COVER REVEAL: ‘Murder at the Summer Fete’

I reviewed the first instalment of the Dedley End Mystery series, ‘Murder at the House on the Hill’ in September of last year. My headline, (“If Downton did Homicide”) seemed to summarize the plot pretty well and I can’t wait to catch up with the gang as they go after another murder in the countryside.

The cover of Dedley End Mystery, Book 2, ‘Murder at the Summer Fete’

Synopsis:

A fete worse than death…

After finding the killer of Lucy Roth six months ago, life has settled back to normal for bookshop owner, Nancy Hunter, and her grandmother, Jane. The annual Dedley End village fete is just around the corner, and Nancy is delighted when bestselling author, Thomas Green, agrees to launch his first new novel in ten years there.

But then a series of sinister events lead Nancy to realise someone is trying to sabotage their fete, so she, along with Jane and their journalist friend Jonathan, must turn detective to discover who isn’t at all thrilled about the return of Thomas Green.

When a body is discovered at the summer fete, the death scene mirroring that in Thomas’ latest bestseller, they realise that there’s another killer in Dedley End, but can they outsmart someone who appears to have pulled off the perfect crime?

The clues are right under Nancy and Jane’s noses, if only they can find them. Because the answers to life’s questions can always be found in a book…!

A twisty, unputdownable cozy mystery that fans of Richard Osman, S.J. Bennett and ‘The Marlow Murder Club’ will love.

Author Bio

Victoria Walters writes up-lifting and inspiring stories. She’s the author of the bestselling GLENDALE HALL series, which continues with its third book HOPEFUL HEARTS at GLENDALE HALL in September, as well as two other standalone novels – SUMMER at the KINDNESS CAFE, and THE SECOND LOVE of my LIFE. She has been chosen for WHSmith Fresh Talent and shortlisted for two RNA awards. Victoria was also picked as an Amazon Rising Star, and her books have won wide reader acclaim.

Victoria is a full-time author. She lives in Surrey with her cat Harry, and loves books, clothes, music, going out for tea and cake, and posting photos on Instagram.

Find out more about Victoria by following on Instagram at @vickyjwalters,

Twitter: @Vicky_Walters 

She blogs at https://www.victoria-writes.com/.

You can pre-order ‘Murder at the Summer Fete’ ahead of it’s March 17th release here:

Win a signed copy of ‘A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace’ as well as Festive Goodies

Giveaway to Win a signed copy of A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace plus some festive goodies (Open to UK Only)

Prize contains the following:

  • a signed paperback copy of A Leap of Faith at the Vineyard in Alsace
  • a sachet of Galaxy instant hot chocolate
  • a tin of RHS stem ginger cookies
  • a RHS Christmas bauble with a snowdrop decoration on it.

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below or follow the link above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email.

If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information.

This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494458/

To read a review of ‘A Leap of Faith in the Vineyard in Alsace’ just follow THIS LINK

WIN ONE OF 5 PAPERBACK COPIES OF ‘THE MURKY WORLD OF TIMOTHY WALL (UK ONLY)

Giveaway to Win 5 x Paperback copies of The Murky World of Timothy Wall (Open to UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. 

Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  

I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494459/?

No Coal Here Just Backstories to Be Mined

‘The Murky World of Timothy Wall’ by Ian McFadyen

TO WIN A COPY OF ‘THE MURKY WORLD OF TIMOTHY WALL’ FOLLOW THIS LINK

When the body of Timothy Wall, a Private Detective, is fo und in his office, the querulous Inspector Carmichael discovers some surprising revelations and curious contradictions about the dead man. Loved by many and seemingly despised by others in equal measure, Timothy Wall’s whole world seems to be strewn with paradoxes.   

This fast-moving whodunnit, based in the North West of England, sees McFadyen’s detective team tackle one of their most taxing cases yet.

Who killed Timothy Wall? Will one of his numerous lovers or ex-partners provide the answer to the conundrum? And what about Tim’s involvement with the brothers Baybutt, the local bookmakers. Do they know more than they are telling?

As Carmichael and his team seek answers to these questions it becomes crystal clear that all was not quite how it seemed in the life of Timothy Wall. This, the nineth book in the Carmichael series, is full of twists, turns and red herrings that will keep the reader guessing right up to the bitter end. 

What is it about detective fiction that we like so much? I have no definitive answer, although like all great detectives I have my theories.

Something I do know is that I like the conclusion of the mystery, the detective proven correct, the world put to rights – at least for today.

I’m not sure what it was that attracted me to this latest in the Detective Carmichael series by Ian McFadyen. I’d not come across the stories before, I have no connection to Lancashire where they are set (in fact, to the best of my recollection, I’ve never been to Lancashire).

But, I do like a Private Investigator story and I do like a nice police procedural and here was a nice intersection of both: I was in.

Do I regret my choice? Not at all. The characters and setting are obviously well set after so many books and, as in Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police novels which I have written about elsewhere, by now, they are living, breathing people in their own right. McFadyen approaches something like this with Carmichael’s family and his passion for his special pinotage wine.

And, for all Carmichael’s back story and intricate relationships with his colleagues, McFadyen is going to keep the story zipping along at pace and is not afraid to make sure the reader is never allowed to become bored.

Sometimes, the dialogue does tip a little towards the stilted for my taste, but in a novel of well fleshed out characters, with convincing motivations, backstories and plenty of mysteries to be unravelled, this is a small complaint which shouldn’t deter anyone from exploring the world of McFadyen’s Carmichael universe.

