Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Noir (page 1 of 3)

The funniest crime novel I’ve read since I discovered Christopher Brookmyre…

Hack by Kieran Crowley

hackIf you love Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane novels, you’re going to love this one too. Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning, which I read pre-blog,hooked me from the off – literally from it’s expletive first words! Hack begins in a dead-pan manner, but it is so tongue in cheek I was giggling by the end of the first paragraph.  As in Brookmyre’s debut, Hack features a journalist who gets sucked into a murder investigation.

F.X. Shepherd is no investigative journo though, it’s his third day at the New York Mail where he is the new pet reporter – writing a column called ‘Dog’s Breakfast’. It just so happens that the paper’s top crime reporter is on hols, and is also called Frank Shepherd (no X).  However, it’s the new Australian City Desk editor’s first day on the job, so the wrong Frank gets the call to cover a murder:

“What’s the story? What kind of animal is involved?”
“Damn. You’re bloody good. How did you know that?”
“Know what?”
“The pooch. Photo just heard over the cop radio a sec ago that some dog is guarding the body. Cops may have to shoot it. Top of the list right now, mate,” Bantock continued without a breath. “You know, ‘loyal pooch protecting slain master?’ Blah blah. Got a runner from the shack on the way with Photo but I need you on this right away. I want an exclusive break on this from you or I’ll know why not,” he concluded in a friendly, theatening tone.

He arrives at the scene on the Upper East Side and, identifying himself as an animal expert, “I’m Shepherd. I’m here about the dog.”, he is ushered up to the apartment by police eager to get the dog dealt with. There, he finds the naked body of a celebrity food critic’s husband with his throat slashed, a big chunk cut out of his bottom, and the corpse is garnished in parsley, garlic and Parmesan cheese. A husky dog, called Skippy, guards the body, and Frank is able to calm him down and take him away from the scene, instantly gaining Inspector Izzy Negron’s respect.

Aubrey Forsythe, the food critic, is known for his hatchet jobs, having put many restaurants out of business. When it turns out that his last meal was sauteed butt cheek steak (he vomits it up when he sees the scene), he is immediately arrested – but Frank who is still there and sees it all, isn’t convinced, thinking that however hated Aubrey is, he didn’t commit the murder.  Frank gets the scoop, ahead of rival reporter Ginny McElhone from the Daily Press whose job is on the line after that – and she will do anything to recover the kudos. They meet in court at Aubrey’s arraignment at which celebrity lawyer, Roland Arbusto acts for him.

The clerk read out the charge of First Degree Murder and Unlawfully Dealing with Human Remains.
“How do you plead?”
“Totally, completely, without a shadow of a doubt not guilty,” Arbusto bellowed.

I guffawed. Simon Cowell has a lot to answer for!

The jokes come thick and fast. Aubrey is let out of jail to attend his husband’s funeral at the cathedral.

Aubrey cried what seemed to be genuine tears, and the TV crews went live. The priest proceeded with the solemn service, during which they drank blood and ate flesh, at least symbolically. Food for thought.

Skippy the dog had been put into a vet’s holding centre, and Frank persuades the police that it would be better for the dog to go home with him. This is where he meets vet Jane, and they hit it off right away, but their fledgling relationship is immediately put under stress when things always happen to Frank when they’re out for dinner.

Underneath all the comedy is a cracking contemporary noir novel, grisly and violent with a brilliantly twisting plot that keeps you guessing all the way through. It’s also a sparkling satire on tabloid journalism of the Australian-owned kind. Frank has to wear out a lot of shoe-leather as he gets more and more involved due to his owner’s demands, and his own new-found desire to solve the crime. Izzy, the cop, was sympathetically portrayed, a good officer who accepts Frank’s different eye-view of the case as vital to its resolution. Frank soon stops being a fish out of water, and begins to relish his new-found confidence as an investigative reporter, and who couldn’t love Skippy!

Crowley writes from experience, no research needed; as a crime reporter and investigative journalist for the New York Post he covered hundreds of trials and murders, in some of which he uncovered missed evidence. He covered the second Zodiac Killer ‘Son of Sam’ cases – serial killers are his speciality and he has written several true crime books on them.

