In Watermelon Sugar

Watermelon sugar can be many things. It can be refreshing; sickly sweet; indulgent; vapid; rancid; cool; nourishing; and it could probably kill you if abused. I guess that books can be a bit like that, too. So, I'm a reader, a writer and a reviewer. I blog at Sea Minor and my stories and novels live independently of me as if they were stray teenage children off at college and seeing what nuisance they can cause. Hopefully I'll send you in the direction in some great books that you might not otherwise have come across, especially in the noir and crime-writing world.

Three for Free


The first three books in the Southsiders series are free this weekend here

See Them by Ed McBain


After recently reading and thoroughly enjoying The Heckler, I was prepared for See Them Die to be less satisfying, after all when the bar is raised so high not every book can make it over. I couldn't have been more wrong. I'd go as far as to say that this could by my favourite 87th novel so far. This was a really special read. The opening chapter sets the scene, beginning the dissection of the Puerto Rican community on the station's doorstep. It has the feel of Steinbeck, carrying weight and simplicity in equal measure.


The broad strokes soon become more detailed as the focus shifts from the street to the luncheonette run by Luis Amandez. The only customer is Zip, a teenager too proud and arrogant to join the biggest gang in town who has formed his own. He's the leader of the Latin Purples, a gang with only four members that needs to do something major if it's going to gain any reputation.


The pair are soon joined by a drunken sailor who's looking for the local whorehouse and is struggling to come to terms with the fact that it's closed on a Sunday morning. The interplay between the trio is beautiful, the dialogue and action slick and easy and we know everything we need to about them within a few paragraphs. By page three, we know that there are going to be two people lying dead on the street before today, but have no idea who they might be.


The Latin Purples intend to murder a local boy because he made advances towards Zip's girl, China. As it turns out, the advances were merely a hello and China wants nothing to do with Zip, but the boy has to go anyway. The Purples need to splash their colour around and murder will certainly add to their notoriety.


Enter the police. There's friction at headquarters between three of the officers. Puerto Rican local boy made good, Frankie Hernandez, hard nut and cold-hearted Peter Byrnes and main man Steve Carella. There's needle between Byrnes and Hernandez born from the former's racism and general unpleasantness and there's friction between Carella and Byrnes because of a previous encounter where Byrnes over-stepped the mark on the wrong day. Byrnes is on pins because he's keen to nail local anti-hero Pepe Miranda, public enemy number one. Byrne's desperate to finish Miranda off personally and is prepared to take his frustration out on anyone who even looks at him sideways.


Byrnes ends up drinking coffee with the sailor, Zip and Louis. It's all friendly on the surface, but charged by the heat and the growing tension of the city as it springs to life. As the local people wake, the area blossoms like a desert after a rainstorm, stirring the pot and bringing all the main players onto the stage.


The sailor meets China and the pair fall hard for each other as if fate has brought them together so that they can escape their own private hells. Pepe Miranda is discovered in one of the street's buildings and the entire area is swamped by police and spectators while the church bells ring. Hernandez goes to speak to the boy Zip intends to wash. Two members of the Royal Guardians stray into the territory. The loyalties of the Purples become strained as they hide their guns and prepare for action. Tension within the detective builds. A couple of hookers see their opportunity to make some extra cash. A picnic basket is prepared. And people die.


I adored it. The layers of the characters are exposed carefully as contrasts are explored. We see the differences between the law-abiding and the crooks, the gap between generations, the tensions between an immigrant community and the police, the rivalry of gangs, the precarious interplay of lust and love, bravery and cowardice, hope and hopelessness, life and death. As the god overseeing the action McBain plays with us a little. He even tells us that he's doing it. If he were so inclined, he could make all the endings rosy. But he didn't feel like it. There may be melodramatic elements to the story, but I'm a sucker for a good set-up that keeps me on the edge of my seat ready to reach for the hankies.