Purchase Links

Book Guild – https://www.bookguild.co.uk/bookshop/book/302/The%20Murky%20Wall%20of%20Timothy%20Wall/

Bookshop.org – https://uk.bookshop.org/books/the-murky-world-of-timothy-wall/9781913913441

Waterstones – https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-murky-world-of-timothy-wall/ian-mcfadyen/9781913913441

Foyles – https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-murky-world-of-timothy-wall,ian-mcfadyen-9781913913441

WHSmith – https://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/the-murky-world-of-timothy-wall/ian-mcfadyen/paperback/9781913913441.html

Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murky-World-Timothy-Wall/dp/1913913449/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+Murky+World+of+Timothy+Wall&qid=1632920646&sr=8-1

Book Depository – https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Murky-World-of-Timothy-Wall-Ian-McFadyen/9781913913441

Author Bio –

AUTHOR — Author Ian McFadyen visits Ulverston Library to talk to local people about his books. Thursday 30th October 2014. HARRY ATKINSON REF:

Ian McFadyen grew up in Lancashire, the setting for the Carmichael series of detective novels. Having studied marketing at Huddersfield University he had a 30-year career in sales and marketing with leading global companies in the electronics industry before switching full-time to writing. He has published eight books in the Carmichael series so far, several of which are available in large print, two have been translated and published in Italian and two in Czech. He lives in Bishop’s Stortford, Herts.

Social Media Links –

FB : Facebook.com/ianmcfadyenauthor

Twitter : @ianMcFadyen1

“Jesus Only Had 12 and One of Those Was a Double…”

‘Judas 62’ by Charles Cumming

A spy in one of the most dangerous places on Earth…

1993: Student Lachlan Kite is sent to post-Soviet Russia in the guise of a language teacher. In reality, he is there as a spy. Top secret intelligence agency BOX 88 has ordered Kite to extract a chemical weapons scientist before his groundbreaking research falls into the wrong hands. But Kite’s mission soon goes wrong and he is left stranded in a hostile city with a former KGB officer on his trail.

An old enemy looking for revenge…

2020: Now the director of BOX 88 operations in the UK, Kite discovers he has been placed on the ‘JUDAS’ list – a record of enemies of Russia who have been targeted for assassination. Kite’s fight for survival takes him to Dubai, where he must confront the Russian secret state head on… (Synopsis courtesy of Harper Collins)

For some time, Charles Cumming has been one of the best working spy writer’s today. Alongside Simon Conway and Mick Herron, he has been producing first-rate work in novels such as Typhoon, Trinity Six and his Thomas Kell trilogy (‘A Foreign Country’, ‘A Colder War’ and ‘A Divided Spy’)

It has always struck me as unfair for these writers to be consistently referenced alongside John Le Carre – a writer whom I hold in the highest regard. Whilst Cumming has been one of our best for 20 years, Le Carre was obviously a genre defining author whose very language of espionage has entered their trade. Now THAT is a legacy.

Last year’s ‘Box 88’ was a delight. It was spy ficiton as Proust, Cumming luxuriating in the school days of his lead character and (apparently) mining his own biography to weave a tapestry of a period as evocatively rendered as a tea soaked madeleine. Ironically, it was also the novel which arguably brought Cumming closest to Le Carre territory.

‘Box 88’, intercutting as it did Lachlan Kite’s present day problems as a team of skilled operatives invade and abduct his wife, with his recruitment into the shadowy organisation Box, has echoes of Le Carre’s ‘A Perfect Spy’. (‘A Perfect Spy’ is, lest anyone forget, the work labelled by no less an authority than Phillip Roth as, “the best English novel since the war” so this is far from a criticism.  

As much as I enjoyed ‘Box 88’, the structure was – if anything – the biggest issue with it. It was fairly obviously the beginning of a series and this meant that neither the story set in the 1980s nor that of the contemporary events really had an opportunity to ratchet up the tension. Kite obviously survived in the flashback, he was almost certain to survive in the present too.

‘Judas 62’ is obviously going to suffer from the same thing. But, here, Cumming avoids the trap by slightly altering the structure. We are reintroduced to Kite as Covid lockdowns are making espionage even more tricky and Box are working as a skeleton crew. Instead of then intercutting the narrative every other chapter, here Cumming chooses to tell one story then the other. Although we know Kite is not going to peg out any time soon, there is a greater tension and some fantastically palm-sweat inducing descriptions of his operation and the harrowing fall out which follows.

Few people can write such convincing action and conjure a world so effectively as Cumming. His ability to render the mundane – WhatsApp conversations, a cricket match –  and contrast with the high stakes of the missions of his characters.

There are few writers as adept at creating characters you care about and tension on a minute by minute basis as Cummings and, in Lachlan Kite, he has a flawed hero of self awareness and a lorry load of festering regrets.

‘Judas 62’ is a triumph of a novel and I look forward to the third instalment as soon as I can get my hands on it. This is vintage Cummings and I just hope he has ready access to the French patisserie and the old pot of tea if he’s going to use any more of remembrance of things past.

Purchase Links

Amazon: http://ads.harpercollins.co.uk/hcuk?isbn=9780008363468&retailer=amazon

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9780008363468

Bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/1153/9780008363468

Foyles: http://ads.harpercollins.co.uk/hcuk?isbn=9780008363468&retailer=foyles

Waterstones: https://www.awin1.com/cread.php?awinmid=3787&awinaffid=802343&ued=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.waterstones.com%2Fbook%2F9780008363468

Charles Cumming

Charles Cumming was born in Scotland in 1971. He was educated at Eton and graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1994 with First Class Honours in English Literature. The Observer has described him as “the best of the new generation of British spy writers who are taking over where John le Carré and Len Deighton left off”. In the summer of 1995, Charles was approached for recruitment by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). A year later he moved to Montreal where he began working on a novel based on his experiences with MI6. A Spy By Nature was published in the UK in 2001. (Biography courtesy of Harper Collins)

No Need to Fall Off This Log

‘Book Review Log Book’ by Jennifer Gilmour

Keep a track of your reading progress and your book reviews in one place:

  • Reading Goals
  • To Be Read List
  • Book Release Dates
  • Word Cloud
  • Your Reviews
  • Your Notes

Purchase Link – mybook.to/bookreview

Some book blog tours are such a delight to be on and Jennifer Gilmour’s Book Review Log Book is one such.