I enjoyed this book so much, it’s going straight into my end of the year Best of… If you like crime with a sense of humour, you’ll enjoy Hack, and the good news is there will be a second Shepherd book – Shoot – but we’ll have to wait until next autumn! (10/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you.

Hack by Kieran Crowley (Titan Books, October 2015) paperback original, 320 pages.

2 from Roundfire books for a belated #NovellaNov

Poppy at Poppy Peacock Pens launched a marvelous new meme for November – celebrating novellas. I love novellas and recently received two from Roundfire Books. I read them in November, but they aren’t published until later this week, so I’m posting belatedly for Novella Nov, but just a few days ahead of publication…

Small Change by Andrez Bergen

small changeWith its title and cover artwork being a homage to my favourite singer/songwriter of all time, Tom Waits, I was immediately keen to read this one. Before I comment on the book, I have to tell you that this was the album that got me hooked on Waits, and it remains one of my favourites. Recorded in 1976, it’s mostly set in a sleazy, seedy world at night, peopled by pimps, prostitutes, exotic dancers, drunks and hoodlums. The songs are jazzy; many of them ballads – including Tom Traubert’s Blues (which was covered by Rod Stewart), The piano has been drinking and others, including the title track, are spoken growled: “Small Change got rained on with his own .38” accompanied only by a solo sax in this case.

Tom_Waits_-_Small_change_(1976)Anyone familiar with the album will thus come to this novella with high expectations. Would Scherer and Miller, ‘investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane’ be as interesting and quirky as any of Waits’s characters?

It starts off over two years ago – Scherer and Miller faced with a zombie suffering from Lazarus syndrome – he may be reanimating… “Just for the record, are you craving brains?” asks Suzie (Miller). Suzie’s dad Art was a P.I. and young Roy Scherer was his assistant.  They’d developed a niche in dealing with paranormal cases, when Art was killed.  Suzie – still a teenager – inherits the business and insists on helping Roy. We go through several of their cases as they’re finding their feet on their own. Next comes a vampire:

Having raised the lid,  I found our man dozing on a velveteen cushion. “Stake,” I whispered in my best surgeon’s voice. My assistant handed me ‘Mr Pointy’.

The next section returns to earlier, as Art and Roy are about to embark on their new line of work having encountered their first werewolf:

“She alerted me, Roy, to the fact that supernatural fruits like her are out there – and these bastards’re causing mayhem. Therein lies our angle. Take a leaf out of the Ghostbusters text to work clean-up chores. We’ll be swimming in dosh. How say you, kid? You with me on this?”

The last section brings us up to date with Roy and Suzie’s work as they’re getting established in their new partnership.

Roy, our narrator is steeped in classic noir, and never knowingly misses a chance to act or wise-crack like his hero Philip Marlowe. Suzie, by contrast, is as perky as her father was a world-weary drunk. The text is chock-full of references to classic noir in books and on film, plus more popular modern fare – from James Bond to Ghostbusters as we’ve already seen. The cases are varied but incidental to the story, the key of which is the relationships, between Roy, Art and Suzie. Steeped in noir as it is, and styled as a casebook in extended vignette form, this novella was a welcome change to the longer length paranormal crime novels I’ve read of late – c.f. Ben Aaronovitch and the Dresden Files of Jim Butcher.

Roy Scherer has a way to go as a character to acquire Tom Waits’s grit and rasp, but he and Suzie are at the start of their careers really.  I liked all the references and the sense of humour, so would happily read another volume of Scherer and Millers’ Casebook. (8/10)

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Digby’s Hollywood Story by Thomas Fuchs

disgbyIt’s after WWII. Hiroshima and Nagasaki meant that there was no need for Digby as a soldier any more. He ends up in a dead-end job pumping gas in Santa Barbara. One day he’s swimming when the riptide catches him; luckily he is able to reach safety, ending up on the private beach of a studio executive – who sets him up with a job in security at one of the Hollywood studios.

Digby is the youngest on the team of studio cops, but quickly earns a reputation for hard work and honesty, getting to know the ins and outs of life on the lot. From patrolling the sets to retrieving drunk stars from bars, he sees it all, including the damage caused by those getting into debt with George Marcus, a bookie who operated at the studios. Digby makes friends with a script-writer, Alan Swink, and Digby’s exploits as a studio cop will be useful to Swink’s plots. He also has a fling with a waitress who turns out to be an actress acting as a waitress just using him.  All the time he’s learning more about the movie business and all the different people and roles in it – he makes good progress, getting promoted too.