I reckon See Them Die is like a collision between Angels With Dirty Faces and West Side Story. It's tough stuff with a big heart. And if you listen really carefully, you may even feel the beat of the musical score.


Wonderful stuff.

The Big Thrill


Great to be featured in the magazine of the International Thriller Writers' Magazine, The Big Thrill. Thanks to Charles Salzeburg for doing the honours. 


Interview link here

Price Hike by Preston Lang



Price Hike has just been released by All Due Respect. Contrary to the title, it's available at the early-bird offer of $2.99 and £2.33, both of those a bargain if you like fast-paced crime fiction with strong characters and a complex enough setup to allow for emotional engagement.


It's a complicated affair and too-detailed a description might spoil the fun, so here's a basic intro. A conceited businessman (Kanganis) has made his millions in the pharmaceutical industry. After some issues with one of his products, he's left with a whole lot of pills on his hands. The thing is, the pills (formula P8) actually work and can cure children facing early death from their medical conditions. Jane, a con-artist of some experience, needs to get her hands on the meds to save her own son who is now living with a wet-blanket of her ex-partner. Problem for Jane is that someone has beaten her to the stash and has stolen enough of the pills to save many a child. Jane's not happy and neither is Kandanis, who is too proud to let anyone pull a fast one on him. They both go chasing the prize and both underestimate the prowess of their target as well as the complex web of deception they will have to navigate to get what they want.


Or as the blurb says: Jane is a struggling con artist, estranged from her ex and her sick son, just trying to raise a little cash to buy some black-market meds from a mysterious seller called P8, a dangerous, raspy-voiced woman. Kanganis is a widely-hated pharma executive, furious that the raspy-voiced girl he picked up at a chic downtown bar just ripped him off for millions in prescription drugs. When Jane figures out a way to con P8 out of her entire stash of stolen meds, it’s great news for her kid’s lungs, but it also puts Jane and family in grave danger. Soon they’re on the run from a criminal network bigger and darker than they understand. And when Kanganis begins to use all of his resources and guile to catch up with his lost drugs, the game becomes even more deadly.


Price Hike is a fast-paced tale of con games, corporate greed, and one of the douchiest bros of modern times. It's a really fun read with twists and energy that does the excellent premise of the tale justice. I highly recommend you pick up a copy and give it a whirl.


And isn't that cover something? It's by Eric Beetner and it's not the only thing Price Hike has in common with the designer. I'd say that Price Hike is Beetneresque and you know that means I rate it. Enjoy.

The Heckler by Ed McBain

— feeling amazing

I’ve read a few stories involving the Deaf Man, so it was nice to finally get to meet him at the point when he was actually introduced. He’s a terrific villain who has the capacity to keep the whole of the 87th on their toes. He’s strong, cunning, logical, clinical and lethal and that makes him the perfect adversary for Steve Carella.

It’s April. Myer Myer is visited by an old friend of his father’s. The guy is receiving threatening calls insisting that he leaves one of his business properties by the end of the month, or else. As it happens, a number of other businesses in the city are being heckled and messed about in one way or another. Random packages arrive that were never ordered. Chauffeurs turn up to collect passengers who aren’t going anywhere. An entire catering and entertainment menagerie appear for a wedding where there is neither bride nor groom. The Heckler is creating low-level chaos around the city and for the police and it’s entirely part of the big plan.

Meanwhile, the body of an older man is found wearing nothing but a pair of navy-issue shoes, a pair of socks and a peppering of shotgun pellets. The identity of the guy is a complete mystery, but when an old night-watchman’s uniform is pulled out of an incinerator, the pieces begin to fit together.

They’re all the Deaf Man’s dirty deeds, of course. He’s all set to pull off a major heist and will go to any length to make sure everything goes to plan. The guy is totally ruthless.

The unfolding of the novel is utterly compelling. Whether we’re with the detectives investigating the murder, the businessmen who are victims of threats and practical jokes or following the gang as they prepare to carry out their robbery, the levels of intrigue remain high.

