Monday, October 10, 2011

THREE NEW NOVELS YOU GOTTA READ!


Hi folks,
I’m posting reviews I just wrote on a few of my friends’ work and thought I’d share them here. The first is a noir crime novel by Allan Guthrie titled SLAMMER and it’s a beaut! Allan told me he was worried I’d find something wrong with it since it was set in prison and… well, you know… I spent time in prison. He shouldn’t have worried in the least. It’s pitch-perfect and if I didn’t know better, I’d guess he was in the cell next to me in J-Block. It’s that accurate. It’s set in a Scottish prison but there doesn’t seem to be much of an appreciable difference between the two. Mr. Guthrie is renowned as one of the best crime and noir writers extant and it was both a privilege and an honor to review his brilliant work.

The second book featured here is by my good friend Bob Stewart. Bob and I keep dancing around the possibility of co-writing a book together but I’m kind of afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end to match his considerable writing chops. Bob has written some truly fantastic books. For a long time, he wrote true crime and his NO REMORSE is one of the best true crime nonfiction books I’ve ever read. He’s switching to fiction these days and his fiction chops are every bit as good as his nonfiction ones. He’s been busy these days as this is his second novel released just this year. Check out the synopsis and my review of HIDDEN EVIL following the one for Allan Guthrie.

The third is by gritty Irish crime writer, JJ Toner, which features a truly memorable protagonist, DI Ben Jordan in a wonderful read where you’ll need to buckle up or suffer possible whiplash at the twists and turns it makes. You'll want to read ST. PATRICK'S DAY SPECIAL.

I hope this works—having both an Irish and a Scottish writer here together… Bob may have to referee…



SLAMMER
By
Allan Guthrie

Review by Les Edgerton

This is going to sound odd, but the whole time I was reading Allan Guthrie’s brilliant novel, Slammer, I kept thinking about a writer I’d read back in the eighties, James Kelman. I couldn’t figure out why Kelman kept cropping up at the edge of my brain as I turned the pages, so I went and found a copy of Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late, and reread it, trying to figure out where the connection was.

I thought at first it was the subject matter—both books deal with prison, albeit one centers on a guy in prison and the other (Guthrie’s) has a protagonist who is a guard, or as we call ‘em here in the States, a hack.

But, that wasn’t it. It really bothered me. Then, I thought perhaps it was that both were Scottish. Now, I felt I was getting closer to uncovering the connection my mind was making.

And then, it dawned on me. It was the world-view of both writers—their cadence of their expression. I knew then why I had joined two writers of different eras together. It was the same visceral feeling I got when I first read James Lee Burke and Joe R. Lansdale and Anthony Neil Smith and Harry Crews—the feeling that I was reading the spiritual descendents of William Faulkner.

It was a geographical thing—no—more—it was a geographically political thing. While Mssrs. Burke and Lansdale and Smith and Crews all employ particular voices and all are different from Faulkner’s (as well as similar), there is an undercurrent in all that make them related. I was seeing the same thing in Guthrie and Kelman. It’s a cultural thing I suspect. I wish I could articulate it better than I am here and I may well be far off-base, but I feel what I feel.

Stories are more than a plot and characters doing interesting things. The very best of our literature goes beyond that and allows the reader to see inside an intelligent mind. That’s what happens with Guthrie’s books. We see that dark place within that only the very best of writers ever get to and it’s the definition of honesty many seek but most grow weak when approaching and end up settling for an approximation of truth. Guthrie gets it.

What all the writers I’ve named here have in common is a dark view of existence. One that I share in my own outlook on life. Which is why I’m so attracted to this sort of writer more than any other.

As an ex-con, I’m leery of novels set in prisons. The vast majority get it wrong. It becomes clear immediately that their knowledge of prisons comes from TV and bad movies. When I encounter terms like “shiv” and the like, I quickly put the book in the “send to the used-book sale” pile. Slammer is the real deal. When I was reading it, my hands began to sweat and I had to put it down often and take a walk outside and smoke a cigarette or two. I’ve been out of prison for decades now and for the first twenty years experienced nightmares. They’ve been absent for many years now, but they came back while reading this book.