The second half of the novella, however, propels Digby into a starring role which he never asked for. His boss rings him one evening and asks him to go and pick up an actor who likes to cross-dress and go out and get drunk in bars.

“Meet you there,” said Digby.
“No,” said Lou. “You handle it yourself. It’s time you start flying on your own. You know what to do, don’t you?”
“Sure,” said Digby, “I’m on it.” This was his first solo assignment. He wondered if it meant a raise was in the near future.

Digby sees the actor back to his house – but ends up as the last person to see him alive, and later finds that he’s in the frame as patsy for a cover-up. Will Digby be able to extricate himself from a tricky situation? Real life can be stranger than fiction – is Digby’s Hollywood Story a film plot begging to be written?

At just 67 pages, this novella was a great little story, full of insights behind the scenes at a big studio after the war. Digby, ex-veteran that he is and used to obeying orders, learns his life lessons the hard way, but was a likeable chap and you wanted him to come out well from it. I always enjoy novels set in and around the old film studios, and this thin slice of Hollywood noir was engagingly written, I wanted more.  (8.5/10)

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Source: Publisher – thank you. To explore these novellas further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Andrez Bergen, Small Change – Dec 2015, Roundfire Books, paperback original, 144 pages.

Thomas Fuchs, Digby’s Hollywood Adventure  – Dec 2015, Roundfire Books. paperback original, 80 pages.



Shiny Linkiness

I reviewed loads of new fiction titles for Issue 7 of Shiny New Books, so I think it’s time to give some of them a plug. Do pop over to read the full reviews – we’d appreciate it, and love it when you leave comments too (same goes for here of course).

Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

two_years_eight_month_and_twentyeight_nights_0I haven’t read any Rushdie for a while, so had my fingers crossed with this book. No need, I enjoyed it a lot, although it turned to be more a philosophical fantasy than I was expecting.  Entering the world of the jinn was fascinating, and Rushdie’s modern take on the 1001 nights was fun although the little digressions keep you on your toes to re-find the main story sometimes.

Rushdie at his most playful, and restrained in length too. Definitely a thinking person’s fairy tale.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

hrbekHrbek has written one other novel, The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly, which I had to order once I’d read this book.

Set around twenty years into the future, Not on Fire, but Burning starts with a stunning visual prologue in which the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed, and San Francisco is irradiated – (we’re never sure by whom or what). It then settles into a disturbing story in which the USA is segregating Muslims and one brave old army veteran decides to adopt a Muslim kid from one of the camps – to do his bit for liberalism and making amends. He doesn’t realise that the twelve-year-old boy, Karim, who comes to live with him is already radicalised.  When a fight is engineered between white kid Dorian next door and Karim, it starts off a whole chain reaction of events.

This was a really thought-provoking novel that imagines possible futures that we hope will never happen.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

kauthar-195x300 (1)Meike’s third novel Kauthar is another tale of radicalisation. It is about a white British girl who converts to Islam, marries and Iraqi doctor, following him out there after 9/11 only to find that life there has a different set of rules and expectations that will try her devoutness. In emotional turmoil, she turns to God, but the distorted answers she finds set her on an extreme path.

Full of strong imagery, we flip between Lydia as a child, who is desperate to be a gymnast and the devout Kauthar she becomes. Told in the present tense, it is very immediate and we are really taken into Kauthar’s mind. As in Meike’s first novel Magda we are helped to understand, without condoning her behaviour.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

wilckenIt’s the late 1940s, or early 1950s. A psychiatrist takes a phone call to be told his ex-wife has died. A while later, he’s called on as a police surgeon to section a man in custody in a seedy apartment. Not thinking straight he does as asked, but later regrets this and sets out to find out more about the man.

The Reflection has all the hallmarks of a classic noir novel: a narrator in crisis, a psychological drama, a femme fatale (or two), a whole string of coincidences that are anything but and a sense that everything is being stage-managed to turn the protagonist into one of his patients, which he must resist, whatever the cost. The main character was a little boring but, The Reflection is an interesting exercise in which nothing is actually in black and white, less noir, more grey.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

Between a rock and a hard place …

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

arangoTranslated from the German by Imogen Taylor

At first glance, I thought this author would be female and Spanish/Latin. I hadn’t expected a German and Sascha is, I discovered, the favoured male variant of Sasha there.