I found it interesting that I was rooting for both the police and the thieves at the same time. By the end of it all, I was hoping the Deaf Man would manage to pull it all off in spite of all the chaos left in his wake. Maybe you’ll feel the same. I won’t tell you how it plays out just in case.

The Heckler is a spectacular book. It offers the space and time to get close to the characters while moving ever forward in the cases and schemes. Definitely one not to miss whether you feel like reading anything else in the series or not.

Let It Snow


Police Constable Ernie Shavers is murdered while trying to save the life of a suicidal teenager and everyone wants a piece of the killer. Some are happy to play it by the book, others don’t give a damn if the rules are smashed to pieces. Whether they’re playing straight or crooked, they may not have long before the killer strikes again. Unfortunately it’s a big city and the current crime wave has thrown them a couple of curve balls to pile on the pressure.

At the zoo, a rhino is killed for its horn. With no evidence trail and a broken heart, DS Sue Nolan turns to an old flame, a man who always has his ear to the ground. Gangland boss, Johnny Yen, is only too happy to help, but only if he can get a little something in return.

In the centre of town, the biggest store in the city is robbed by a mannequin. It’s the perfect inside job and the owners of the store know exactly which officer they want on the case, only the officer doesn’t feel quite the same way.

If that wasn’t bad enough, record snowfall has created chaos within the police department.

It's going to be one hell of a Christmas. 


Published by Down&Out books, now available for pre-order: 

Barnes and Noble
Google Play

One Small Sacrifice by Hilary Davidson

‘The way Sheryn Sterling was feeling, it might not have been the best idea to put a knife in her hand.’




Sheryn Sterling has a new working partner and an old grudge. The partner is Rafael Mendoza, the grudge Alex Traynor.


Traynor is a photojournalist who is doing his best to cope with life on the civilian streets of New York. His previous work in a number of war zones has left him scarred. He’s suffering from PTSD and has struggled on and off with self-medication. Sterling’s beef with him is that she believes he is responsible for the death of Cori Stanton who fell from the roof of his building a year before the story is set. When his current girlfriend, Dr Emily Teare, goes missing, Sterling fears that history is repeating itself and goes out hell-for-leather to pin Traynor down once and for all. When she finds blood on the carpet of Traynor’s house, she’s quick to add the numbers together and the book is well-written enough to have us unsure as to whether two and two will equal three, four or five.


Traynor is confused. Following a PTSD episode, he returns home to find a strange woman in his apartment and making a break for it through the window to the fire escape. He’s quick on his feet and manages to prevent her from leaving. She can’t explain her presence, nor is she able to tell him where Emily is. Whatever her reason, things don’t look right and Traynor realises that Emily is in some kind of trouble.


There are two key strands to this novel. In the first, we follow Traynor as he attempts to find Emily. In the second, Sterling is attempting to nail Traynor before he can harm anyone else. The unfolding of each element is paced nicely and each compliments the other in a way that builds the tension and continually twists and turns along the uneven path of the who-did-what-to-whom-and-why?


There’s a real web of mystery here. There are whiffs of suspicion about everyone we meet. Nobody is quite who they seem at first glance and the ambiguity keeps us on our toes. We can’t be sure about anything that happened on the night Cori died as Traynor was too high to remember. There are dodgy goings on with prescriptions. The superintendent of the building has his own reasons to play his cards close to his chest. Traynor’s lawyer needs to know enough information to help the situation, but not too much to jeopardise his client’s freedom. Cori’s father is unhinged and determined that the law finds justice for his daughter’s death. Sterling realises her own motivations may be clouding her judgement. Friend Will Sipher is still dabbling with drugs and is able to keep a cool head even when the chips are down. And Emily? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.


Davidson does a really nice job of keeping everything just out of focus. At the point at which things begin to sharpen a new dimension opens up and clouds things over once more. It’s a little like wiping the mist from a mirror in a steamy bathroom; for a while you can see your face and then the moment’s gone. 


