The Night The Rich Men Burned Malcolm Mackay

The Night The Rich Men Burned. Malcolm Mackay

 

This book falls into a new genre for me. It’s the first time I have read a book that’s written purely from gang member perspectives.

The book starts with two young friends, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass, looking for work, any work. They live in a rundown area of Glasgow where legal work is hard to come by so they take on a money collection for a loan shark.

I won’t spoil the book by going into detail but the rest of the story revolves around their very different journeys in the gangland life. As one flourishes and moves through the ranks the other is outcast and becomes a victim.

Their lives intertwine throughout the book and it is interesting to see the way Mackay shows the scene through different eyes. The emotionally void morals of the loan sharks and the people who work for them; the fear and downward spiral of the people they prey on.

He describes the sparring leading to an inevitable war between different gangs. The way leaders manipulate situations using thugs but never get their own hands dirty. He describes the way money lenders sell their clients debts onto ruthless collectors, and shows some of the ways the debts are collected why alluding to others.

Inescapably the book leads to a tumultuous end as the gangs try to take over the city, with Peterkinney and Glass involved to the very end.

The story is fast paced, split into short chapters that had me thinking “I’ll just read one more chapter” It was never just one more I read the book in 2 nights.

This book is dark and gritty without being gruesome. It made me think about how easy it would be to become involved in the downward spiral of owing money to a loan shark.

Above all the book is very realistic. Those of us that have had to work in the aftermath of similar events that occur in this story will recognise how accurate this book is. Most people, I hope, will only visit the scenes on pages of books. If they do they will not find a more realistic account than this.

This is the first of Malcolm Mackay’s books that I have read. It won’t be the last

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Whom Evil Touches D.E. Royce

Whom Evil Touches  D.E.Royce

 

Early in this book Royce gives us the origin of the phrase “The real McCoy”, so was this book the real McCoy.

If I was browsing book shelves, or trawling through Amazon I might have missed this book. At 203 pages it’s a bit small for me, but it was recommended to me by somebody I had been talking to on Twitter so I gave it a go.

The prologue guides us through the natural history of the New England coast and neatly ties in the start of the story.

From the start it is hard to see who the main character of the book is; but that is not a problem, all the characters have equal billing and are only on the page when they are required. This gives a round balanced and refreshingly unusual angle to the narrative that lets you see the whole picture.

The Police characters are given brief introductions, to give them personality, but none are weighed down with the usual baggage; they are there to solve the crime not to give us moral dilemmas regarding their drinking, gambling, or current divorce, at last real people as Police Officers

The characters involved in the crime, are the type of people Law and Order Officers meet on a daily basis and their characters are well described without needless flamboyancy.  

The story is one of a missing woman, Judy, who it quickly becomes obvious is dead, and the mess she has been involved in.  As the story unfolds it is apparent that the Bank in which she worked is under investigation, and working out who was involved with the irregularities at the bank seems to become central to the murder investigation.

Judy is a complex character and had lived a life of lies; but to what end, and did they lead to her being killed. Everybody she is involved with seems to have a reason to be the one that killed her. Every time you think you know who the murderer is something happens to make you change your mind.

The end comes quickly and if I’m honest a little too quickly for me but it’s not a disappointment.

Comparing books to TV series, If you like programs like Luther or Whitechapel, this book might not be for you but give it a go it’s worth it. If you prefer Midsummer Murder, or Lewis then this book will be right up your street.

Was This book the “Real McCoy” for me Yes it was and I look forward to the next one, hopefully using some of the same characters.

The Axeman’s Jazz Ray Celestin

The Axeman’s Jazz Ray Celestin

Rarely do I pick up a book based on a true event that I have never heard of; this book sent me on a bit of a hike through the internet researching the facts of a series of crimes which took place in New Orleans just after the end of the First World War, The New Orleans Axe Killer Murders, for that alone the Axe Mans Jazz was worth reading, but that’s not the only reason, this book is brilliant.

Set in 1919 the story centres on the hunt an Axeman who is killing couples in the dead of the night, unsurprisingly with an axe.

Three separate inquiries are carried out by the central characters, all cleverly and logically woven together, bringing the book to an exciting end.

