Thursday 30 April 2009

The Book of No Alibis

So, Mystery Man. Bloody great book. The funniest Bateman has written to date. For more of my opinions on this book, see my review in the post below. By the looks of things, it’s going to be his most successful book to date. There’s been a real flurry of promotional activity in the last couple of days.

Just yesterday, it happened to be one of the rare occasions where I stayed late at work. So I caught Arts Extra on BBC Radio Ulster on the way home. Quite fortuitous, because David Torrans who owns No Alibis in Belfast was on the show talking about Mystery Man, which is largely based in his shop. This was cool for two reasons. One, because I love to hear Northern Irish crime fiction discussed on the radio. Two, because Crime Scene NI got a mention. They even read out a comment Stuart Neville had made on my Mystery Man review. You can catch the whole interview on Listen Again. I think it’s the second or third piece (about fifteen minutes in).

Bateman himself will attend readings galore. There was one tonight in Bangor Library. Tomorrow night at seven, he’ll read at No Alibis. And on Monday at six, he’ll read with Gene Kerrigan at the Black Box in Belfast. Great stuff! I’ll be at the No Alibis one.

But here, there’s more. And this is VERY good news for Bateman. He’s made it onto a list of eight books that will only get the Richard and Judy treatment. This is akin to an American writer catching Oprah Winfrey’s interest. I think there’ll be an audible KABOOM in sales after it features on their show on the 17th of June.

And all it cost him was his first name.

A Wee Review - Mystery Man by Colin Bateman

There’s a new PI in Belfast. His qualifications? He owns No Alibis, a bookshop specialising in crime fiction. Is he a fast-talking, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing tough guy? Um, no. Not at all, really. He’s a bit... well, he’s cut from a different cloth. Oh, and he most definitely is not David Torrans.

Mystery Man is a Belfast crime fiction comedy in which our protagonist (a man with no name) tackles the cases he’s inherited from one of the few ‘real’ PIs in town. Malcolm Carlyle, the proprietor of Private Eye, a private investigation firm situated next to No Alibis bookshop, has apparently skipped town; leaving many a loose end untied. In desperation, his abandoned clients have started trickling into No Alibis for help. Handpicking a few cases, to pass the time more than anything else, the narrator makes a bit of a hobby out of tracking down scorned girlfriends or elusive items of clothing. It’s a nice distraction. Well, it’s nice up until he gets involved in The Case of the Dancing Jew.

This is probably Bateman’s most comedic novel to date, with practically a laugh a paragraph guaranteed. Some of the humour can make you feel a little guilty for laughing. To Bateman, political correctness is something that happens to other people, it would seem. It’s actually quite refreshing. The rest of the humour is of the semi-self-aware, self-deprecating variety that comes from the small revelations of the narrator’s personality. Each little nugget of information gradually builds to form one of the finest protagonists I’ve ever read. Yes, he even gives Dan Starkey a run for his money.

In the early chapters, you could well believe that Bateman has chosen to have a go at writing a modern-day cosy; a slightly bumbling detective logically solves a few minor mysteries. Then the dead bodies start to show up. In abundance. And as Dan Starkey has said more than once, “The jigsaw thickens!” Bateman looks beyond the Troubles (well, apart from a few political wisecracks – it’s set in Belfast, after all) and brings a different evil into the Northern Irish mix. Even at his most light-hearted and funniest, Bateman can’t resist dragging the reader over to his dark side. And, you know, it wouldn’t be half the experience it is if he didn’t.

So, accompanied by a dreadful shop assistant, a beautiful and quirky sidekick and a personality defect or three, Bateman’s latest protagonist really spins a terrific yarn. And it’s possible that he’s taking on Starkey’s torch as the new Bateman series character. In fact, Bateman has announced on his blog that he’s already halfway through the follow up, Day of the Jack Russell. If anybody is going to replace Belfast’s most infamous reporter and anti-hero, let it be the Mystery Man.

You should look forward to April 2009, when you can get your hands on a copy. Mystery Man will give you more laughs than a room full of rabbis and priests. This being the follow up to the more serious Orpheus Rising, you just never know where Bateman is going to take the loyal reader next. You do know that it’s a place worth visiting, though.

Pre-order this book now!

Tuesday 28 April 2009

The Dark Place -- Coming in October 2009

Check out this pretty disturbing cover for what is sure to be a very disturbing read if the first Karl Kane novel is anything to go by. And of course, the blurb gives you a hint or two:

“Young homeless women and drug addicts are being abducted before being brutally mutilated and murdered, and a city is held in grip of unspeakable terror. The cops are unable – or unwilling – to apprehend the elusive killer, and corrupt politicians turn a seemingly blind and almost approving eye to the catalogue of murders.