Throughout One Small Sacrifice (US), you'll grab hold of one red-herring while risking losing your grip on another and it's likely all your theories will be in tatters by the end.


Very entertaining and available for pre-order now. 

Book Bonanza

Today and into early next week, I have a plethora of offers available to you. 


The first of these comes in the form of my teacher noir novel In Loco Parentis. All Due Respect books have lowered the price from $5.99 and £4.64 to the bargainous 99c/99p. This is across all e-book retailers including:



Which is fantastic.


Meanwhile, there are also deals on the Southsiders series. Books 1 and 2 are free, 3 and 4 are available for 99c as part of a Kindle Countdown Deal. 



Southsiders US

Southsiders UK

Southsiders Canada

Southsiders Australia


Ed McBain's Killer's Wedge

A lady walked into a bar. 




It was an iron bar. 


A lady walks into the 87th Precinct squad room. 




She was carrying a revolver and a jar of nitroglycerine and she wanted Steve Carella dead.


Carella doesn't know this, of course. He's over at the doctor's finding out that his wife is pregnant and that his life (whatever's left of it) will never be the same. 


The woman with the jar of sauce is called Virginia and she doesn't give a monkey's about Carella's news. As long as she gets to blow his head off, she doesn't care about many things. And she has lots of time. All the time in the world. 


The reason she wants Carella dead is that she holds him responsible for killing her husband. He didn't. The only part he had to play was arresting him and sending him to the prison in which he died. 


It's the job of Kling, Meyer, Byrnes and Cotton Hawes to persuade her on the error of her ways. The problem they have is that she's holding them hostage and seems unstable enough to blow the department up and them with it if they try anything. There's an interesting examination of the loyalties of the men here. Byrne, who possibly feels the most love for Carella, is in the position of having to weigh up the lives of everyone in the room against that of one individual. The others, all brothers in the 87th, are prepared to put their lives on the line if need be and don't necessarily agree with their boss's approach. 


As time goes on, the detectives all take turns in trying to calm the situation and get themselves out of a mighty hole. Not that Virginia's listening. She's sharp and alert and has a mean streak that's wider than the band of grey in Hawes's hair. 


In a parallel universe of sorts, Carella is trying to get to the bottom of a suicide that doesn't smell right. There are similarities between the situations at the station and on the case. Both are set in confined spaces. Each is limited by the ticking of the clock. None of the people involved are in the mood to cooperate and Carella is the main player.


Star of the show is a violent hooker who brings a pleasing freshness to proceedings and keeps life in the squad room interesting when it might otherwise have lost some lustre.  


The pressure builds at the station and in the family home of the suicide/murder victim. Tension mounts at a steady and pleasing pace and there are enough spanners in the works and plot twists to keep the eyes glued to the page. 


Lots to love about this one. It stretches plausibility on occasion, but McBain handles it all with enough skill to force any questions to the back of the mind. 


Killer's Wedge (US) is another gem in the series. It may be less polished than some, but its value is high all the same. Go on. Give it a rub and watch it sparkle.  

The Southsiders Collection




The Southsiders novels are now all available in the one book at the bargain price of $5.57




Mystery and Thriller Deals


Free and 99c book deals. Crime fiction that's a steal. 

Making a Difference


In a time when global issues are going haywire and the world has begun to spin backwards, it can be difficult to make sense of anything. Influencing outcomes feels further out of grasping distance than maybe it should. In the UK and the US the driving forces defy the rational and appeal to the insecure. I have no idea how to move forward just now and am reflecting on ways in which I might make a difference when the time feels right.  


Maybe the best thing to do is to look to the local. There are many worthy things happening in my neighbourhood that respect both people and environment and I manage to do my bit without actually ever making a huge effort. I’m very grateful to those with big hearts who are out there influencing the world on my and our behalf.