Detective  Michael Talbot leads the New Orleans Police investigation. Talbot is an outcast amongst his fellow officers and struggles with a personal secret.

Luca D’Andrea, an ex-detective who is released from prison at the start of the book and investigates the murders on behalf of the Mafia.

Ida Davis a young mixed race girl who works for a Detective agency, but takes on the investigation on her own, to prove to her boss she is capable. Ida has a friend who helps her, a young Jazz Musician called Lewis (Louis) Armstrong; and yes it is that one.

Ray Celestin has written an excellent book. He has taken known facts, including a letter purportedly written by the murderer and published in a local paper, and woven them into a story that held me captivated from the start. His description of New Orleans transported me to the city in the early 20th Century. At times he draws comparisons between 1919 New Orleans and Victorian London, and of course between these murders and those of Jack the Ripper.

His characters fit so well into the story, and are so right for the time it is set in; I wondered whether they were all based on real people. The Lewis Armstrong character is heavily based on the early life of the legendary Louis Armstrong and much of the book revolves around bars and boats where he played in his early career.

The book covers the uncomfortable issue of the racism of the time well. It is clever tool that Celestin uses by having white, black and mixed race characters as the spine of his story, allowing the reader to be taken to any quarter of the city.

Celestin uses a tropical storm to bring the story to an end, like the storm itself the last part of the book builds into an intense crescendo, and like a storm once it has gone a calm settles.

It’s clever, the real Axeman Murderer was never identified but the killings did stop following the storm. Celestin uses a bit of literary licence to let the storm tidy up some lose ends but nothing that distracts from the story.

This is Ray Celestin’s first novel. I’m looking forward to his next.

If you haven’t read The Axemans Jazz yet, I envy you. All I can say is pour yourself a bourbon, put Jazz FM on the radio and cancel any appointments you’ve got for a couple of days. You are going to love it

The Verdict

A story which starts with a first-hand account of a crime, or does it.

 

The Verdict Nick Stone

After the First chapter the novel is narrated by Terry Flint, a Law Clerk who is part of the defence team at the trial of a man accused of murder. The main storey centres on the defences investigation into the crime; but the real story is of the moral dilemmas faced by Terry when he realises his once best friend Vernon James is the accused. The friendship had ended badly years before the start of the book. Throughout Terry is doing his duty trying to find evidence which will clear Vernon, but why, and if he can establish Vernon’s innocence will he?

The characters in this book are well written, Terry is somebody everybody will like, and Vernon is instantly dislikeable. Ideal for the story.

There are some points in this book which might not sit well with people who understand Police and Legal procedures, but stay with it. The irregularities have been put early in the story to give the writer a licence to return to them later, and put them right. It might not happen like this in the real world, or we’d like to think it wouldn’t, but it does make for a good story

The book is typical English Crime Drama for the first three quarters of the story, but then goes a bit Robert Ludlum in the last quarter. I have to say I didn’t think it needed to go in that direction, and if anything it spoiled what was a good mystery.

At the close of the narrative the story is ended by a series of Newspaper Clippings which are supposed to tie up the loose ends. I have to confess I didn’t like this. It made me think that the writer was struggling to find an end.

Nick Stone has written a cracking story which, in my opinion, would have benefitted from leaving out the last 25% of the narrative.

Was this one of the best books I’ve read No.

Will I give Nick Stones next book a chance? Hell yes; because if it wasn’t for the last quarter of the story, it would have been one of the best books I’ve ever read.

 

Cuckoo’s Calling ???

The Cuckoo’s Calling ???

In my first blog I mentioned that although I loved J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, I had not read any of her Robert Galbraith-Cormoran Strike Books.

Well the good people of The Crime Vault (www.thecrimevault.com   @TheCrimeVault) kindly sent me a copy of the Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the series, and asked me to review it. So here is my first ever book review, I’m not going to give the story away by rambling on about the plot I’ll just tell you what I thought about it as a book.

The story introduces two main characters, Cormoran Strike, Private Detective, and Robin Ellacott, a Secretary from a Temping Agency.

I have to admit to a hint of dread when Strikes character was first described; the thought “oh no not another Detective with a stereo-type flawed character”; but although he’s got all the usual traits, from a broken family, recently out of a rocky relationship, homeless-sleeping in the office, and a new one on me, a false leg following an injury whilst serving in the army, I have to say I quickly took to the guy.