The perpetrator is cunning, wealthy and influential. More importantly, he has never once made a mistake in his grisly calling – until now. By abducting Katie, the young daughter of legendary private investigator, Karl Kane, the killer has just made his first mistake, which could well turn out to be his last.”

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that Sam's contribution to the anthology I'm editing with Mike Stone is also a Karl Kane story. Just saying...

Monday 27 April 2009

Fifty Grand Day

I thought Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand was set for release in May, but according to the author's latest blog post, it's available as of today! This is great news and I urge you all to rush out and buy it. Now. Right now. It's a masterpiece.

Not convinced? Well, then, have a look at the post below for a more detailed review.

And Seana Graham has a further ten very good reasons to buy it over at her place.

A Wee Review - Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty

(Originally posted in January 2009)

This is it, guys. A book that’s getting the type of hype I’m willing to swallow. Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays and Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Borders have each thrown in their two cents, and they’re united in their approval. Fifty Grand is due to be released by Henry Holt in May 2009, but I’m one of a handful of oh-so-lucky bedraggled blog-reviewers to have gotten my threadbare mittens on an advanced copy of this anticipated tome from Adrian McKinty. It’s no secret that I’ve been left breathless by the Michael Forsythe trilogy, and Hidden River is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. Is it fair that he can blow me away again? No, it’s not. His writing ability makes me want to cry my self-pitying soul to sleep. And I’ve lost more than a few hours reading, “Just one more chapter,” of his work. But unfair as it is that the fecker did it four times in a row, it’s happened again in this, his fifth crime fiction novel. We’ll get it out of the way right now. FIFTY GRAND IS THE BEST THING MCKINTY HAS WRITTEN TO DATE!*

Set in Cuba, Mexico and Colorado, Fifty Grand introduces us to Detective Mercado of the Cuban police force, the PNR. McKinty has once again dipped into his well-travelled past to bring the backdrops to life. And his time as an illegal immigrant in America has given some extra depth to Mercado’s experiences in this fish-out-of-water mystery. The plot is steeped in paranoia, intrigue and cloak-and-dagger tension as Mercado stumbles (with purpose) about Denver Colorado to solve a deeply personal case. Nobody escapes the understated, wry humour. Mother Cuba, American lifestyles, Scientology. I’ll not say McKinty has a pop at them all, because at the end of the day, Mercado is a fictional character, but some of the observations are pretty darn scathing.

With the release of the film Che, a book about modern Cuba is likely to garner quite a bit of interest. And that’s what this is. Even when posing (living and working) as an illegal Mexican immigrant in America, Mercado’s thoughts are never far from Havana. Time and again, America (as a country and concept) is compared to the Republic of Cuba, and in Mercado we find a reasonable judge. The reader might not agree with every conclusion presented, but each observation will leave you thinking. And that’s before you even consider the gripping mystery storyline (which I’m taking great pains not to spoil).

Spoilers or not, though, a mystery is not all you can expect from a McKinty book. Tight plot, exotic settings, taking the piss out of America. Any writer worth their salt can do this in their sleep. What most of them can’t do is write like McKinty. I’ll reread Fifty Grand, probably after I watch Che, and even though I know how it all pans out, I suspect the writing will hold my attention all over again.

Fifty Grand will suck you in with its Latin rhythm and leave you hankering for one more belt of rum. If I was a betting man and the credit crunch/recession would ever quit messing with my financial situation, I’d put a heap of money on Fifty Grand being the book that brings the type of attention to McKinty’s work that’s deserved. And giving his track record, when Serpent’s Tail re-re-release the Forsythe Trilogy, they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. And fair play to them, says I. Fair play to them.

*A minor disclaimer – I haven’t read his YA books nor Orange Rhymes With Everything, and thank God for that. It’s bound to be at least a year before he releases another novel.

Sunday 26 April 2009

A Triple Review – Two-Way Split, Hard Man and Kill Clock by Allan Guthrie

Went on a bit of an Edinburgh binge last month. I read three Allan Guthrie novels and Tony Black’s Gutted (more on that one in a future post) in quick succession. Before then, the only Edinburgh-based fiction I’d read was that penned by Irvine Welsh. That’s right, folks. I haven’t gotten around to Ian Rankin just yet. The Welsh stuff I’ve read (all but the latest three) I enjoyed a lot. But I also remember the mental investment they demanded. Irvine Welsh wrote in a Scottish accent, dropping killer lines like “Mon tae fuck!” in place of “Come on to fuck!” or “Let’s go!” Which was interesting, and helped draw you in to the rhythms of the Edinburgh accent, but at the same time, every single sentence was written in this manner, so it became something akin to reading Chaucer. You practically learned a new language, and sometimes stalled at lines that needed a bit of figuring out.