This is not an especially complicated idea: it’s a log book in which to review your book reviews. But this simplicity is its beauty. A space for notes, a space for a word cloud to record your learning from your reading, a space to print out a copy of your book cover and stick it in! It’s like a nostalgic throwback to the scrapbooks of youth.

This is a well-timed release – I can’t help but think that the book worm in your life might well appreciate this as a Christmas gift. I know I would!

Author Bio –

Jennifer Gilmour is an author and advocate for women in abusive relationships, using her own experiences of domestic abuse as a catalyst to bring awareness and to help others. Jennifer has published two publications, Isolation Junction and Clipped Wings which have both been Amazon Best Sellers and received awards. Jennifer speaks at events across the UK and continues to raise awareness through her blog posts, public speaking, radio interviews and social media.

Most Informative Blogger Award 2018 (Bloggers Bash Annual Awards)
UK & European Award for using Social Media for Good 2019 (Social Day: Social Media Marketing Awards)

Jennifer says: “Together we are Louder”.

Social Media Links –

Website; www.jennifergilmour.com  

Facebook; www.facebook.com/JenLGilmour

Twitter; www.twitter.com/JenLGilmour  

Instagram; www.instagram.com/JenLGilmour  

Amazon author profile; http://author.to/jennifergilmour  

Goodreads author profile; https://www.goodreads.com/JenniferGilmour  

Huffington post blogger profile; http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/author/jennifer-gilmour

Catering to the Romantics

‘Dream Café’ by RJ Gould

“Why on earth am I here?” David wonders as he observes the juvenile antics of ex-classmates at the twenty-five year school reunion. Then he sees Bridget.

David draws up a list of all that he hopes to achieve to kick-start a new life now that his wife has moved in with his best friend – his ex-best friend. A relationship with Bridget is top of the list, opening an arts café is a close second.

Formidable women – an unfaithful wife, a reckless teenage daughter, a boss from hell, a disapproving policewoman – seem like insurmountable obstacles.

But it’s still OK to dream, isn’t it?

I don’t think I’m giving too much away to confess that I have a birthday coming up in the next couple of weeks. A “big” one. One with a zero at the end.

As it happens, it is a “big” birthday which puts me in close proximity to David, the lead character of ‘Dream Café’. Having decided against attending my own school reunion (to paraphrase a friend’s response, he’d rather defecate in his hands and clap) I really felt for the character as half remembered school contemporaries lunge at him as the novel opens.

As the book progresses, we learn that poor David has quite the complicated back story, with all sorts of unpleasant behaviour having been dealt to this rather nice, if vague, protagonist.

Personally, I think a nice romantic comedy which nips along with ease of reading and light touch charm and ‘Dream Café’ has this in abundance. David is a hero we can root for and, even including the necessary ups and downs which must befall all characters in this genre, it is comforting to know that all will – up to a point – turn out right with the world.

Incidentally, I too have a secret dream to abandon my career and relaunch ala David – but perhaps I’ll have to wait until nearer his age to do so 😉

Purchase Links –

Author Bio –

Richard writes under the pseudonym R J Gould and is a (rare male) member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). His first novel was shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon Award following his participation on the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. Having been published by Headline Access and Lume Books, he now self-publishes.

He writes contemporary literary fiction about relationships, loosely though not prescriptively within the Romance genre, using both humour and pathos to describe the tragi-comic journeys of his protagonists in search of love. ‘Dream Café’ is his sixth novel, following ‘The Engagement Party’, ‘Jack and Jill Went Downhill’, ‘Mid-life follies’, ‘The Bench by Cromer Beach’ and ‘Nothing Man’. [It is a rewrite of ‘A Street Café Named Desire’].

Ahead of writing full time, Richard led a national educational charity. He has been published in a wide range of educational journals, national newspapers and magazines and is the co-author of a major work on educating able young people. He lives in Cambridge, England.

Social Media Links –

Website:                           http://www.rjgould.info

Twitter:               https://twitter.com/RJGould_author

Email:                                news@rjgould.info

Facebook:                         https://www.facebook.com/RJGouldauthor

Instagram:                        https://www.instagram.com/rjgould_author

Exckusive Extract: ‘Rat Island’

This is the opening passage of Rat Island. It captures how I experienced the maelstrom of 1995 42nd Street in Manhattan and gives a pen-picture of the novel’s protagonist, Callum Burke, and his past.

For a review of John Steele’s ‘Rat Island‘ click HERE

Callum Burke was late for the Chinese taxidermist’s murder. He shoved a Camel between cracked lips and sparked his Zippo then leaned against the wall next to the subway entrance on 42nd. He lit the cigarette like a fuse. His watch read eight-twenty.

A handsome drunk black guy in khaki pants and a busted-up jacket caught his eye and sauntered over, flexing and weaving through pedestrians like the booze in his system had liquefied his bones.

‘Excuse me, man, you got thirty cents?’ Alcohol fumes seeped through Callum’s tobacco cloud.

‘No, I don’t have any change.’

‘Thirty cents, man. I just need thirty cents for my bus to Chester.’

‘Sorry. No change.’

‘Alright. God loves you anyway, man.’

The drunk lurched off as a Latino girl in a PVC miniskirt with a sweet face and glazed eyes strolled up.

‘Hey, baby. You all by yourself?’

‘Just like the song.’

‘You want some company? I got a half hour to spare.’

‘Not tonight.’

A wired, scrawny white youth made a move after the girl tottered away.

