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Friday, 12 February 2021

Exit by Belinda Bauer BOOK REVIEW

Belinda Bauer is marketed as a crime writer, and yet she is only a crime writer in the sense that Stephen King is a horror writer, for like Mr King Belinda transcends a genre which is unable to contain her. Her previous book, the Booker Longlisted, Snap was one of the darkest and yet most heartwarming books I've read for many years and I raved about it to anyone who would listen. Her new book is much lighter in tone than the aforementioned masterwork, though it does concern a murder most foul. Trouble is it's the funniest murder any reader is likely to come across in all crime literature.

The cleverly constructed, ever so twisty plot concerns an organisation known as the Exiters - a group of kindly people who sit with terminally ill patients who have decided that suicide is the only way out of a life that has become nothing but misery and extreme pain. The exiters don't provide assisstance in the act of sucide but merely offer support when it is most needed - these people know how to stay on the right side of the law.

The book opens with 75 year old Felix, an experianced exiter and a young girl called Amanda (all good eyebrows and no experience) turning up at an address to aid in the suicide of an elderly man who is being tortured by cancer. However all is not as it seems and Felix and Amanda are horrified to discover that they have killed the wrong man. Felix being the noble sort decides to take the blame himself and keep Amanda out of it, but first he has to decide when to hand himself into the police but not, of course until he'd walked his dog.


What follows is an often hilarious thriller that keeps the pages turning as one unlikely event follow another until the final, didn't see that coming denouncement. In places the plot reminded me of Tom Sharpe, in others Agatha Christie but at the end of the day the book comes from an original voice and one of the most widly creative in all of the crime genre.


Tuesday, 26 January 2021

The Next Victim by Helen H. Durrant: Book Review

 This book, the first to feature DCI Rachel King, hits the ground running by given us the killer's point of view quite early in the narrative while opening up the world  the characters inhabit around the tightly constructed plot. Of course the nucleus of the story is the life of Detective Rachel King, late Thirties, divorced (fictional lead detectives usually are), two teenage children and an hectic work and home life balance. Add to this the fact that Rachel is still very much in love with (even if she doesn't want to admit it to herself) an old flame who just happens to be a notorious gangster, and you have a heady mix indeed.

This last element added a lot to the character of Rachel and promises much for later books in the series. It really is an intriguing aspect to the premise and when Rachel and Mr gangster team up towards the end of the book this offers an original twist on that old chestnut; the ill-matched pair. It's more Hart to Corleone than Hart to Hart. Although joking aside, this part of the plot works really well, is handled with panache and seems perfectly natural to the story that the author tells. In fact, it left me eager to get into the second book in the series and find where this relationship will go next.

The blurb -

A young man’s body is found burnt and tortured by a Manchester canal.

Detective Rachel King investigates. But she has a secret, the love of her life is a well-known villain. He has recently come back on the scene. But what does he really want?

A brutal serial killer with a taste for good-looking young blonde men.

A student who believes she has a lost brother. But even her own father doesn’t believe her. 

Helen H. Durrant

The Next Victim is one of those books that grips the reader very early on and I found myself rooting for the main character and becoming invested in her messier than messy private life, while she tried to juggle a heavy work load and stop a serial killer. All of the characters ring true and the pacing of the story is faultless with events happening naturally in the narrative and carrying the reader hurtling towards the final denouncement with that twist, that to be honest I'd figured out by the last quarter of the story but nevertheless kept me enthralled.

An excellent book.

Available in eBook, print and audio versions.

Monday, 25 January 2021

2021 - The Colour Kindle

 Rumours are rife on technical websites that Amazon are to finally release a colour eInk version of the Kindle for 2021, and this now looks to be a sure thing. 

The current range of Kindle devices are more that three years old. 

Amazon didn't release any new Kindles last year due to the fact that their hardware is made by Foxcon in China and given the Covid situation the factory has been running at only 30% capacity.

 Several times during 2020 Amazon's Kindle range were completely sold out, before stock was replenished so the market is obviously out there.

At the moment there are a few colour eReaders due out in the first quarter of this year and these will use the second generation Kaleido colour ePaper which has great contrast and its greyscale will work fine with front lighted displays. The format will work on screens from 5.84 to 10 inches and eInk have said that they are ramping up production of colour screens both in California and China.

This serves as a threat to Amazon because any eReader that runs Android will be able to use the Amazon Kindle App, which of course will see Amazon losing out on hardware sales.

Add all this to the fact that Amazon have become a reactionary company in terms of new technologies - waiting for rivals to try out new technologies and iron out the bugs, before stepping in with their Kindle version - then it looks like the smart money is on the Kindle finally going colour.