Robin, his side kick secretary, a plain-Jane who quickly shows her worth and skills for research, compliments Strike perfectly.

The story revolves around the death of a young Model/Socialite who’s famous for being famous. I think we can all think of people who fit into this category but being so soon after her own tragic death the only person I could think of was Peaches Geldof.

Galbraith (we know its Rowling but let’s respect the name on the cover) takes us to rough London pubs, a top fashion designers studio, and a multi-million pound property in Mayfair, each of which is described in such a way that you feel like you are there, and you belong.

She introduces a string of characters from an overly camp fashion designer, to a street girl with mental issues; from over-bearing lawyers to a drug addict who has lost her children. In each case the person is there for a reason, there is no writing for writings sake, each person has a role in the story and to be honest they are all perfect for the role. In my professional life I have met all of these people; they might not have the same names but believe me she has described people I have met, and she describes them well.

The story itself is mainly told from Strikes point of view but there are a couple of times the reader is kept in the dark about his thoughts. There is one scene where he asks Robin to look at a series of photographs, the reader is told what they are of, but they are not described. She is told if you look at them you will see the vital clue that leads Strike to solve the case, or rather explain a key part of it. I can see this being a big reveal if the books are ever made into a TV series, or films, but it was frustrating to have this one important part of the story being described vaguely, until it was explained much later in the book.

Did this spoil the book, no. I have read a lot of this genre and I have to say I can usually see the end coming from a mile away, not this time.

The story, unlike so many others, did not make it glaringly obvious from the beginning what the outcome would be. Nor did it, like many others, introduce a twist 20 pages from the end which would have made it impossible for the reader to guess the ending.  The plot starts with a death, and ends with it being solved. There is nothing in between to confuse the reader, the ultimate reveal comes as no surprise but I cannot quite work out when I knew how it was going to end.

The book meanders through the crime and opens up a few side stories, and characters, which I can see being revisited in later books,

Will I read any more Robert Galbraith books? The Silkworm, the second of the series, was on my Kindle before I’d finished The Cuckoo’s Calling.

I recently read that Rowling has stated that she has at least seven books in mind for Robert Galbraith to write. We all know what happened the last time she wrote a series of seven books. So whether she calls herself Galbraith or Rowling I will definitely be looking forward to the next release.

Did the Cuckoo Call???? Oh Yes!!!

My Life in books

This is my first blog. As you can tell from the title I am a bookworm. If you ask my wife she’ll tell you I’m like a chain smoker, as one book is coming to an end I have to have another ready to read, she’s right, maybe I should have called this blog the book addict.

I couldn’t begin to catalogue the books I have read, so I’m not going to try. What I am going to do is introduce you, to me, by telling you what I was reading, or more like who I was reading, as I made my way from what I call Senior School, or as the kids today call it High School, up to today and hopefully well into the future.

My first conscious memory of reading a book for pleasure, and not because a teacher told me to, was in my first year at Senior School, it was one of the Hardy Boy series by Franklin W. Dixon. I don’t know how I found it or if somebody gave it me. It was a story written about 2 brothers and their friends solving mysteries in America. If you can imagine a cross between Scooby Doo and the Secret Seven then you can imagine what the books were like. To an 11 or 12 year old from a Birmingham Housing Estate this book opened my eyes to the world beyond school and the boredom of home.

Believe it or not I had an evening and Saturday job (at that age) and looked forward to school holidays, and maybe the occasional illicit day off, when I could catch a Bus into Birmingham and visit WH Smiths or Hudsons Bookshop.

It was on these visits that I started browsing the shelves and realised that there was quite a few books in the series, and so began a habit I still have today. I had to read the series but I had to read it in order. I can actually remember the sales assistant in Hudsons looking over the counter at me when I asked him if it was possible to order books. Looking at the list of these books now, at least 58, I don’t think I ever completed the set but I know I would have got all the ones available in the UK at the time.

