It's aiming to be a digital version of the old pulp magazines.
And here's Chap's email....
This week I have a short story featured at Beat to a Pulp.
is an avenue others here might like to explore, especially if they have
unplaced short fiction languishing in their files.
Editors Elaine Ash and David Cranmer are always looking for
contributions. The format is a story a week followed by reader comments.
There's no payment, alas, but it does get you some reader reaction and
new, worldwide (especially US) exposure. You will also see how you can
work in a plug for your newest novel.
My story is called "The Unreal Jesse James" and it's obviously western,
but also historical romance, SF ... weird, fantasy, humour -- you name
it ... plus some social theory and politics thrown in for good measure.
"Eech! A dog's breakfast!" I hear the cry.
Well, maybe it is, all in one ss, but go along and have a look at Beat
to a Pulp for other reasons. If you have time, please read the Jesse
James experiment and perhaps leave a comment there for everyone to read.