Eamonn Griffin- East of England

Dan Matlock is out of jail. He’s got a choice. Stay or leave. Go back to where it all went wrong, or just get out of the county. Disappear. Start again as someone else. But it’s not as simple as that.  There’s the matter of the man he killed. It wasn’t murder, but even so. You tell that to the family. Especially when that family is the Mintons, who own half of what’s profitable and two-thirds of what’s crooked between the Wolds and the coast. Who could have got to Matlock as easy as you like in prison, but who haven’t touched him. Not yet. Like Matlock found out in prison, there’s no getting away from yourself. So what’s the point in not facing up to other people? It’s time to go home…

Alerted to the presence of this book via social media, the synopsis instantly grabbed me, and with the plus point of being set in a part of the UK that I am not aware of having read about before, this looked to be a sure-fire winner. I was not wrong, and I was completely delighted by this gritty tale of rural noir…

Set in and around the open flatlands of Lincolnshire, East of England, is a sparely written, but no less compelling account of one man’s thirst for revenge and atonement after a lengthy prison spell for manslaughter. I found that the sparsity of the prose mirrored the anodyne nature of the landscape perfectly, and to a certain degree the smallness and petty criminalities of the people’s lives that Griffin so effectively describes here. This is a small, claustrophobic world, that has moved on little since Matlock’s incarceration, and as he revisits traces of his past there is an overwhelming feeling of how slowly time has passed both inside and outside the prison walls, and how easily Matlock can track down those who have wronged him.

Speaking of which,  I loved the way that in describing individual’s physical qualities, Griffin pares them back with a sharp simplicity often highlighting their less attractive features with a rapier wit. Everyone has a certain unattractiveness about them in either appearance or demeanour, but cleverly Griffin manipulates these to keep us fascinated by this collection of nutters, criminals and general oddballs. Matlock himself is a wonderfully mercurial figure, subject to sudden and lethal outbursts of violence and ill-humour, but also demonstrating a more empathetic and charitable side to his character sharply at odds with his bad-boy demeanour. I thought he was an incredibly appealing and unpredictable character, hell-bent on revenge, but quick-thinking and resourceful at every stage, but I was aware of an emotional distance between us and him that I found intriguing. This put me very much in mind of the work of say Ted Lewis (Get Carter) and as Matlock traverses this grim and unrelenting landscape I was sharply reminded of the immortal opening to that seminal film.

I thought this was an accomplished and very enjoyable debut- gritty, tense, violent yet punctuated with moments of pathos and wit at odds with the depressing landscape, and the cast of really quite unlikeable characters. I am keen to see what Griffin produces next, as I would highly recommend this one.

(I received an ARC via Netgalley from Unbound Digital)

#BlogTour- Chuck Caruso- The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity

In a near-future Pacific Northwest, a made-to-order sex robot tests a married couple’s concept of fidelity; in the Tennessee hills of 19th-century America, an itinerant preacher forces others to prove their devotion to God – at gunpoint; and in a settlement town of the Old West, a former outlaw seeking to rescue his deceased brother’s family from a life of poverty discovers to his horror the true meaning of blood. In The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity, Edgar Allan Poe scholar Chuck Caruso combines his deep roots in the American Gothic with his own contemporary sense of macabre humour. These sixteen stories of dark fiction range from crime thrillers to western noir to grotesque horror. Each twisted tale displays Caruso’s unique blend of wry prose, feverish storytelling, and tragically-flawed characters discovering that even the most innocent encounter can lead to death. Or sex. Or both…

Yes, yes I know, short stories are not usually my thang, but with a showbiz name like Chuck Caruso, and the whiff of Poe that the author’s scholarly interest promised, I found the temptation of perversity a little difficult to resist…

The collection is a strange and successful mix of the contemporary and the historical, where Caruso traverses timelines by putting a traditional or futuristic spin on the age old themes of human frailty, and the extreme actions this can provoke, Consequently, these stories cover a lot of ground in terms of their themes ranging, amongst others, from a couple’s will to survive an apocalypse, a wife’s jealousy of her husband’s new sex robot, a man’s simmering resentment for his altogether more popular friend, a pest exterminator who calls on entirely the wrong customer, oh, and a bit of cannibalism too. I liked the way that Caruso unashamedly makes us wince, either in a knowing recognition of the horror that is about to be unleashed, or just simply because that is what the best and darkest writers do to jangle our nerves. There were some nice little nods to Poe in these stories, and before you start thinking that these may be a trifle too dark, there are some genuine moments of emotional complicity and cohesion amongst his characters, although some may not live to tell the tale…