My Dad was also a big reader and when I was about 13 I remember picking up one of his discarded paperbacks The Winged Escort by Douglass Reeman. I’m fairly sure it was the cover that attracted me, a painting of a Swordfish plane attacking a battleship, because it resembled the Commando Paperback booklet/comics I spent a lot of time reading.

My trips to Birmingham now resulted in me returning home with a Reeman Naval novel when I failed to find any Hardy Brothers books. I eventually read all of the Douglas Reeman books and think the ones I read before I left school had an influence on my choice of my first job.

The Hardy Boys and Douglas Reemans naval novels were not the only books I read when I was in school. When I wasn’t at school, working, or playing football with friends my nose was firmly in a book, with the radio on in the background. Unfortunately none of the books I read were on the reading list for my English exams, and those that were held no interest to me, so like the rest of my exams English Literature was a bit of a failure.

I didn’t like school so I left at the earliest opportunity and joined the Merchant Navy just before I was 16. After 13 weeks at the training college (no qualifications required) in Gravesend I had a week at home before joining my first ship. Over the next five years I travelled the world with Shell Tankers UK Ltd on ships of all sizes. What most people don’t realise about being on merchant ships is that the crews are small, often only 36 even on a Super Tanker. Each crew member has their own cabin and works 8 hours a day. I was a Deck Hand so my days were usually split into 4 hours on 8 hours off seven days a week, 6 months at a time. That’s a lot of down time. What most people don’t know is that there was an unwritten agreement that whenever you joined a new ship you took at least 5 or 6 new paperbacks with you, and that once you had read them you put them in the ships “library”, usually a cupboard in the mess room, where they were picked up and returned by others until they were too tatty to read.

It was on my first ship, a gas tanker that ran backwards and forwards between North Africa and Northern Europe, that I found my next set of novels. Again I was drawn to a painting of a Second World War scene on the cover. Looking on the inside of the cover I found that the author had written a series of books and one of them was semi-autobiographical. I read that one first, The Legion of the Damned  introduced me to Sven Hassel  and his band of German Soldiers and their exploits during the war. The ships library had copies of all of the books in the series and I remember lying in my cabin when I’d finished the last one thinking, “what am I going to do now”. The tankers had a great social life and I’d made some good friends, but when I finished the last book I missed the main characters as though they had been real people. Sad I know.

I drifted around the one off novels by people like Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley. I remember Wilbur Smith and not being able to make up my mind weather I liked his work or not, but I read most of them anyway.

The next must read author I found was Robert Ludlum. The first book I read was The Matarese Circle, it was the first Cold War thriller that really got me hooked, and they stay my favourite genre today. I managed to read his back catalogue at sea and bought his new books as they were released. Has anybody ever read a better trilogy than the original three Bourne books, I haven’t. Unfortunately the latter ones by Eric VanLustbader just don’t measure up.

Somewhere along the line I discovered Len Deighton, via his novel Bomber. Although this was a storey based in the Second World War I enjoyed Deightons cold war books nearly as much as the Ludlum books.

One of the last Authors that I discovered whilst at sea was Nelson DeMille, via Cathedral, and By The Rivers Of Babylon,  excellent books that introduced the subject of Terrorism into my readings. I still look forward to the publication of his books. He is not as prolific a writer as some, and I think he proves the rule that I sometimes adopt when looking at new authors. If they’ve only been published for 10 years, but they have 20 books in print, the stories can’t be that good. I’d rather see an author publishing a book every 18 months or so, it will always be worth waiting for. I know there are some exceptions to this rule, but I haven’t found many.

So I left the Merchant Navy at the age of 20 and went straight to the Recruit Training Centre of the West Midlands Fire Service to start what would be a 30 year career.

The first 12 years I was in the Brigade I was at one of the busiest, if not the busiest station in the UK. It was a busy time in my personal life as well as wife number 1 came and went, maybe the least said about that the better. But then my second wife came along, followed shortly after by my lovely Daughter. We are still happily married after 23 years, and people said it would never last, and our daughter is now 22. During those 12 years I always had a spare time job, there always seemed to be something that needed paying for, but I was never without a book.

Stephen King books came and went. He’s one of those Authors whose books are like marmite to me; I either love them or hate them. Sometimes I’ve been enjoying his books but have had to stop halfway through, not bored but needing to read something else. I always go back and finish them off if I’ve got that far, but there are a few that have been dumped after the first 100 pages. My Favourite King books? Needless Things, Pet Cemetery, and, It, I still hate clowns following that.