This is the first novel by a prizewinning German screenwriter of crime dramas (notably Eva Blond apparently which ran from 2002-6). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the blurb mentions The Talented Mr Ripley and Herman Koch’s The Dinner and that combo is fairly on the button as it turns out. The hardback cover says ‘Meet Henry Hayden – Famous Author, Loving Husband, Generous Friend, Ruthless Killer.’ It begins thus:


The ARC with black page edges

No getting away from it. A quick glance at the image was enough to give shape to the dim suspicions of the past months. The embryo lay curled up like an amphibian, one eye looking straight at him. Was that a leg or a tentacle above the dragon’s tail? (p1)

Henry Hayden is in a very difficult situation. He’s to be a father, but not with his wife Martha; the mother of the tadpole is Betty, his editor, who is sitting next to him in the car. Why Betty? Why not Martha?  It’s a real shock!

… then Henry opened the passenger door and threw up in the grass. He saw the lasagne he’d made Martha for lunch. It looked like an embryo compote of flesh-coloured lumps of dough. At the sight of it, he choked and began to cough uncontrollably. (p3)

He chokes again, Betty does the Heimlich and the lingering pasta comes out. He continues to panic. He tells Betty he’ll tell Martha ‘everything’. Big mistake!

It was Betty who had discovered Henry’s first novel Frank Ellis in the slush pile at Moreany Publishing some years ago, earning herself a promotion for finding it, and making Henry a bestselling thriller author, but …

Apart from Henry, only Martha knew that he hadn’t written a single word of the novels himself. (p10)

To say that Henry and Martha have a conventional relationship would be an untruth. They met when Henry had gone home with Martha after a party and discovered the manuscript under her bed, and more rotting in the cellar.

“I’m not interested in literature,” Martha said on the subject. “I just want to write.” (p17)

But she let Henry submit the ms under his name, and thus he is the one who becomes famous. He is the celebrity author on the festival circuit, wearing designer gear and driving an Italian sports car. Martha stays at home and every night, she writes, and writes, and writes.

So, we have a great set-up – Henry is completely stuffed! If he leaves Martha for Betty his literary career will be over; if he doesn’t leave Martha, Betty will tell her, and his literary career will be over.

I’m not going to tell you what happens next, save to say that it was an audacious move and as a result Henry gets himself into ever greater lies worthy of one of Martha’s thrillers to obfuscate and misdirect everyone.

This twisty thriller was great fun – full of black humour that made it more Koch than Highsmith.  Also, in loving Martha, Henry lacks the total amorality of Tom Ripley – there’s a little bit of Jeff Lindsey’s Dexter in him perhaps? There’s even something a little bit frantic and ‘Reggie Perrinish’ in Henry which, read in the week David Nobbs passed away, made Henry a more likeable sociopath!

There were some super set pieces including a fight with a marten hiding in the roofspace. There’s a shadowy figure from Henry’s past with a score to settle, Henry’s Serbian fishmonger friend is good value and the police are suitably shambolic in their investigations.  The Truth and Other Lies is a real page-turner, and I found myself wanting Henry to get away with it, so he could get himself into more trouble in a sequel?  (8/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. 

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango, pub June 2015, Simon & Schuster, hardback, 352 pages.

Christmas Shiny Linkiness …

Today, I’d like to direct you over to my reviews in the Shiny New Books Christmas Inbetweeny.  By the way, have you tried our Shiny Advent Quiz yet? Ideal as a post-prandial competition… But back to my reviews as these books are all too good to leave off mentioning here too:

The Islanders by Pascal Garnier

islanders Translated for Gallic Books by Emily Boyce, with whom I’ve been having some lovely email conversations.

I’m a recent convert to Garnier (see here), and if his novel The A26 was ‘the Road to Hell’, the latest to be published – The Islanders is certainly about the Christmas from Hell!

A man returns home to Versailles just before Christmas when his mother dies in the coldest December for years and re-encounters an old flame… cue memories and murderously dark noir events tinged with humour.  Absolutely brilliant!

Read my review here, and Emily wrote a piece about translating it for Shiny here.