My hope that all can be well has been given a boost of late by a campaign to help a girl who lives in my home town. Her name is Macy and she requires major spinal surgery to correct a massive curvature. In order to get the best of treatment £150000 is required and that’s a lot of dosh. Not that the organisers of her fundraising group have been daunted by the size of the mountain they have to climb. The Facebook page is here if you’d like to take a closer look.


I’ve loved watching the community come together to help them on their way. There have been or soon will be mammoth walks, swims, outdoor events, ceilidhs, gigs, school dress-downs and talent shows to help out. This morning I went in to the pop up shop on Dunbar High Street in the Be Green shop and bought a few things I don’t really need – if you’re in the area today or tomorrow it’s fab and well worth making a visit for.


In the light of such togetherness, I’ve offered to help out in the only way I really know or understand, and that’s by raising money through the sale of books.


For the next three months, any money I make from sales of The Shallows (US) will be going to Macy’s fund. I’ve chosen The Shallows because it’s been very well received and is possibly the most accessible of my crime stories. It’s practically mainstream fiction and there’s even a police procedural thread weaving through the fabric. The money will come whether the sale is a paperback or an ebook and if you feel like enjoying a read and helping out a great cause, then I’d be grateful of the support.


I know that there are lots of worthy people and groups out there who deserve your attention and that you may have your own favourite charities or organisations , but I still would like to flag this up to you in case you feel like joining this particular cause. Maybe it’s by coming together in circumstances like this that those seemingly untouchable bigger issues might be addressed.


If you like the idea of supporting Macy, but don’t really want to buy into the author angle you can always make a direct donation at Every little bit will be gratefully received.


Thanks for listening and good luck Macy. Here’s hoping.

That Was Then This Is Now



“The Socs were trying to look poor. They wore old jeans and shirts with the shirttails out, just like the greasers always had because they couldn’t afford anything else. I’ll tell you one thing, though: what with fringed leather vests and Levis with classy-store labels in them, those kids were spending as much money to look poor as they used to to look rich.”


I’d been saving That Was Then, This Is Now to read on a rainy day. Not a day when it rained on the outside, but when I needed a lift. I finally opened the cover last weekend on a train journey down to see my dad. Returning to the place where I did my own growing up made it an appropriate choice and it was definitely the right one. Truth be told, I reckon any day’s a good day for reading a book by SE Hinton.


Bryon and Mark have lived together since Mark’s parents killed each other. They’ve become like brothers. They get a buzz from girls, pool hustling, joyriding and fighting. The world is ripe with possibility and yet limited by their social status and environment. We get to know them at a time when things are changing. Nothing is quite the way it was. Everything seems more serious and many of the activities that were fun for them once have become dull. At the same time as life becomes rich and thrilling, the cracks appear everywhere.


Tough things happen. Their part of town is brutal. Without going into huge detail, the book managed to capture hard and mean moments in a very satisfying way. Each episode grabs the senses and forces you to pay attention.


I can’t put my finger on why exactly I found this read to be so moving and absorbing, especially when it’s aimed at young-adults and when the prose is so straightforward.

It might be that it does such an excellent job of capturing a moment of change, a watershed between one life and another. To me, it doesn’t just speak of the movement from teenager to young adulthood, but holds a mirror up to all the times in life when skins are shed. It carries the weight of nostalgia, a hint of resignation and an unsteady optimism for things to come.


It could also be that the strength of the characters and their relationships are a key to this novel’s power. The first person narration brings and intensity of feeling that works superbly. What Hinton does for me is to reach inside. She allows me to feel something more than empathy. It’s almost as though she’s creating a new identity for me as I read. A new history. That depth is not even pinned down to one person, but to all the central figures in the story.


The tone and structure also work with ease. The voice is reflective and yet in the moment. All the life and times that are building up come with a warning early on that they won’t last forever. Something’s going to shake their world to the core and that tension slowly burns from beginning to end while we await the final nail in the coffin to be smacked home.