2021 then, is certain to be the year of the colour kindle.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

King's Reach by John Sander's: Book Review


Whilst I found this book deeply interesting and very readable I was hugely disappointed in that the book was not what I expected it to be. Billed as the story of 25 years at the top of comics, I expected this to tell the story of the creative process behind some of the iconic British comics that Fleetway/IPC published during the glory days when newsagents everywhere stocked their titles.

Although titles like Battle, Action and 2000AD are mentioned it is only in passing as the narrative is more concerned with the business side of comic publishing, rather than the creative nuts and bolts. It's kind of ironic that John Sanders uses the phrase Bean-counter to describe the men in suits who were only interested in the bottom line of the comic business and yet his narrative paints him very much as a bean counter himself.

In fairness though if you are looking for an overview of the business side of British comic publishing then this book certainly delivers that, and it is quite fascinating, but it rarely mentions any of the creative geniuses who led British comics during the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's and when they are mentioned we get a surge of bitchiness towards Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson that would make a street corner gossip blush.

In all I would say that this is a good book but it's not a real examination of the comics that made up the childhood of readers of my age, but rather an examination of the business of comic publishing with Sanders often coming across as the be all and end all of the British comics industry, which of course he certainly was not.

The book comes good in the end with a frank account of the Maxwell days and the demise of one arm of British comics, but I was expecting a very different book.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Digital Book sales boom during Covid Crisis

 With the world closed down and book shops having to shut their doors, readers were moved to look to digital books in order to get their reading material. The online resource, Publish-drive recently issued a white paper that looked at the boom in digital publishing during these troubled times.

We’ve been reporting the trends and data on our blog since March 2020, where indies selling digital books via PublishDrive saw growth by at least 20%. In April 2020, we reported another 23% growth. In May 2020, sales increased by 60% in one year. In June 2020, sales increased by 66% in one year. Demand is high right now.

Genre fiction did particularly well.

In July, summer book trends were obvious. Romance genres became even more popular than before, with a 47% growth rate compared to the previous month. Other popular genres under fiction included Mystery (27%), Action & Adventure (10%), Literary (6%), Thriller (4%), and Fantasy books (13%).

Non-fiction titles maintained solid growth, especially Religion (45%), Family & Relationships (4%), Education (2%), and Music (2%). Compared to July 2019, the largest growth overall came from Fantasy (174%), Literary (29%), Music (412%), Religion (121%), Sci-Fi (60%), Self-Help (68%), Social Science (135%), Thriller (115%), Family & Relationships (235%), Business (58%), Health & Fitness (82%), and History (67%).


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

McCartney III: aLbum review

 Let's talk Paul McCartney's new album, McCartney III - The previous two self titled albums were released at times when the artist found himself at crossroads in his career - McCartney came in 1970 just as the Beatles were falling apart, and McCartney II arrived ten years later just as Wings were about to be grounded.

'Well I can find my way, I know my left from right.'


This time out circumstances are somewhat different, though like the previous two McCartney albums this was recorded during a time of great  upheaval. Macca had planned on spending 2020 touring the globe but the pandemic found him confined to barracks and so given his workaholic condition and the fact that he has a  state of the art recording studio at his Sussex home he wrote a bunch of new songs, completed some old ones and here we have it, McCartney III. For Macca lockdown became rockdown.

'Chasing the morrow, getting ready to run'

It's a damn fine album too, that mostly sticks to the concept of the previous two McCartney albums with the artists doing almost everything himself - playing all the instruments, supplying the vocals, both lead and harmony and producing, mixing and even making the coffee. The album also follows the same pattern as the other McCartney albums with several instrumental pieces, a smattering of strange little ditties and the odd masterpiece thrown in.

Beatle fandom is a strange thing and there are some people who will knock this album - they tend to criticize McCartney because his voice is not as powerful as it once was, but that's bullshit and if you follow that lead them you may as well knock Macca for having more wrinkles than Beatle Paul or for having greyer hair than the Wings frontman. 

I'm comfortable with senior Macca and no matter what his detractors say he has remained consistent since those early days on Merseyside. He's still capable of turning out the most saccharine of tunes as well as pulling off something so left-field that he leaves the young turks standing. He's also not averse to singing about fixing fences to protect the chickens. Years ago he was fixing a hole to stop his mind from wandering and now he's ruminating about fixing the fence by the acre patch. All he wants, you know, is a home in the heart of the country.

'Dinosuars and Santa Claus will stay in tonight.'

