I’ve already posted a review of Steve Finbow’s Down Among The Dead and would urge you to take a look at it. The immediacy of the story and the way a simple life is gnawed away at by an unforgiving past makes this intense and powerful. The book’s as long as it has to be to tell the story and I loved it.
Next came Hugh C Rae’s The Shooting Gallery. This one’s published by 280 Steps, a resurrection from days gone by. The book came as something of a revelation and I’ve clearly been missing something in my choice of reading material in the past. It opens with the body of a young man being dumped at a bleakly set hospital in a small Scottish town. Superintendent McCaig and a team of police officers set about identifying the curious issues surrounding the case, one that is complicated by the victim’s connections to society and to local heroin suppliers. We get to see the story unfold from many angles as Rae uses his characters to enlighten. Each perspective is outlined in broad detail and also exposes the personal landscapes of those involved. This novel is a slow burn. Rae describes moods and scenes in great detail and chooses similes and imagery like a natural (He blobbed out the paint until the air bubbles told him it was all gone, then tossed the gnarled tube over his shoulder like a peasant appeasing the devil with a pinch of salt). One the one hand, this is a page-turner of sorts, on the other it’s a book to be savoured. The only downside to this one relates to the errors – some odd words appear from time-to-time and an issue with the occasional lack of opening speech marks was slightly disconcerting. I’ve already stocked up on a couple of other books by Mr Rae and look forward to taking them on later this year.
Following on was a collection of crime novella’s called Russian Roulette: The Konstantin Files by Keith Nixon. This one’s a collection of novellas that work around two main characters, the cool, collected and lethal Russian Konstantin and a sympathetic dominatrix, Fidelity Brown. Konstantin washes up in Margate to lie low and has nothing to lose. He encounters a local gang and deals with them in a quick and brutal fashion. They didn’t stand a chance. Konstantin becomes involved with the lowlife of the local drug-scene and wipes it up with the ease with which a cleaner might mop a floor. Konstantin’s life becomes complicated by the arrival of Fidelity Brown into her life. She needs help in dealing with some financial problems with the local colour. Fortunately for her, and in spite of a sense of caring about nothing, Konstantin takes a shine to her that will see her protected and delving into some of the more complicated issues of her younger days. It’s a hard-hitting collection that will offer plenty to fans of urban crime, dark humour and huge KGB agents who are practically indestructible. My favourites, by some way, were the openers and these alone are well worth the price of entry. Publisher Caffeine Nights promise ‘fiction aimed at the heart and the head...’ and with Russian Roulette they come close to hitting the bull’s eye.
Short Story Corner
Chris Rhatigan’s Wake Up Time To Die was published recently by Beat To A Pulp. It’s a collection of stories that have been seen before in many fine places and it makes a lot of sense to bring them together. I read this over the Christmas period and found it to be a real antidote to the sense of over-consumption and indulgence. The opener had me doing double-takes just to make sure I was getting it right. It’s about a man who covets his neighbour’s everything and finds himself taking it all over only to find that protecting his new found success will drive him insane. Story two sees our protagonist walk out on a good thing and decide upon a life of crime that ends with unexpected consequences. Next we’re in the company of Bill Gates (the Bill Gates) as he sets off to rob a local store to get his kicks and encounters a very unusual policeman. Next I was reminded of Gregor Samsa when Rhatigan’s character woke to find a gunman at the end of his bed, the gunman intending to follow his victim around all day. And so on. I found each tale to be unsettling, political, refreshingly honest in terms of the writers’ motivations, superbly written and perfectly rounded off. I reckon you should read it.