‘Hey, man, you got the time?’ His voice was drowned by the stream of traffic heading to and from 8th Avenue. Callum cocked his head toward the youth as a siren howled from somewhere behind Port Authority.

The youth leaned closer. ‘You got the time?’

Callum checked his watch. ‘Uh, it’s – ’

‘I got blow, speed, crack, H. What you need?’

‘No, I’m good.’

‘It’s aaaaall good, man’

Callum pinched the bridge of his nose. A cop was standing on the corner fifteen feet away working hard not to notice the wicked business going down on his patch. The buildings of midtown rocketed skyward, swallowed by low rags of cloud oppressing the early evening bustle of the streets. A tide of gossip, questions, information and bawdy profanity assaulted him. Before, in the other metropolis of Hong Kong, it had been just as raucous but most of it was Cantonese backwash, white noise he filtered out. Now it was rushing him, penetrating his skull and cannoning around in his head.

‘Thirty cents, man? Port Authority’s just across the street.’

The black man reappeared on his right, face bathed in yellow from a neon sign declaring, In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.

‘I told you already,’ said Callum.

‘Hey baby, you busy?’

‘I’m fine.’

‘You wanna’ get high?’

‘You wanna’ fuck?’

‘What time is it, brother?’

‘Thirty cents?’

Callum dropped the spent smoke on the sidewalk and ground it out with his boot. He sparked up another and imagined himself through their eyes: the hustlers, the hookers and pushers. He looked younger than his twenty-nine years, despite the dark two-day growth on his face. A thatch of unruly black hair cut short and a nose skewed by a couple of prime shots in the ring. A wide mouth and a funny accent, maybe Irish but not like that comedy Top-O’-The-Mornin’ brogue people put on for St. Paddy’s. Heavy black brows over affective hazel eyes that were tender or playful or flinty at the whim of his moods.

Those eyes were his greatest tell.

The cop had crossed 42nd Street and disappeared downstream among the mass of citizens heading toward Penn Station on 8th Avenue. Callum took in the parking lot opposite, Port Authority Bus Terminal diagonal, the huge Camel mural across 8th to his right, and wondered how long he could live with this noise and fury.

Amid the chaos, a beautiful woman dragged a small child by the arm toward the subway entrance where Callum stood. Her hair was darker than shadow, her skin amber under the lights of the city, like she was sculpted from gemstone. She was East Asian but looked nothing like Irene Chu. Yet her face as she swept the child into her arms pulled Callum back to Hong Kong and his estranged wife. The child burrowed her head deep by her mother’s neck and Callum felt the memory leave a cold crater in his chest as he thought of his daughter, how Tara would do the same. Tara’s hands could barely meet as they encircled his neck back then.

The mother and child passed him by on 42nd and disappeared down the steps to the subway and he felt a part of him descend with them.

Callum pulled hard on the cigarette. That was his problem – he always went hard. Drank too hard. Gambled too hard. Maybe he loved too hard, now that his family was gone. He’d blown it with them and almost blown it with his job.

And now he was in New York.

He’d been here once before, a short trip with Irene but that had been the Empire State Building, Central Park and museums. This, tonight, was low cloud crawling through midtown, the buildings monoliths scattered with pinpricks of light. Rain was close. He dropped his smoke.

He scratched his head. No one likes to watch a man murdered but Callum couldn’t duck this one, so might as well get it over with. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen plenty of bodies. But this time, he’d watch the Chinese taxidermist’s life snuffed out while he sat with a coffee and a cigarette. As he turned to enter the subway, he checked the change in his pocket and snorted.

Thirty cents.

PRAISE FOR RAT ISLAND AND JOHN STEELE:

‘A nonstop thrill ride… a lyrical, super read filled with plenty of intrigue, action and suspense and sent against an exotic and seldom explored corner of crime fiction’ Gerald Posner

‘RAT ISLAND speeds and thrashes with the dangerous energy of the Manhattan streets which are so vividly recalled’ Gary Donnelly

‘John Steele writes with grit, pace and authenticity’ Claire McGowan

Purchase Links

Author Bio –

John Steele was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1995, at the age of twenty-two he travelled to the United States and has since lived and worked on three continents, including a thirteen-year spell in Japan. Among past jobs he has been a drummer in a rock band, an illustrator, a truck driver and a teacher of English. He now lives in England with his wife and daughter. He began writing short stories, selling them to North American magazines and fiction digests. He has published three previous novels: ‘RAVENHILL’, ‘SEVEN SKINS’ and ‘DRY RIVER’, the first of which was longlisted for a CWA Debut Dagger award. John’s books have been described as “Remarkable” by the Sunday Times, “Dark and thrilling” by Claire McGowan, and “Spectacular” by Tony Parsons. The Irish Independent called John ‘a writer of huge promise’ and Gary Donnelly appointed him ‘the undisputed champion of the modern metropolitan thriller’.

Social Media Links –

Twitter: @JohnSte_author

Work of Steele Proves to be King Rat

To read an exclusive extract selected by John Steele for this blog, click HERE

Rat Island by John Steele

‘A REAL CONTENDER FOR CRIME BOOK OF THE YEAR’ David Peace

‘FANS OF DON WINSLOW WILL LOVE THIS’ Claire McGowan

New York, 1995. Cop Callum Burke arrives in New York from Hong Kong, drafted in as part of an international investigation into organised crime.

With the handover of Hong Kong to China only a couple of years away, gangsters are moving their operations out of the territory and into New York ahead of the looming deadline.

Burke’s experiences with East Asian crime and the Triads’ links to the Irish Mob make him the perfect man to send in undercover.

But as he infiltrates these vast and lethal criminal networks, bodies start to pile up in his wake and his conscience threatens to send him over the edge.