McCartney seems to be chasing the strangest ideas throughout the album and coming up with some incredibly original tunes which contains that melodic gold that he's known for. Perhaps the strongest track is , Deep Deep Feeling which is astounding in the way vocal layers are built over a minimalist beat. I love that one

Track listing:

Long Tailed Winter Bird

Find my Way

Pretty Boys

Women and Wives

Lavatory Lil

Deep Deep Feeling


The Kiss of Venus

Seize the Day

Deep Down

Winter Bird/When Winter Comes


And so McCartney's late career golden patch continues to shine bright and McCartney III continues a run of great albums that truly reward the listener with repeat spins. For now, I'm off to find the sun when winter comes.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The female of the species


Never trust a dame, beware the broad - they'll turn on you when the chips are down, twist the knife  - least according to the pulps and I use the term, pulp in its broadest sense to include the cheap, slim paperbacks that filled the shops for years, published by the likes of Dell, Gold Medal, Ace and Lancer. In the true sense they were not pulps but they most certainly carried the pulp spirit.

A femme fatale tries to achieve her hidden purpose by using feminine wiles such as beauty, charm, and sexual allure. The phrase translated from the French means deadly woman.

"She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens." Raymond Chandler

In the pulps women always had a hidden agenda - at first they would appear weak and in need of protection but as the story unfolds they would inevitably show their true colours. The kitten would display its claws. The women of the pulps were built strictly for titillation - they were not the type of girls you'd feel comfortable bringing home to meet your mum, least not if you wanted to hang on to your inheritance.

A really good detective never gets married. " Raymond Chandler

"She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket. " Raymond Chandler

"Friendships, like marriages, are dependent on avoiding the unforgivable. " John D. McDonald

Women in the pulps would often appear sweet and innocent but as the reader learned more she would transform from damsel in distress to  psychobitch, always willing to use her nubile pink body (nubile pink body, or variation of such, seems to be a description favoured by pulp writers) to get what she wanted. To the pulp babe the body was as much a weapon as the snub nosed revolver she kept hidden in her purse. Or, for that matter, the sticks of TNT disguised as a lipstick.

Female protagonists were rare in the pulps but that's not to say they didn't exist - Cornell Woolrich wrote a story called Angel Face which was about a women on the vengeance trail that was published in Dime Detective in 1935 with its title changed to Murder in Wax. The story is collected in The Big Book of Pulps edited by Otto Penzler which has an entire section devoted to the pulp babes. Here you will find stories by Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett and a host of less remembered luminaries of the pulp years.

There is however a great article on female pulp writers HERE

Later as the cheap mass market paperbacks started to replace the pulps there were scores upon scores of exploitative fiction hitting the shelves. These books, pornography really, took the exploitation of women to a degree the original pulps would never have dared.

Lesbian thrillers were hugely popular and numbered in their hundreds. And if women weren't engaged in lesbian acts it was only because they were otherwise busy killing, lying, stealing, drugging, drinking or swinging . Much of this was due to the fact that almost exclusively it was men writing for the pulps and the cheap mass market paperbacks. Of course there were some women writers but these were few and far between.

During the Sixties and Seventies, the height of the sexual revolution, it was the age of crude exploitative fictions. Where in the past it had been mystery and murder, with a subtle hint of sex, that had driven the industry it was now very much sex pushed to the forefront bringing everything else with it. And whilst the covers of these books displayed more nudity than the early pulps and paperbacks the artwork was very much in the same style. Some of the writing though was positively pornographic.

"One moment I'd be drawing a dame with a gun in her hand and the next project I'd do the same dame with her tits out.' Steve Bilkins, pulp artist, told Pulp Collector in an interview in 1973.

This was a world away from the 1950's when the Hank Janson books were accused of obscenity.

Ironically these lesbian thrillers, written one handed with young male readers very much in mind, were popular with a large gay female readership.

Stephanie Foote, from the University of Illinois commented on the importance of lesbian pulp novels to the lesbian identity prior to feminism.

"Pulps have been understood as signs of a secret history of readers, and they have been valued because they have been read. The more they are read, the more they are valued, and the more they are read, the closer the relationship between the very act of circulation and reading and the construction of a lesbian community becomes...Characters use the reading of novels as a way to understand that they are not alone."

These days we've moved on both in society and in our reading and women in fiction are much more rounded, real people than they were in the days of the pulps and mass market paperback nasties.

Indeed in the modern world many of the truly great writers are women and the exploitative paperbacks are merely relics of less enlightened times. The pulps live on though and authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Paul M. Cain and Mickey Spillane are immortal and the concept of the femme fatale they helped shape is very much a part of the modern psyche. The Hard Case Crime series continues the long tradition of the femme fatale though and she's just as tough as ever.