King wasn’t the first horror author I read. I remember reading James Herbert’s Rats, and thinking every creak of a floorboard was a rat heading my way. King and Herbert are the only 2 horror authors I’ve ever really read, when they’re good, they are good; but when they’re bad, they really are bad. I just don’t think I’m very good at suspending reality.

So amongst lots of other books in the mid-late 80’s I discovered one of my all-time favourite writers, Tom Clancy. Like millions of other people around the world I read The Hunt for Red October, and I was hooked on the Jack Ryan series but this time I was in from the start and had to wait patiently for each new book, not something I’m good at. Clancy’s books were the first ones I bought in Hardback as I couldn’t wait for the paperbacks to be published. As well as the Ryan books I enjoyed Red Storm Rising, a one off based on an escalating war which engulfs Europe and threatens to become a 3rd World War. I  remember thinking, as I read it, this is uncomfortably close to becoming reality, it is still one of the best books I have ever read. People often said that Clancy got very close to the truth, and some accused him of having some kind of inside information from the  US Government agencies. In 1995 he released Debt of Honor ( I know but that’s how he spelled it, he was American) in which a Japanese Terrorist flies a Boeing 747 into the Capital Building in Washington DC. Again I remembered thinking that was one hell of a way to committee a terrorist attack on the States. We all know what happened on 11th September 2001 I hope Clancy’s book didn’t give somebody the seed of an idea. Unfortunately I found all of Clancy’s spin off books, written in collaboration with others, the Ops Centre, and Net Force books to be disappointing and gave up on them after the 2nd of each series.

John Grisham is an excellent writer who introduced me to court room dramas. I found Grisham in the early 90’s. I had started to study and was taking Fire Service Exams and needed something to take my mind of the mind numbing lists which made up a lot of the study for those exams. Grisham transported me to the Southern States to a racially charged murder in A Time to Kill. I have read every one of his books. Sometimes I read that he’s accused of “the same old, same old”, but I disagree. There are 2 things you can be sure of with Grisham; a cracking story, and an unpredictable ending. It’s not always happy ever after with John Grisham.

In the mid 90’s I started moving through the ranks in the Fire Service until, in 2000, I worked my way in to my dream post. I spent the last 12 years of my career as a Fire Investigation Officer. Basically, along with 5 other specially trained Officers, we investigated the cause of all; large fires, fires in which people died or were seriously injured, and all major arson cases, in the West Midlands and latterly Staffordshire. As you can imagine the studying got serious at this point as I gained Forensic Qualifications to sit alongside my Fire Service ones, and in that post research and learning never stopped. I still found time for books but my choice of genre changed.  Considering I now had knowledge of Forensics, and British Police and Court Room procedures I surprisingly started to read books set in these fields.

The first Author I found, who shared a Forensic background, was Patricia Cornwell. Reading the Scarpetta series in order I enjoyed the first six or seven books, when she wrote mainly about the life and investigations of Kay Scarpetta. These were excellent books, the Body Farm, is another book that ranks amongst my favourites; but as her niece Lucy became more of a James Bond Figure in her books they started to lose some credibility with me. Like I said, I have difficulty in suspending reality. I haven’t read the latest 3 she has written in the series. For me it’s a shame she moved too far away from reality but somebody must like them, she’s selling millions and good luck to her.

You will have noticed that most of the books I read appear to be by American Authors. I think it’s because more actually happens over there and you can actually imagine most of the stories because they are not far from actual occurrences.

Having said that in the early 2000s I sustained a back injury which tendered me bed ridden for three months before I had an operation to remove and fuse some discs. This was pre e-books and my wife was dispatched to buy my books, which I was getting through at a prestigious rate. I had loved the Morse TV series since it started, and in an attempt to make things easy for her I asked her to get me Colin Dexters omnibus editions of the Morse Books. These were not only brilliant but in my opinion should be read by High School students to show how society, the Police, the way crime is investigated, and life in general changed through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. It was fascinating to read about a pre computerised, pre mobile phone, society. No DNA, blood only matched by type, police officers smoking at crime scenes, officers openly racist and sexist. As the books progressed through the years it was easy to see Morse struggling to come to terms with this new world whilst his Sergeant, Lewis, attempted to keep him on track and in bounds. If I hadn’t read them all, one after another, I might have missed some of the nuances of this. If you ever read this Mr Dexter thank you for getting me through quit a rough few months.