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The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli

head of the saintYA books in translation are a rarity – so I lapped up the chance to read this one by Brazilian author Acioli, developed at a writers’ workshop hosted by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It’s a lovely quest story about a young boy who sets out to find his grandmother when his own mother dies and he ends up sleeping inside the giant saint’s head that never got raised onto the statue. A magical and lovely tale.

Read my review here.



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Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Do No HarmI always find accounts of lives worked in medicine absolutely fascinating, especially those of surgeons, who live on the cutting edge (sorry!) of medical science.

Henry Marsh is one of the UK’s foremost brain surgeons and his account of a life in neurosurgery is candid, honest, reassuring and totally engrossing and fascinating. Successes and failures are all discussed with compassion and wit where required.

Now out in paperback and a must-read for all those fascinated by doctors and medicine.

Read my review here.


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Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry book cover Perry’s book, which is essentially a transcript of his Reith Lectures for the BBC last year, seeks to demystify the modern art world in his trademark flippant yet serious at the same time style.

It’s fully illustrated with his cartoons too, which accompanied the talk, but which we couldn’t previously see on the radio where the lectures were broadcast.

Full of anecdotes, advice and jokes, it’s great fun.

Read my review here.


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Shiny New Books will be back in late January with a new batch of reviews and features for you, but there is still much to explore in Issue 3 of Shiny, which includes the Christmas update. Also why not explore the archives from Issue 1 and Issue 2 you can explore for inspiration, especially as some of those books are now available in more affordable paperbacks.



It may be arthouse, but violence is violence…

I wanted to write a post about my reactions to a film I saw on TV the other night. It’s not one I would have chosen to see in the cinema, or buy the DVD of – it was just ‘on’…

Drive (2011) starring Ryan Gosling, dir Nicholas Winding Refn

DriveThe other night on BBC3 there was a big ‘for one night only’ showing of the 2011 film Drive with a new soundtrack curated by Radio 1’s Zane Lowe – ‘Drive Rescored’. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d heard that it was a good film, although the info on the screen did say it was very violent and with lots of bad language – it didn’t even start until 10pm. I started watching…

A getaway driver outlines his terms – you have five minutes he tells the robbers. He collects his car – a silver Impala – the most common car out there in LA. The heist goes to plan and they get away safely. Cut to the driver being a stunt double on a movie set – he’s something special as a driver …

So at this stage I was hooked. Even the Radio 1 supplied soundtrack was more chilled than I’d expected.

The driver (Ryan Gosling) who is never named, meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio.  They strike up a friendship, which looks sure to lead to something else, if only her husband wasn’t due out of prison.  When Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) gets out, he is beaten up for money he owes. The driver agrees to be getaway driver for him to rob a pawnshop to get the cash – but it all goes wrong and Gabriel gets shot …

Up until this point, we’d had the initial heist and getaway, the character building scenes and one guy had beaten up and later shot.  It was all done in an arthouse style, moody, noirish – but after this getaway things really took a violent turn for the worse, as the driver and Gabriel’s accomplice Blanche are followed.

It was obvious that Blanche was going to get killed, and I’m never going to be able to watch the last series of Mad Men to come in the same way – Christina Hendricks (Joan in Mad Men, Blanche in Drive) (highlight to see) gets her head pulped with shotgun pellets l‘Oh ****’ I said to myself.  It went on to out-Soprano The Sopranos, being one of the most violent films I’ve ever seen.

Yet I kept on watching it, admittedly gasping and wincing with every shot and blow from then on. If it had been a straight-forward schlock-action thriller I think I’d have been able to switch the telly off – it was now way past my bedtime.  Because I’d been enjoying the arthouse 1980s style of the film, which references Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction etc. and the aforementioned Sopranos I kept watching.  In spite of all the violence I enjoyed the intelligent storytelling.

I guess the point of this is, that I’m shocked that I can say that it and others of the same ilk are such good movies or series – and in these darker months, there are lots more to come on the TV too. Those who enjoy crime novels in particular have to put up with some awful violence and depravity too – imaginative deaths and tortures become de rigeur. I can dissociate myself from these awful fictions, but they do make one long for something more gentle and amusing as an antidote – I shall be catching up with The Detectorists tonight.

Have you seen Drive?
How do you react to violence on the screen and/or page?

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