Allan Guthrie gives us a more accessible look at Edinburgh. Little snippets of slang pop up on the page, but usually in dialogue, and always in a context that makes it easy to decipher. I think Guthrie’s (and Tony Black’s – but as I say, I’ll get to that later) method suits me better. In my opinion, Welsh takes the ol’ sledgehammer-to-the-walnut approach in his prose. Guthrie chooses a more subtle route. And this means the reader’s energies can be focussed on the characters and story. Good thing too. Guthrie’s novels are rich in both.

Two-Way Split, Hard Man and Kill Clock make up the three works to date that feature the hard-as-nails Gordon Pearce. As a novella solely in Pearce’s POV, Kill Clock has the least characters, but the other two employ a shifting POV in which we get to know a large number of players. And as intricate as the other cast members may be, it’s the simplistic nature of Gordon Pearce that stands out in these books. Before his adventure in Two-Way Split, he spent ten years in jail for stabbing a drug dealer to death with a screwdriver. Why did he do it? His sister died of an overdose, and the dealer had provided the killer skag. And after serving his time, when Pearce’s mother is killed in a botched Post Office robbery, the formula remains unchanged. He gets to work on a plan to kill his mother’s killer.

Hard Man sees the Baxter family in desperate need of Pearce’s help. They need a bodyguard to protect the youngest Baxter from her psycho boyfriend. Unfortunately, Pearce isn’t interested. If the alleged hard man who’s annoying the Baxters has done nothing to Pearce, why should he get excited? Of course, everything changes when something he cares about is threatened. For Pearce, if it ain’t personal, it ain’t his problem.

Kill Clock features Pearce trying to beat the clock to help out an ex-girlfriend in need. As usual, he’s an unwilling participant in a violent scenario. He has a mission to complete before midnight, but being Pearce, he’s not going to try and outthink the situation. This straightforward protagonist doesn’t think around corners. He runs around them and blatters whoever’s on the other side. Funny thing about Kill Clock; Guthrie tips his hat to the 24 TV series by naming one of the characters Jack Bower. Somebody remarks that this is the guy’s real name. Pearce, deadpan, sees no reason why it shouldn’t be.

This leads me on to another unexpected element of Guthrie’s work. Mired as it is in violence, it’s quite surprising that at times it is also shockingly funny. Before reading Guthrie, I’d heard a lot about the violence, the darkness, the gritty rawness. Nobody really mentions the clever wit. And it’s a shame they don’t, because there are a number of readers out there who’d love this kind of thing who might just skim over it. I’m thinking of those who have enjoyed Colin Bateman at his darkest. Those fans seriously need to check out Guthrie’s work.

I can’t remember where I read it but if memory serves me, Guthrie once commented somewhere on the internet that Pearce has been through enough torture. He’s unlikely to feature in a future work. So it looks like I’ve read the complete set of Gordon Pearce books, then. It’s a bit of a shame, but like McKinty’s decision to retire Michael Forsythe, I can see the sense in it. Men like Pearce need to lay low or die. They can’t get away with anything else. Bloody trouble magnets, they are.

Friday 24 April 2009

The Semantics of Murder

Serpent's Tail have done you all a favour and released the paperback version of The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell. And the snazzy new cover is quite lovely. Especially as it includes the following quote from her fellow Dub, Joseph O'Connor:

"An enthralling and intelligent thriller swirling with dark, beguiling shadows"

High praise indeed!

Meanwhile, some wee fecker from the North spouted this opinion:

"I expected a highbrow literary affair with lots of subtle nuances, subtext, dense prose, long-long paragraphs and a distinct lack of dialogue and action. And that’s what I got. But here’s the thing... I truly enjoyed it."

And he has the audacity to continue to go on about it here.