Hinton writes in a very simple way. The sentences are never complex and the language is often plain. That said, she creates distilled phrases that deliver an emotional punch incredibly well (‘Nothing can wear you out like caring about people.’). These moments are the jewels in the crown for me, the points at which she tells it all with a slight action or subtle reference.


All in all, this was just the treat I’d been hoping for. It’s the kind of book that I hope rubs

off somewhere in my own writing style and if I ever get to put out a novel that’s half as good as this, I’ll be a very happy man.  



Wings Of Desire


‘A soldier between wars was like a chimney in the summer.’


Ever wondered what might have happened if the plane in Lord Of The Flies had crashed on an estate in Gateshead in the middle of the 1980s? I reckon Ray Banks has. But that's possibly another story.


At the start of Angels Of The North, Joe’s coming home from the army. He takes a cab. The driver is Gav. They happen to live on the same street and get talking, or at least Gav does. Has Joe heard the one about Brian who was done over when he stood up to the drug pedlars in the end house? Wasn’t he brave and isn’t it a shame that nobody helped the guy out? What on earth is the county coming to?


Life on their estate is a mess. The neighbours live under the enormous clouds of poverty, hopelessness and a constant racket from the junky house. It’s a symptom of the collapse of a once thriving industrial district, where community and joint effort have been replaced by inertia and a sense of failure. Further afield, the broader context is of individuals trying to make good while being prepared to step on anybody to get along and economic success is seen as the only success.


Gav and Joe decide to do something about their hell. They set about taking on the scum at the end of the road and it’s not long before their underground movement turn to violence. As with any movement, however, there are political differences and conflicts that cause breakdown and reformation as some rise and some fall.


There are many conflicts in this book. There is the community against drug culture; there are the machinations at the local taxi firm; there are families where blood ties aren’t enough to provide the glue they need; there are the internal battles of individuals who struggle to find equilibrium; there are fights in the business world; and there are the tussles with the world as people just to try and stay afloat.


The scope of this novel, though centred upon the three main players, is enormous. The protagonists are like particles in the Hadron Collider who bang into each other with such velocity and power that they create black holes and big bangs all over the place. They suck those around them into unstable orbits that put them at risk in a variety of ways. Among the things I loved about them was the way my levels of sympathy for each never stayed the same. They all have some redeeming features if you loosen the usual parameters a little, they’re all doing their best in extreme conditions and they’re all totally ruthless and misguided in different ways. My loyalties shifted regularly until the author finally played a few trump cards and allowed me to nail my colours to the mast.


This is a brutal book that speaks about a dark and troubled time that will be ever present as long as there are people on the planet. It doesn’t hold back in any way and, in that sense, if feels totally honest. Ray Banks hasn’t compromised at any point. He’s not ducked out of any of the big issues by diluting his work to suit a conservative audience. He’s not avoided peeling back the layers of humanity to leave a warts-and-all package. There are no contrived plot-twists and the developments feel organic and natural. This honesty serves to make the story all the stronger.


If that weren’t enough, Angels Of The North is written with a terrific style and voice. Best of all for this reader is the quality of the simile and of the amazing descriptive powers on show, for this is another area where I reckon Ray Banks truly excels.


Add to all of that a subtle humour and a great rhythm to the dialogue and you have yourself something rather special.


Buy this one. Tuck it away on your shelf or your e-reader until you’re ready for a serious read. Get it out whenever you feel you’ve fallen into a rut with your habits or you find you’ve tired of the flimsy, the formulaic or the easy ride. 

PRODIGAL SONS (Leaving Las Vegas?)


‘If you’re gonna strike out, go down swinging.’


Mike Miner has pulled off something really special with his novel Prodigal Sons. He’s put together a story that beautifully explores addiction and its consequences, not only for those who are afflicted but for those who are hurt and damaged by their actions.