Reading more about the author on the web, his writing also draws comparison to Elmore Leonard, which is another plus point for this reader, and boy oh boy, I was not disappointed in the tales set in the Old West, with their visceral themes of sex, death, revenge and bloodlust. Permeated with swift and violent retribution, I particularly enjoyed this selection of tales, oozing with atmosphere, a perfect rendition of time and location, and as authentic as the sawdust floors, sharp shooting and cathouse violence that we instantly recognise from the traditional western genre. The violence is uncompromising, meted out with little regard, and has all the earthy and primal feel of a time when men were men, however, stupid or gullible they prove to be at the sharp end of Caruso’s writing. There is also a real authenticity to Caruso’s dialogue, and inflections of speech in these tales in particular, and you can almost anticipate the sound of saliva hitting spittoon between their clipped and precise pronouncements. Loved it!

So all in all, a most satisfying collection of, yes, quite perverse tales, and although I did sway towards the western noir ones a little more, overall there was much to enjoy here with Caruso’s razor sharp, slightly strange, and at times darkly witty writing. Recommended.

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Author of The Lawn Job, a wicked, sexy crime thriller from Cloud Lodge Books, Ltd, Chuck Caruso’s crime and horror tales have also appeared in Cemetery Dance, Shroud, and Dark Discoveries, among other print magazines and anthologies. His western noir tales have been published by The Big Adios, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and The Western Online. His story “They’ll Call Me Whistlin’ Pete” was included in Kwik Krimes, Otto Penzler’s new best-of-the-web crime anthology.

 

Learn more about Chuck by visiting any of the following online interviews:

Author Interviews

Murder by the Book

Buy The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity (UK)

Buy The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity (US)

 

 (With thanks to William Campos at Cloud Lodge Books for the ARC)

 

Kanae Minato- Confessions

confessionsWhen Yuko Moriguchi’s four-year-old daughter died in the middle school where she teaches, everyone thought it was a tragic accident. It’s the last day of term, and Yuko’s last day at work. She tells her students that she has resigned because of what happened – but not for the reasons they think. Her daughter didn’t die in an accident. Her daughter was killed by two people in the class. And before she leaves, she has a lesson to teach. But revenge has a way of spinning out of control, and Yuko’s last lecture is only the start of the story. In this thriller of love, despair and murder, everyone has a confession to make, and no one will escape unharmed.

I will make my own confession straightaway and admit to not being that hugely read in the field of Japanese crime fiction. Little surprise then that this book has escaped my attention, despite there being a 2010 Oscar nominated film version, directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. The story hinges on the collusion in the murder of a female schoolteacher Yuko’s, young daughter by two of her male pupils and in her last lecture to her class there is to be an exposure of truth and a plan for revenge, that will unhinge and surprise both them and us as reader. The following story is then narrated by the various protagonists intimately involved with the crime. This shifting perspective of the same crime from the point of view of the bereaved mother and the guilty boys, in true confessional mode, provide an interesting counterbalance to one another in terms of the reasons for their actions both past and planned, and the keenness with which our sympathies as readers change as each ‘confession’ is brought to light. As the story unfolds, and with giving nothing away, the nature of these confessions will unsettle you, and make you think. You will probably read this in one sitting, as there is something completely mesmerising about its aura of darkness, that unfolds as each confession takes centre stage.

What emerges in this slim but utterly compelling read is a heartbreaking story of familial instability, provoked by the initial murder for mother Yuko, but then by extension how the differing aspects of motherhood are so utterly central to the actions of the two culpable boys. There is a wonderful quote from crime writer Alex Marwood, on the theme of Japanese adolescence in this novel, saying that the book bears comparison to Albert Camus writing Heathers, and she is spot on. There is the rhythmical prose, which carries you along throughout, where the minutiae of these people’s lives are described in the most insightful and beautiful way, despite the contrasting heartbreaking or cruel realities that surround their actions or involvement in the crime. Also, as an insight into the mind-set of these young confused boys, shaped by either the supportive or neglectful relationships within their own family units, the book provides a great deal of comment on how we are shaped by the relationships we have with those closest to us. It also provides a thoughtful meditation on the social mores and experiences of the boys involved within the larger sphere of Japanese life. The themes and issues that Minato addresses in such a compressed piece of writing like Confessions are truly thought-provoking and emotive, and like the best studies of the human psyche, I guarantee that this book will revisit your mind, long after you have finished reading. A short but entirely satisfying study of the psychology of murder and retribution, beautifully written, and haunting in its simplicity, and a cue for me to delve deeper into the world of Japanese crime fiction…

(With thanks to Mulholland Books for the ARC)