Thursday 23 April 2009

An Interview - Alex Wheatle

Alex Wheatle Born 1963
BRIXTON ROCK (Blackamber/Arcadia 1999)
EAST OF ACRE LANE (Fourth Estate 2000)
THE SEVEN SISTERS (Fourth Estate 2002)
CHECKERS (X-Press 2003)
ISLAND SONGS (Allison & Busby 2005)
THE DIRTY SOUTH (Serpents Tail 2008)

Awarded the London New Writers Award in 2000 for EAST OF ACRE LANE
Awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2008

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I am writing a childrens/teenage fantasy story.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Alex Wheatle’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

I write in the mornings from about 8am until about noon.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

I teach creative writing in schools, colleges, prisons and I work a few hours a week at a local youth club.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

Be different, unique. Don’t try to copy another crime writer.

Q5. What are you reading right now?

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

Q6. Plans for the future?

To develop film and TV ideas and to continue with my fiction.

Q7. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

Yes, learned English at school instead of in a library!

Q8. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Approaching publication date for my third novel, THE SEVEN SISTERS, my editor at Fourth Estate suddenly announced he was leaving to work at Penguin. No other editor championed my cause when my editor departed and THE SEVEN SISTERS floundered as a consequence but I regard it as my best piece of work.

Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

BRIXTON ROCK is being adapted for a play at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East for spring 2010 and EAST OF ACRE LANE is in early development for a feature film.

Thank you, Alex Wheatle!

Tuesday 21 April 2009

I'm a Fraud

For the last year and a bit, I’ve been acting as if I know a thing or two about crime fiction. Well, I have a shocking confession to make. To date, I have never read any Raymond Chandler novels. Not-a-one. Which is why you’ll find no comments from me in this wonderful thread of posts over at Peter Rozovsky’s place.

I realise that this immediately discredits me in the eyes of many crime fiction fans. But please, bear with me, for I shall soon put this right. Thanks to Jayde Lynch at Penguin UK, I am now the proud owner of a fantastic hardback set of Chandler novels. Check out the official info:

Published in Hamish Hamilton hardback on 26th March 2009, each priced £12.99

The Big Sleep ∙ The Little Sister ∙ The Long Good-Bye ∙ The Lady in the Lake ∙ Farewell, My Lovely

Anything Chandler writes about grips the mind from the first sentenceDaily Telegraph

One of the greatest crime writers, who set the standards others still try to attainSunday Times

The five titles in this 2009 series are being reissued with original Hamish Hamilton early edition covers to commemorate fifty years since Raymond Chandler’s death. The series also celebrates the seventy years that Hamish Hamilton have been publishing Raymond Chandler, whose work continues to be read widely and to influence writers within and beyond the crime genre.

Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888, but moved to England with his family when he was twelve, where he attended Dulwich College, alma mater to some of the twentieth century’s most renowned writers. Returning to America in 1912, he settled in California, worked in a number of jobs, and later married. It was during the Depression era that he seriously turned his hand to writing and his first published story appeared in the pulp magazine Black Mask in 1933, followed six years later, when he was fifty, by his first novel, The Big Sleep. Chandler died in 1959, having established himself as the finest crime writer in America.

So there you have it. My confession. I’m a part-qualified crime fiction fan. A fraud. Practically a literary deviant. But I’ve identified my key weakness, and now I’m moving towards a solution.

Soon, my education will be complete. Bring it on!

Wednesday 15 April 2009

No Alibis Event - Brian McGilloway and Declan Hughes

Tomorrow, No Alibis will host one of the most entertaining book launches you're likely to see this year. Last year I saw Declan Hughes read with John Connolly at No Alibis, and he blew me away. Also, I've seen Brian McGilloway read from the opening of Borderlands, and he's no slouch either; especially when it comes to the Q&A.

So I'm absolutely raging that this event has clashed with something else. If you can make it, you'd be a fool to pass it up. Go.

Meanwhile, I'll content myself with reading The Dying Breed.

See below for my thoughts on Bleed a River Deep.

No Alibis Bookstore in association with Macmillan & John Murray Publisher

Invite you to a Double Launch Party with

Brian McGilloway

“Bleed A River Deep”

An Inspector Devlin Mystery


Declan Hughes

“All The Dead Voices”

An Ed Loy Mystery

Thursday 16th April 7.00pm

Brian McGilloway was born in Derry in 1974. He studied English at Queens University and now teaches at St Columb’s College, Derry.

His first novel, Borderlands, published by Macmillan New Writing, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger 2007 and was hailed by The Times as ‘one of (2007’s) most impressive debuts.’