At the same time I was watching the TV news and was astonished to see that children and adults alike were queuing for nights awaiting the latest in a series of novels by somebody I’d never heard of, J.K. Rowling. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked my long suffering wife to go back to the book shop and pick up the first of the series, at that time I didn’t even know what it was called, and so the children’s book Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone was dropped on my bed with a look of “really” written all over my wife’s face.  Well I was hooked straight away; my wife went and got me the others in paperback. The Goblet of Fire was purchased in hardback, as were the rest of the series as soon as they were released. Yes I was one of the adults standing outside my local Sainsbury’s to buy The Deathly Hallows on the day it was released.

I said earlier that I Had only read 2 horror authors, Herbert and King, that may not be true. Rowlings Harry Potter books got darker as the series progressed.  In my opinion The Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows, are much darker and scarier than anything else I had read to that time. As a series of books, despite what the critics say, and in agreement with millions around the world, I think it’s one of, if not, the best.

I’ve not yet read the books she writes under the name Robert Galbrait. I don’t know why, maybe I’m a bit worried I’ll be disappointed.

Over the next few years I drifted through several authors Sam Eastland’s Inspector Pekkala books, set against the second world war (again) a Russian detective works on cases for Stalin. David Downings Station Books, A series of espionage books about an Anglo-American in Germany at the start of events which led up to World War 2.

Jayne Casey and Sharon Bolton, both write excellent crime drama novels strong and gritty with twists that take the plot down unexpected avenues.

My wife had been saying I should have an e-book reader for some time, but I was clinging to the fact that I liked books you could hold. I still think opening a brand new book is one of the best feelings; but Christmas 2011 she gave me a Kindle for Christmas. Ok I admit it I was wrong, I’m on my second one now and it goes everywhere with me.

What the Kindle, and the Amazon Store, have allowed me to do is find books and Authors I would never have found by browsing book shelves in any bookstore I happened to pass. One such writer is one of my current favourites. C.J.Box.

C.J.Box is an American author who has written a series of books about Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett. I read about Box somewhere online and found that all of his books are available for the Kindle. I downloaded Open Season and was instantly hooked. Box’s storylines, his descriptions of the countryside around him and the subplots of his family make for excellent reads. He has also written some stand-alone novels, in which some familiar characters turn up.  If you have never read one of his books, get your hands on Open Season, I’m sure you’ll end up buying the lot.

In 2012 after exactly 30 in the Fire Service I hung up my kit for the last time and walked out of my last Fire Station. I now work lecturing on Fire Forensics around the UK, travel time equals reading time. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a couple of nice long haul holidays, I’m not a good flyer so plane time equals reading time, and we all know that there’s only one thing to do around the pool with a drink in your hand, read.

In Aruba last summer I read a one-off book that is one of the best I have ever read Antonio Garrido’s The Corpse Reader. The book is set in ancient China and is inspired by a real person who is considered one of the earliest people to use science to solve crimes. It is a magical book which is well worth a read.

This has been a very potted history of my reading, which is no way a list of everything I’ve ever read, far from it. I just wanted to let you know me by the books I can remember reading at certain times in my life.

Who am I reading now? Greg Isles. I saw Natchez Burning in Tescos about 2 months ago. The fly cover  described a storey which spanned several generations in the Mississippi Town of Natchez. The way the book was described it appeared to be the first in a new trilogy. So I read it and loved it but in reading Isles’ back catalogue I have found that there has been 3 previous books set in the same town with the same characters so if I was you I would read The Quiet Game first.

Isles’ books are similar to John Grisham’s but with no filters, if they were films Grisham’s would be a “U” certificate, Iles would be an “X”. At times they can be a tough read, emotionally, and they certainly challenge the reader’s morality at times, but wow they are brilliant.

If you have enjoyed this first blog hopefully you’ll read the ones I write later.