And when Burke’s NYPD handlers push him to continue the investigation at all costs, he may have to cross the line from cop to criminal just to stay alive…

Readers of Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Steve Cavanagh, Richard Price and John Sandford will love this dark and morally complex novel which presents a searing portrait of mid-1990s New York as you’ve never seen it before.

Reviewers of novels, especially novels in this milieu, should be exceedingly careful about bandying around what I call the “Winslow Card”. Don Winslow is a giant of the sprawling novel, reflecting society back on itself and using the contemporary Escher nightmare of the facile “War on Drugs” to reflect our complicity in its pointlessly prolonged form.

That’s a big card to drop on anyone’s desk as they make their name. But, what we absolutely do have in John Steele’s novel Rat Island is a writer who has produced a tautly atmospheric portrait of New York at that tipping point in its history as it moved from pimps and hoes, No-Go Zone to the sanitised tourist trap it was to become.

And Steele certainly comes equipped with the writing chops to sustain our interest and intrigue across its nearly 400 page span. He writes with a cinematic eye. As his narration scans a street, a character chancing to pass, has hair “darker than shadow”.

Likewise, he has that sardonic touch that Ian Rankin rings to the best of his work. “The DEA had wanted to greet the Hong Kong policemen…but they were swamped with guys on temporary assignment from Miami playing Crockett and Tubbs with the Colombians.”

All of this is played out against a complicated investigation which brings to mind the best of ‘The Wire’ while Callum Burke juggles enough demons to put McNulty to shame.

Overall, this is powerfully rendered period piece in the pre-9/11 age where the good guys wear black as much as the bad and no one’s motives can be left unquestioned.

PRAISE FOR RAT ISLAND AND JOHN STEELE:

‘A nonstop thrill ride… a lyrical, super read filled with plenty of intrigue, action and suspense and sent against an exotic and seldom explored corner of crime fiction’ Gerald Posner

‘RAT ISLAND speeds and thrashes with the dangerous energy of the Manhattan streets which are so vividly recalled’ Gary Donnelly

‘John Steele writes with grit, pace and authenticity’ Claire McGowan

Purchase Links

Author Bio –

John Steele was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1995, at the age of twenty-two he travelled to the United States and has since lived and worked on three continents, including a thirteen-year spell in Japan. Among past jobs he has been a drummer in a rock band, an illustrator, a truck driver and a teacher of English. He now lives in England with his wife and daughter. He began writing short stories, selling them to North American magazines and fiction digests. He has published three previous novels: ‘RAVENHILL’, ‘SEVEN SKINS’ and ‘DRY RIVER’, the first of which was longlisted for a CWA Debut Dagger award. John’s books have been described as “Remarkable” by the Sunday Times, “Dark and thrilling” by Claire McGowan, and “Spectacular” by Tony Parsons. The Irish Independent called John ‘a writer of huge promise’ and Gary Donnelly appointed him ‘the undisputed champion of the modern metropolitan thriller’.

Social Media Links –

Twitter: @JohnSte_author

Exclusive Extract: ‘Porno Valley’ Chapter Three

You can read a review of Philip Eliott’s second novel, ‘Porno Valley’ you can find it here: Review

It’s the year 2000 and 78-year-old Mickey O’Rourke has been a Los Angeles PI for a very long time. He’d thought he’d seen it all until the disappearance of porn star Jeffrey Strokes sends him from the sex-filled studios of the San Fernando Valley to the desperate streets of Compton where Mickey’s final case becomes his biggest test.

Flash back to 1998 and struggling hair salon employee Jemeka Johnson, suspecting boyfriend Ray-Ray of infidelity, follows him one night from their East Compton home to what turns out to be a drug deal gone sour where a twist of fate finds Jemeka tossed onto a dark and dangerous path—one that offers huge reward for someone bold enough to seize it.

Meanwhile, in 1999, tired of robbing small-town diners and shooting bad dope in filthy motel rooms, newlyweds Richie and Alabama return to LA in search of the perfect score.

Paths cross and past meets present as bad decisions hurtle toward worse consequences—and no one will ever be the same. (Synopsis courtesy of http://www.philipelliottfiction.com)

Chapter Three

Shaking Bethany’s hand as he bid her goodbye, Mickey was again struck by her petiteness and how it contrasted with the aura of confidence she emitted, that confidence visible in her movements and clear comfortability in her choice of career, her seeming lack of self-doubt. “Strokes, Jeffrey Strokes,” she’d said when Mickey had asked her for Jeffrey’s full name, so Mickey had said, “I mean his real name,” thinking it was a stage name, and Bethany had giggled, enjoying this clashing of worlds. “That is Jeff’s real name,” she had said. “Guy was born to do porn.”

Mickey pushed through the front doors of MidnightPussy Productions into the blinding sunshine, mountains rippling on the horizon.

Born to do porn. An interesting way to describe the man who, according to a couple newspaper articles and dozens from underground zine Sleaze, had been the male star of the Los Angeles porn scene, multi-award-winning with legions of fans, until his sudden disappearance a year ago. LAPD had investigated without much success and the case had soon fizzled out. Jeffrey Strokes, it seemed, had simply vanished.

“Yo, Mickey Rourke,” a voice said. Mickey glanced toward the source: Riccardo, Bethany’s lover, sucking on a cigarette in the shade of the studio. “Can I’ve an autograph?”

Riccardo grinned at his own joke and swaggered toward Mickey. “Listen, no hard feelings about earlier. I didn’t mean to suggest you couldn’t do your job or nothing like that. I just never heard of an eighty-year-old fuckin’ PI before, you know?”

“Seventy-eight.”

Riccardo took a drag. “Sure.”

“Are there any seventy-eight-year-old porn stars, Riccardo?”

“I don’t know if star is the right word, but, sure, a few.”

“Well then, if we can pull that off, I think we can manage a bit of detective work.”

Riccardo tossed the cigarette into the dirt. “You got a point there.”