And that’s all right. I’ll forgive Mr. Guthrie for this. I may have gotten back the nightmares for a time, but I also received something very important. Genuine and raw feeling. And that’s worth a lot.

He gets it exactly right. When I was in the joint, our biggest source for drugs was always the hacks. Either directly or by their complicity. For an apt example, there were two brothers—one inside the walls and one outside—and on visiting days the free brother would visit. They had to plan their visits for when a certain guard was on duty. On those visits, the brothers wore identical shoes, and at some point during the visit, they’d simply switch shoes. Each had hollowed-out heels. In the inmate’s would be the “green” (real money) he’d collected for the previous week’s drugs, while his brother’s kicks held smack. If a righteous hack had been on duty, they wouldn’t have been able to make the switch. The thing is, without guards, a lot less drugs would find their way to prison populations and that’s exactly what Guthrie’s guards are doing.

Right on point.

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel de Toqueville said something to the effect that nations are judged by the quality of their prisons. From Kelman to Guthrie, I think I have a pretty good idea of Scotland.

Get this book!


And here’s the skinny on Bob Stewart’s new book:


HIDDEN EVIL
Synopsis:

After a drug-addled teenager turns the annual Battle of Flowers Parade into a bloodbath, Majorette Cindi Neff - photographed blood covered and screaming beside the body of a dead classmate - becomes the media symbol of the tragedy, and the object of cult leader Juan Otero's obsession.

Soon after his burial, the gravesite of Cindi's dead classmate is violated and Deputy Sheriff Nancy Neff, an expert in Afro-Caribbean religions, is called to the scene. Minister Luke Oeding, a representative for the bereaved family, joins Nancy in the investigation into this unimaginable crime.

In a deadly chess match of good versus evil, they plunge into the world of the South Texas drug cult and come face to face with Palo Mayombe, the darkest of the hidden religions. When Cindi Neff is kidnapped, Nancy and Luke race to save her from the clutches of the malevolent cult before she is sacrificed in an Easter Sunday Palo Mayombe ritual.

Les Edgerton says:

"Bob Stewart's new novel, HIDDEN EVIL, is ripped directly from today's headlines about drug smuggling on the Texas border. This puts a face to the horrors that we seem to see daily on the evening news. Deeply-disturbed characters, facing what they see as a black future, turn to drugs and the occult and what follows…human sacrifice. It's a tale that begins with a Columbine-style massacre and ends on Easter Sunday in a classic battle between good and evil. I don't read vampire or werewolf novels simply because I don't believe they exist and it's a bit difficult to conjure up any kind of delicious fear by pretend monsters, but these folks are real and quite possibly living on my block… so, yeah… it pushed my fear button. After I read it, I slept with the nightlight on for a week. Get this book. It's truly scary and it's damned fine writing and story-telling."
And finally, here’s my review on JJ Toner’s new book, ST. PATRICK’S DAY SPECIAL

St. Patrick’s Day Special
by JJ Toner

Review by Les Edgerton

Secure your seat belt before embarking on this ride! Just a warning to expect twists and turns aplenty on JJ Toner’s wild crime ride. I’d say that this was a page-turner and if I was just reading to be entertained that would be true. But, I’m also a writer and I had to keep stopping to make notes on his techniques that I plan to steal for my own writing! I’ll leave it to others to deliver the plot points—I’ll just say that the tension never leaves the page and Ben Jordan doesn’t spiral down into the abyss—he plunges into it head-first. And, lest you think all is grim on the Toner landscape, the black humor he employs at just the right moment lightens the read with delicious and perfect pitch. Get this book and then keep your eyes open for his next one!


Enjoy!

Blue skies,
Les

P.S. Sorry for not being able to provide the Amazon widget thingy but for some reason I can't get it to work and can't locate a ten-year-old to show me how to fix it, but if you just click on the links, it'll take you to each book on Amazon.







2 comments:

Helen Ginger said...

Thanks for the reviews, Les. You read some really intense books! I'm not sure which of those three to start reading first.

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Helen. If you think these were intense, there's some others coming that are just as intense. As far as which to read first, just do what I do--get 'em all and read them together. Makes for interesting nightmares... :)