The sons in question are the Flanagan boys, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Though each of them has very different lives, it’s clear that they’ve all been hewn from the same block of wood.


Matthew’s our alcoholic. His addiction is causing him to spin out of control and his marriage is the first casualty. His wife moves from LA, where they’ve been living the dream, to Connecticut and the Flanagans senior. Brought into play are the brothers Luke and Mark who are to go on a mission to find Matthew wherever he may have strayed.

As it happens, Matthew is on the road and heading for a binge in Vegas with his new friend and survivor of many a foster home, Tomiko Jones.


Each of the brothers’ lives is beautifully explored and outlined with a really broad range of brush strokes. We get to know what makes them tick and, as importantly, what doesn’t.

To go into too much detail wouldn’t do the book any justice at all. I’m hoping that you’ll read this and go out to discover the power and energy of the story for yourself. What I’ll offer is that the journey is captivating, that the pace is perfect, that each time the wrong turn is taken it hurts because there’s so much to like about Matthew and his kin and that the outcome is absolutely perfectly handled. The author creates a huge amount of feeling and empathy for all the main entourage and makes them all seem painfully real.


I’d cite the finale as a mark of the author’s quality. So many of the possible endings that I’d predicted would have been a poor fit and I was worried that Miner had painted himself into a corner by creating such a wonderful story in the build up. I should have had more confidence. What happens at the close is sublime and unexpected. The consequences are more profound than I’d imagined and I was moved to the point of tears by its gentle power.


This is a seriously good story that should have an appeal that reaches to a wider audience; the book certainly deserves to find one.


I adored it.

Voluntary Madness up at the Hemingway House

“Too bad my mother didn’t have a gun. I might have gotten to know her better.”


This one opens like a hurricane. Juliette’s a smoking a joint, idly playing with herself as she waits for a suitable victim to flash. Within a tiny space, the chaos of her early life and the darkness of her future are revealed. She’s hooked up with the love of her life, a diabetic alcoholic writer called Punch with whom she has a suicide pact. While they’re waiting for the date of their deaths, they’re supposed to be living life to the full, collecting stories for Punch’s novel. If she thinks it, she has to do it – that’s the rule. It’s like she’s a dice lady without the numbers.


In truth, the first chapter knocked me back onto my heels. I just wasn’t really ready to walk in on the situation. That disorientation was a feeling I really enjoyed and what I wanted was more.


As the early pages went by, I became a little worried that I might just be wandering through a series of interesting, well-written scenes that weren’t heading anywhere in particular. That sense soon disappeared as my emotional involvement grew quite sharply.


On one of their early adventures, the couple break into the Hemingway house at Key West and set to enjoying Hem’s space in every way they can. When a guard shows up and there’s an explosion of reflexive violence, Punch and Juliette worry that their crime will be uncovered.


Into her life walks a lesbian white witch called Isis. Isis brings a different kind of love to Juliette and adds a new dimension to the story. It allows Juliette’s vulnerability to come to the fore. In sharp contrast to Punch’s mean spells, Isis is full of warmth and concern. Crucial for me, it meant I no longer wanted the suicide pact to go ahead and shared Isis’s hope that there would be a way to get Juliette out of her way of thinking.


The criminal acts of Punch and Juliette become more intense. They’re exciting, tense and unsettling. As they work through their Bonnie and Clyde routine, the date of their death rushes at them (and rushed at me) at a startling pace. The end comes into view and even as the crash is about to happen, I had no idea how it was going to play out.



From that amazing opening, through those early uncertain chapters and into the meat of Punch and Juliette’s journey together, I was delighted and totally engaged with their world. I really enjoyed the writing style and the whole range of tensions, including the warmly erotic moments. Juliette’s highs and lows seem very real and those emotions seeped from the pages into my pores. I guess that’s what I want from a book – complete involvement and total immersion. A really great read.


Voluntary Madness (US) was re-released last month by New Pulp Press.