“Finished work for today, Riccardo?”

Riccardo nodded, exhaling smoke.

“Jeffrey Strokes. You know him?” Mickey said.

“Yeah, everyone knew Jeff. He was a bit strange but we got along.”

“Was?”

“What you mean?”

“You’re speaking about him in the past tense.”

“Figure of speech, old man. Figure of speech.”

“Why do you say he was strange?”

Riccardo squinted into the distance. “You see that Coen Brothers movie came out last year?”

The Big Lebowski.”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“I saw it, yes.”

“You know Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude? Well, imagine The Dude as a porn star who wins an AVN Award every year and you won’t be far off.”

“AVN?”

“Adult Video News. The Oscars of porn.”

“A big deal?”

Riccardo shrugged. “To us.”

“And so Jeffrey—”

Riccardo held up his palm. “This is a lot of questions.”

“I have a few more.”

“Yeah, well, I’m busy.”

“Busy doing what? You said you’re finished work.”

Riccardo eyed Mickey suspiciously. He smirked. “You got me.”

“Just a few more questions and I’ll let you go.”

“Okay Mickey, but not here.”

“Not here?”

“I need a drink,” Riccardo said, “and you’re buying.”

**********

Riccardo, it turned out, owned a Harley-Davidson. Mickey, in his Pontiac Catalina, followed Riccardo on the Harley for ten minutes to a dark and smoke-filled dive bar. A hand-painted, slightly lopsided sign above the door declared the establishment “Bloody Mary’s.” A dozen choppers sat parked in a line outside, gleaming under the sun.

Inside, Riccardo slapped hands with some of the patrons—all heavily tattooed bikers dressed in leathers—while Mickey choked on the fumes, eyes stinging. The walls were decorated with graffiti, American flags, framed photographs of motorcycles and groups of men posing around them. Aggressive rock music throbbed out of speakers. Two men who had been playing pool were staring at Mickey now, along with everyone else. Was Riccardo hoping to intimidate him, bringing him to a biker bar?

“Hey Mary, how you doin’?” Riccardo said to a skinny woman behind the bar.

“Better now that you’re here.” Mary’s dyed-red hair and colorful tattoos appeared at odds with her weathered face and somewhat emaciated figure. “You gonna take me down the back alley today? I could use a seeing to.”

“One of these days, Mary. I promise.”

“You been sayin’ that for two years. A woman has needs.”

“I got my friend here today.”

Mary appeared to notice Mickey for the first time. She looked him over. “Your friend can take me with you, if he can still get it up. I like an older man.”

Mickey couldn’t believe his ears.

Riccardo clapped a hand on Mickey’s back. “You hear that, old man? What you think? You wanna take Mary out the back, show her a good time?”

“I think the lady ought to get to know me first.”

Riccardo grinned. “You’re funny. For an actor.”

“You’re in porn too?” Mary said, eyeballing him with interest.

“Not that kind of acting, Mary,” Riccardo said. “Hollywood acting. You might know him. This here is Mickey Rourke.”

“Not that Mickey Rourke . . .” But she sounded unsure.

“The one and only,” Riccardo said.

Mary frowned, looking Mickey up and down. “You’re lying.”

“I wouldn’t do that, Mary. Mickey here wants to get us a couple drinks.”

“What can I get for you boys?”

“Bottle of Bud for me,” Riccardo said.

“I’ll have a cranberry juice, if you have it,” Mickey said.

Mary raised an eyebrow and glanced at Riccardo.

“Actors,” Riccardo said.

********************

“Yeah, Jeff’s a unique guy,” Riccardo said, sitting opposite Mickey at a small table in a corner. “Enjoys too much of the ganja, if you know what I mean.”

“He smokes marijuana?”

“Like a fuckin’ Rastafarian.”

“Does he use other drugs?”

“Most of ’em, probably.”

“Could be he got himself into trouble with some drug dealers, had to disappear?”

“Doubt it,” Riccardo said.

“Why’s that?”

“Jeff’s so chill he’s practically horizontal. Couldn’t see anyone having a problem with him.”

“Bethany seems to think Jeffrey may have decided to disappear.”

“Wishful thinking,” Riccardo said. He drank from his beer. “Much better to think the guy’s laying low than dead in a ditch somewhere.”

Mickey nodded. The smoke was less concentrated in this part of the room, but still his eyes burned, throat dry, the deathly taste of it in his mouth. Bloody Mary’s clearly paid no heed to the smoking ban.

“Bethany loved him?” Mickey said.

“She tell you that?” Riccardo was looking into his eyes.

“She did.”

“What she tell you about me?”

“Your name didn’t come up.”

Riccardo’s eyes narrowed. “Can’t say I’m surprised. Even with the guy gone all anyone talks about is Jeff.”

Mickey wrote “Jealous” beside Riccardo’s name in the Moleskin.

“By all accounts, Jeffrey was something of a star in the pornography world?”

“An understatement, if anything. Jeff won three Best Male Performer of the Year AVNs in a row, probably would have kept winning ’em too. He was the highest paid guy in the business before he vanished. I’m assuming you’ve never been to a porno convention. You should go to one sometime, get the blood flowing. It’s the women who are the stars at these things. I mean, no shit, right? But Jeff would have fans lining up to meet him. I never understood the attraction. Guy would be standing there, swaying, eyes drooping out of his head, talking like Keanu Reeves on tranquilizers. Even had a line of dildos modeled on his cock. A bestseller, apparently. But whatever.”

Mickey underlined the “Jealous.”

“But you think he’s dead?”

“Why would a guy at the peak of his career choose to disappear? You’re the PI—in your experience are missing people usually dead or in hiding?”

“Usually, no one ever finds out.”

Riccardo picked up his beer. “Ain’t that the truth.” He downed the last of it.