Declan was born in Dublin , where he still lives. He has worked as play-wright and director, and co-founded the Rough Magic Theatre Company

He is the recipient of The Shamus Award for best first novel, “The Wrong Kind Of Blood”

No Alibis Bookstore. 83 Botanic Avenue, Belfast

rsvp 028-90-319601

A Wee Review - Bleed A River Deep by Brian McGilloway

Bleed a River Deep is the first of Brian McGilloway’s three-book deal with Pan MacMillan, and the third Inspector Devlin Mystery. If, like me, you’re impressed by those apples, get this; there’s talk of a TV series as well. Now, as far as TV goes, nothing is definite until it’s actually on the screen*, but you know, it’s still an excellent compliment for Mister McGilloway. Hats off to the man.

But what about the book? Isn’t that the important thing?

Yes, it is.

Bleed a River Deep revolves around a Donegal gold mine, Ireland’s recent immigration trend and a visit from a US senator with Irish republican sympathies. And as with the other Devlin novels, the procedures and politics between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána, for which Inspector Devlin works, play a huge role. There are a number of great twists and reveals from the get go, so a closer examination of the plot is only likely to spoil a lot of the nice surprises McGilloway has set for the reader along the way. Just know that if you’ve enjoyed the previous books, this won’t disappoint, and if you’re a crime fiction fan yet to find this series, Bleed a River Deep won’t fail to intrigue you. So get stuck in.

I’ve had the great fortune to read the Inspector Devlin series in chronological order. In Borderlands and Gallows Lane, I’ve seen Benedict Devlin overcome many challenges, professionally and personally, and I’ve gone away from both novels impressed by the good inspector’s character journey. Bleed a River Deep was no exception to this trend. If anything, McGilloway has tightened the screws on his protagonist and made life as difficult as possible for the man. And yet, he still reacts like no other police inspector in modern crime fiction. He doesn’t fall into depression and despair. He doesn’t seek solace in cheap and tawdry sex. He doesn’t even drink away his sorrows, for God’s sake! Nope, Devlin is a rare breed of character. A devoted family man, who brings work home, not as angst or fury, but as the odd question for his wife to help him figure out (during the commercial breaks – how real is that?) and as a resolve to look after his young children, come what may. Not that he’s completely free of vices. That’d be boring. He smokes, he has a bit of a temper and his job can get to him. He’s human. It’s a brave choice to have such a ‘normal’ man as your protagonist in police procedural crime fiction, but in McGilloway’s case, it’s also the perfect choice.

And the setting ain’t too shabby either. Socially and economically, so much has happened and will continue to happen in modern Ireland, in both the North and the South. You’d have to be a complete eejit not to find it fascinating. And savvy Mister McGilloway is enjoying the best of both worlds in this border-straddling backdrop. Oh, and you might have read that a part of the book takes place in Belfast. That's not the case. It all goes on west of the Bann.
“Devlin is going to join the ranks of Rebus, Resnick, Davenport and Scudder as one of the reference points of character series.” Ken Bruen
I’ll not argue with that blurb. Seriously, do yourself a favour and jump on the McGilloway wagon. If you get left behind, you’re only going to have to catch up with the early titles in a few years time. Check out Bleed a River Deep in April 2009.

*Gleaned from a comment made by Colin Bateman over at Crime Always Pays.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Happy Easter!

Lent's almost over. There's a bottle of Jameson on the kitchen worktop. The kids are in bed. I'm closing in on 1,000 words for today's novel-in-progress output. And best of all, the postman brought me a reason to celebrate today...

The Art's Council of Northern Ireland have offered me a small award that'll allow me to ditch the dayjob for a month and live the life of a full-time writer! Feckin' sweet!

So, I'd like to officially thank the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and their Arts Development Officer, Damian Smyth.

The time is intended to help me complete the first draft of the current novel-in-progress (working title SHOT), and by God, I intend to do just that.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

One Thing After Another

After a ridiculously long bout with some badass cold germs, I'm all better, but still not back into the normal swing of things blog-wise. You see, a lot of what I post here is either written or researched during my lunch break at work. Unfortunately, a humongous virus has killed the network there and I no longer have internet access at the office. Jesus wept!

I could blog at night time, but that's when I give priority to my own fiction writing and I'm neck deep in the final act of my novel-in-progress, so I'll have to keep gunning away at that.

So, regular service has yet to return. We'll get there soon, though.

In the meantime, Declan Burke has covered the NI crime scene pretty damn well in this great interview with Colin Bateman. Another eloquent title from Burke too.