“When did you and Bethany become romantically involved?”

Riccardo glanced away. “About a year ago, probably.”

“Before or after Jeffrey went missing?”

Riccardo met Mickey’s gaze. “After.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, old man, I’m sure.”

“So a year ago at most then?”

“Must be.”

Mickey scribbled “Affair?” in the notebook. Out of the speakers a man was yelling about the ace of spades to a background of snarling electric guitars and lightning-speed drums.

“One final question and I’ll be off,” Mickey said.

“Shoot.”

“Why pornography?”

“What, like, why do it?”

Mickey nodded.

“I dunno. I couldn’t much stand doing anything else. Plus I like fucking. I’m good at it.”

“Does it bother you that Bethany has sex with other men?”

“No, old man, it’s like that. It’s a job. Just like yours.”

“If Bethany had sex with another man, privately, not for her job, would it bother you then?”

“It would tear me apart.”

“Funny, isn’t it? The subtle distinction.”

Riccardo shook his head. “It’s not subtle at all. You’re talking about two different things—work, and betrayal. Sex, and love.”

“Poetic.”

“For you maybe. For us, it’s life.”

Mickey stood up. “All right. Well, thanks for answering my questions, Riccardo. I’ll be seeing you.”

“I’m sure you will.”

Mickey pulled out his chair and turned to find Mary coming toward him with a camera in her bony hands.

“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Rourke, but before you go, do you think I could take your picture to put on the wall? It’s not every day we get a celebrity in here.”

Mickey looked at Riccardo, who shrugged at him, smirking. “Sure. Just so long’s you catch me on my good side.”

*******************

They walked up a driveway in West LA stinking of sweat, in dire need of showers and fresh clothes, each lugging a sports bag containing all their worldly possessions. The Greyhound had dropped them off near Skid Row shortly after midnight and they’d spent the night shooting up there in their own corner of that little section of Hell, keeping their heads down and waiting for morning.

Richie passed an expensive-looking Audi on one side of the drive and a tacky water fountain on the other and rang the bell of a large suburban home, big bay window on the left. It being Saturday, Richie hoped the person he was looking for was home. Alabama hadn’t said a word to him since he’d sent the deaf guy into the desert, not even when he’d explained that this neighborhood was where he had grown up, believe it or not, spending more time in Stoner Park around the corner than his house, saying the park was perfectly named because all he and his friends had ever done there was get high and skateboard—friends like Scotty Browning whose very house they were outside right now. But Alabama wouldn’t even look at him. He’d pushed her too far beating up the deaf kid like that. He’d have to play it safe for a while, get her back on his side.

The door opened and Scotty Browning stood looking at them with his mouth hanging open, spectacles crooked on his face.

“Scotty! My main man. How you doin’? This is my wife, Alabama. We’re in town, thought we’d drop by and say hello.”

Scotty just stood there, stupefied.

“Can we come in?”

The Browning family home was exactly as Richie remembered it: comfortable and lived-in, wooden floors and wooden stairs—wood all over the place—mass-produced kitsch on the walls, such as the phrase in thick sans-serif font hanging on a frame in the kitchen: “Having Somewhere to Go Is Home. Having Someone to Love Is Family. Having Both Is a Blessing.” The insincerity of it made Richie sick.

“Listen Richie,” Scotty said, standing hunched by the boiling kettle, “just so you know, my mom’s gonna be home soon.”

Richie stared at him. “Fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Scotty glanced at the floor, adjusting his glasses. “Just thought it was worth mentioning . . . How’d you know I still live with my parents?”

Richie frowned, the wooden chair bruising his ass. How had he known that? “You know what, Scotty, it simply never occurred to me that you would ever leave here. You’re not that kind of guy.”

“What kind of guy is that?”

“Normal.”

Scotty held his gaze on Richie for a moment, then glanced away, sinking into himself like a sack of flour.

Alabama scowled at Richie. “This is a very nice house, Scotty. You live here your whole life?”

Scotty looked at her as if trying to decipher if she was being sincere or setting him up to fall. “Yep . . . since I was a baby.”

“You twenty-five like Richie?”

“Twenty-four.”

“Scotty was the baby of the group,” Richie said.

“What do you do for work, Scotty?” Alabama said. “If you don’t mind me askin’ ’bout your business, that is.” She flashed one of those disarming smiles at him.

Scotty loosened like a used condom. “Computer programming. Nothing too interesting.” Quiet, shy about it.

Alabama said, “Oh, I love computers. They’re just like big brains that can do anything.”

“Well, I guess they are pretty fascinating,” Scotty said, adjusting his glasses.

“I read somewhere it’s the best industry to be in right now, and only getting bigger,” Alabama said. “You got the right idea, Scotty.”

“Yeah, it’s really taking off. Actually, I just got offered a job down in Palo Alto with a company called Google, you probably haven’t heard of them but they’re growing fast, really taking over.” He looked at Richie. “I’m thinking about taking the job and moving there.”

“Well shit. Look at Scotty, finally growing a dick.”

“We’re not kids anymore, Richie. You shouldn’t talk to me like that.”

Richie sniggered. “Take it easy, Scotty, I’m just playing. I’m happy for you doing well for yourself. You were always the one of us who was gonna make it, we all knew that.”

Scotty touched his glasses, looking a little surprised, as the kettle started screaming. He switched the gas off and poured boiling water into three cups.

“We only have green tea,” he said. “You know my mom . . .”

“I’ll never forget her,” Richie said.

Scotty ignored him. “You want regular or lemon-infused?” he asked Alabama.

“Oooh, lemon please.”

“Me too,” Richie said.

Scotty rooted inside a cabinet and dropped teabags into the cups and placed the cups on the table, pale-gold liquid swirling inside them, the scent of it like citrus and honey.