Saturday 4 April 2009

A Wee Review - The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle

In reading Alex Wheatle’s The Dirty South, I was struck time and again by the similarities between Brixton and West Belfast. Brixton, in south London, is an area of social deprivation, portrayed as a deeply divided community in the novel. The Jamaicans distrust the Africans, neither have any time for the Asians, and the Muslim kids...? Suddenly the plot of The Dirty South becomes less about geography and more about religion. Though it’s not necessarily the truly religious who cause the problems, but those adopting the guise to suit their own purposes. Sound familiar? In simple terms, Belfast is a city working through a terrible history of religious division, and Brixton seems to have had a taste of that too. And there’s more. In 1981 the Brixton riot saw 279 police and 45 civilian injuries. It’s estimated that 5000 people were involved in the violence. West Belfast in 1981, the time of the Hunger Strikes, was no stranger to rioting. And both of these urban areas have suffered and will continue to suffer from high levels of street crime.

Naturally, the book caught my interest.

The story is set in the early 00’s through to 2006 and follows a chunk of Dennis Huggins’ teenage life. Dennis is a young black Brixtonian of Jamaican descent. He’s just a little more privileged than those around him as his mother works full time at a good job and brings in enough money to buy Dennis and his sister designer clothes. His father is also still on the scene and is a constant source of ‘lectures’ designed to keep Dennis on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, Dennis is all too aware of his father’s shadowy past and the allure of becoming a shotta (drug dealer) tugs at him. But for Dennis, dealing drugs seems to be less about bringing in money and more about gaining respect from the ‘ghetto’ kids he hates and idolises in equal measure.

Although I began to find the protagonist a bit annoying by the middle of the book, I warmed to him again in the second half. Dennis swings between arrogance and self pity for most of the narrative but only really seems to find himself when the big twist comes. As far as twists go, this one is pretty expected, but I’ll refrain from telegraphing it for you. Just know that the protagonist only really comes into his own when he has to. I find myself wondering if this was Wheatle’s intent. If so it was a risky one, as I almost put the book down in favour of one of the other anticipated reads on my stack. But I’m glad I didn’t. The novel ends well, with a certain type of justice that I suspect will satisfy most. I’d have axed the epilogue, though.

The Dirty South is a gritty slice of London street crime and a master class in social deprivation. Alex Wheatle has lived this life (and served some time for his part in the Brixton riot), so you can be assured that it’s all authentic stuff. I loved the little lessons in hip hop and the Brixtonian street lingo that filtered through the prose. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one, and will certainly be on the lookout for more from Wheatle, especially East of Acre Lane which is set in 1981.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

A Wee Review - Cold Caller by Jason Starr

Before reading Cold Caller, my only exposure to Jason Starr’s work had been his collaboration with Ken Bruen in the form of the black comedy crime caper, The Max. And I enjoyed that one a lot, so I picked up Starr’s debut with pretty high expectations. The New Yorker didn’t disappoint.

Bill Moss works as a phone jockey (or cold caller) at a telemarketing firm in New York. He’s less than happy in his job. What was initially seen as a temporary stint in a position he was overqualified for has lasted for over a year. His hours are unsociable and the work is mind-numbing, even though he’s one of the best telemarketers in the firm. You see, he was once a rising VP in an advertising company, and his current situation is quite a step down. So, all that potential and intelligence that isn’t going into his job has to go somewhere else, right? Yeah. Unfortunately, ol’ Bill puts his idle hands to the devil’s work, and he’s just not cut out for success in that field.

Cold Caller is a dark piece of work. Bill Moss is portrayed as a typical enough fellow in his thirties, and I imagine some of his gripes and frustrations would seem pretty familiar to a lot of readers. So when he makes his descent into depravity in such a progressive and believable fashion, you’re left with the feeling that we’re all just a few bad decisions and a temper-tantrum away from losing ourselves in psychosis.

I enjoyed the straight-forward writing and the everyday scenarios that serve as a backdrop for the shocking mistakes Bill Moss makes. Jason Starr talks about his own career as a telemarketer on his website, and it’s easily seen that a lot of what he saw and felt from that part of his life made its way into Cold Caller. The office politics and work situations just come across as so real. Luckily, he has the skill to present only the interesting and necessary from this world rather than bore the reader with self-indulgent anecdotes. There is just enough reality to make Bill Moss’s actions all the more shocking.

And then there’s the ending. Man, I loved it. I’d go on about it here, but you’d hate me for detracting so much of the book’s impact. I’ll just say that it’s definitely one of the most just conclusions to a character journey that I’ve come across in a long time. Cold Caller is an outstanding example of noir fiction. I’ll look out for more from Jason Starr.