Richie blew on top of his and put it to his mouth, nearly melting the lips off his face. “Fuck, that’s hot. Damn, tastes good though.” Sweet and very slightly sour.

“It’s very healthy, you should drink it more often,” Scotty said, not moving from the stove. “Or are you still set on destroying yourself?” The little fucker growing a backbone.

“Don’t worry about me, Scotty. I’ve done things you couldn’t even dream.”

Silence seized the kitchen. The cuckoo clock beside the doorway counted the slow march toward death.

Scotty said, “So, are you going to tell me why you’re here in my house, after, what is it, seven years?”

“Could be. I’m here because I want to ask you, as my good friend from the good old days—my best friend—I want to ask you if I could borrow your car for couple days. Just while we get on our feet. Three days, tops.”

Scotty had a face on him as if Richie had just rolled down his jeans and shat on the floor. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Also, I was hoping we could crash here for a few days. The basement is fine if it’s still got that sofa and TV down there.”

Scotty shook his head. “I can’t believe this.”

“Hey, what’s the big deal? We were friends—”

“Friends? Is that what you think? Friends?” Scotty stood up straight, gazing down at Richie with a hard look in his eyes that Richie had never witnessed in them. “You’ve never been a friend to anyone, Richie, least of all me. No, you can’t borrow my car and you can’t crash here.” He pointed at the doorway. “Get out of my house.”

Richie jerked his neck back. Who does he fucking think he is? The little twerp could barely make eye contact with strangers last time Richie had seen him, now he was giving orders?

Richie glanced at Alabama’s knuckles turning white on the table. He could play it safe, or risk losing her.

His moment of glory behind him, Scotty didn’t look so confident anymore, doubt creeping into his expression. Yeah, starting to regret it, about to shit his pants.

“For old time’s sake, Scotty, I’m gonna let that slide.” Richie could practically feel Alabama’s ass cheeks relaxing beside him. “But you’re gonna have to give me one thousand dollars along with your car.”

Scotty stared at him, back to looking stupefied.

“And this time,” Richie said, pulling the Smith & Wesson out of his jeans and banging it onto the table, “I’m not asking.”

******************

“Didya have to take his mama’s jewelry?” Alabama said, in the passenger seat of Scotty Browning’s Audi, which, she supposed, was no longer Scotty Browning’s. “You got the car, a few hundred in cash. Taking the jewelry just seems mean.”

Richie sped the Audi toward the end of Scotty’s street and turned the corner too hard, swerving to avoid a fire hydrant.

“I told him to give me a thousand bucks or I’d shoot him,” he said. “I had to get him to make it up somehow. A man’s only as good as his word.”

Alabama rolled her eyes. She’d remember that next time Richie promised he’d take her out to a romantic dinner if she’d suck his dick.

“And besides,” Richie said, “Scotty’s mom is a class A cunt. One time, when we were real young, she slapped me with a spatula. A fuckin’ spatula. Bitch. She was hot, though.”

Richie slowed the car as they approached a fenced grassy area. He glanced at Alabama, a coy expression on his face. “I was thinking one of those necklaces would look pretty good on you.”

She shook her head. “No Richie.”

The Audi slowed almost to a stop.

“You really think so?” she said.

“Yeah, to go with those gorgeous green eyes.”

Her heart damn near melted every time Richie paid her a compliment, and it became impossible to be mad at him.

“Here, lemme show you.” Richie brought the car to a stop along the sidewalk next to the fence, behind which was a public swimming pool with changing rooms, a small skate park where kids drifted around on skateboards and smoked, and patches of well-trimmed grass lined by benches. He grabbed the plastic bag he’d shoved under Alabama’s feet and fished through it.

“Yeah,” he said, grinning, “I remember this one.” He withdrew his hand. A silver chain hung from his finger, a smooth jade stone dangling at the end.

Alabama’s breath caught. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s real jade. I remember Scotty’s mom saying that before. I always knew I was gonna steal this one day, I just needed to meet the right woman to steal it for.”

Alabama touched the stone. Smooth, almost slippery, and firm.

“Turn your head,” Richie said.

Alabama twisted her neck and felt the jade bounce against her chest as Richie placed it over her, cold on her skin, but weighty. Worth something.

“Show me,” Richie said.

She faced him.

His eyes opened up. “Wow. Look’s incredible on you. I was right, it goes perfectly with your eyes.”

“Really?”

“Look.” Richie swung open the sun visor above Alabama’s head and slid open the mirror.

Alabama angled the visor, glimpsing the jade resting above her cleavage and glinting in the light like something magical. She flicked the visor and gazed into her own eyes. They were almost the same color. Richie was right: the necklace had been made for her.

“I love it,” she said.

“Me too. And I love you.”

The surprise of it quickened Alabama’s heart. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard it.

Richie said, “I know that sometimes you don’t agree with the things I do. And I know that sometimes I can get a bit . . . frustrated.” He swept his long dark hair behind an ear. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for us, give us the life we deserve. ’Cause, babe, nobody’s gonna give it to us, no one’s ever given us a damn thing. We gotta take it. Understand?”

Alabama nodded, feeling a little heat between her legs, wanting him to stop talking and kiss her.

Richie squeezed her knee, looking past her out the window now. “This is Stoner Park I was telling you about.” Onto the next thing. “What a perfectly stupid name, right?”

“Richie?”

“What?” Still staring at the park.

“Richie?”

He looked at her. “What?”

“Kiss me, you idiot.”

Author Bio

Philip Elliott’s debut novel ‘Nobody Move’ won Best First Novel in the Arthur Ellis Awards. Follow-up Porno Valley is out in August, 2021. Feature-film screenplay The Bad Informant is currently in development with Passage Pictures. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Philip lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife and spoiled pug where he is never not listening to rock ’n’ roll. (Biography courtesy of http://www.philipelliottfiction.com)

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