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The Case by Leopold Borstinski

The death of the private investigator (PI) genre is talked about every few years, and much like the short stories, the PI genre is not dying and is not going anywhere. In fact, there plenty around with Joe Clifford’s Jay Porter and Stephen Mack Jones’s August Snow being two shining examples. With “The Case”, Leopold Borstinski joins the PI fray with his character Jake Adkins. Adkins is as hard-boiled as they come. He’s not a man of time because “The Case” spans several decades from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Hired by the wife of his good friend Aaron Rothstein, Adkins is supposed to find out if his friend is cheating on his wife. Everyone in New York knows that Rothstein is stepping out, but Adkins likes the idea of vacationing in Las Vegas while “surveilling” his friend.

Borstinski nails down the bitter detective who lives in a violent and, at times, misogynistic world., and fills “The Case” with clever lines like “I’d drunk enough vodka to knock out the ghosts”. The reader journeys from Vegas in ’79 to New York ’61 to Chicago ’49 and much more. At times, the time jumping got confusing making the reader unsure which storyline was pushing “The Case” along. 


Thanks for stopping by and reading my review of Leopold Borstinski’s “The Case” which is part of a damppebbles blog tour.

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Kill For Me by Rebecca Bradley

Grabbing the reader’s attention in a police procedural is a difficult thing to do these days, but with “Kill For Me”, Rebecca Bradley breathes some new life into a genre that is too predictable. Lucy, a single mom, goes to pick up her daughter Faith from school only to find her not there.

In a quick series of events, Lucy finds out her daughter’s been kidnapped and to get her back, Lucy must kill someone, anyone. But Bradley takes this premise one step further, “Kill For Me” turns into a “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly”-style serial killer book. Perhaps everyone will die.

“Kill For Me” is the 5th of Bradley’s Detective Hannah Robbins series and Bradley quickly catches the new reader in a non-repetitive way that won’t bore Bradley’s old readers. There’s a scene that displays the awkwardness of work life between Robbins and her new boss.

‘Yes, I know about the basement and what happened there, what happened to you and to your colleague. I’m so sorry about what you went through, Hannah.’ His voice was quiet.

I didn’t know what to say. I had never spoken of this with him. He had arrived after that job, he had arrived precisely because that job had gone wrong and had never mentioned it. I wasn’t sure why he was discussing it right now. I felt wrong-footed.

When Lucy and others are tasked with murder, Bradley dives into their psyche on whether or not they will commit murder. However, most of their reasoning and feelings remain at the surface level or, worse yet, the question is settled with a few broad, declarative sentences. This sacrifice is made to allow Bradley to ratchet up the action throughout “Kill For Me”. If police procedurals with a psychotic killer are your bag, then Rebecca Bradley’s “Kill For Me” is for you.


Thanks for stopping by and reading my review of Rebecca Bradley’s “Kill For Me” which is part of a damppebbles blog tour.


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Rag and Bone by Joe Clifford

Twenty or thirty pages into Joe Clifford’s “Rag and Bone” (Oceanview Publishing, 2019), one can determine whether an author can write and if the story is going to hold you. Clifford does both. Then there were the regrets, regrets that “Rag and Bone” wraps up the five-book Jay Porter series, regrets I haven’t read the first two books, and regrets that Clifford’s “The One That Got Away” (Down & Out Books, 2018) sits on my bookshelf unread. All of this because “Rag and Bone” is so damn good.

So where was I? Oh yeah, twenty or thirty pages in. There were a couple of bodies left around Porter’s home town which kind-of forced Porter to go on the lam. The true killers were soon discovered and Porter walks back into the police station to clear up any misunderstandings which the police might have had. Returning to town floods Porter with memories which leads us to one of the problems with late-to-the-series readers have, fear of missing out. A lot has happened in the few short years of the Porter books–a broken marriage, estranged friends, and dead relatives (it’s a shit list)–, but Clifford catches up new readers and those with forgetful memories. But whether you’ve read the previous books or not is unimportant, because “Rag and Bone” is so damn good.

It could be I eased into “Rag and Bone” because of my brief history with the character and the story, but I think not. Even though Porter is a bit surly and a border-line drunk, Clifford gives us small slivers of emotion within Porter that we can latch on to. Porter isn’t a cardboard cutout, no matter how flat my description paints him. There’s a scene deep into “Rag and Bone” where Porter drinks well past his self-imposed beer limit and everything goes to shit. Porter might have his excuses–hell, we all do–, but Clifford has none of that. The ramifications that Porter face are real and his uncontrollable spiral is in full effect.

Clifford writes character then story. Any reservations you may have about jumping into the deep end of this series, push them away as one doesn’t read Clifford for the plot twists, one reads Clifford because he’s so damn good.

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Scared to Breathe by Kerena Swan

Kerena Swan’s “Scared to Breathe” (Bloodhound Books, 2019) has an interesting premise, a thirty-something woman witnesses a stabbing and then becomes frightened that the knife-wielding mugger (or his friends) will harm her. The possibilities are all there, an endgame and human emotion running toward the edge, except none of this tension made it into “Scared to Breathe”.

Coming home from a late night in London, Tasha is alone in a train car with a drunk man harassing her. This bit was spot on as the reader felt Tasha’s fear and the constant questioning of herself, “I’ve made a mistake in choosing a seat with a table.”

But after the mugging/stabbing scene on, the book was a struggle. Though the germ of this novel and the subsequent story were more than good enough, Swan’s novel has some issues.

When Tasha goes from heroically saving a man’s life to being too scared to want to testify in court, though believable, how did this change occur? Covered in blood, Swan has her main character do an about-face in twenty-some-odd words. This at-odds motivational change happens several times throughout and is noticeable in the relationship between Tasha and her fiance, Reuben.

Reuben’s dialog sounds off, it’s unnatural tone makes his character stilted. At a party, he is asked by his father how his job is. Reuben responds:

“Good, thanks. I’ve managed to secure some great accounts recently which is great for my career prospects. We’ve just branched out to do the marketing and retail rights for food at festivals. I’m currently working on a four-week strategy.”

No one talks like that. That’s writing, not dialogue.

Books like Swan’s “Scared to Breathe” are meant for quick consumption and fast page turning. Swan hit those marks chapter by chapter, but in the end, even though the story was there, the telling was not.

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They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall

The idea of basing a book on another author’s work is nothing new, it’s been around a long time. Think about all the retellings of Ulysses, King Lear, Jane Eyre, and Cthulhu. Each one of these has its own cottage industry. In the mystery world, we have the copyright-free Sherlock Holmes, books written in the worlds created by recently-deceased authors, and Agatha Christie. Which brings us to Rachel Howzell Hall’s “They All Fall Down” (Forge Books), a rework of Christie’s “And Then There Were None”.

Christie’s novel is known for its story as well as its racist past. Both may be reasons why Hall decided to rework “And Then There Were None”, even Hall’s title plays off Christie’s historically wrong-headed titles with another nursery rhyme. Yet, each tale ends in the same place.

Last summer I picked up the first book in Hall’s Detective Eloise Norton series, “Land of Shadows”, which I loved and ended up buying the rest of the series. When I opened “They All Fall Down” I was split on what to expect, something gritty like Hall’s Norton series or a cozy like the original Christie novel. I was wrong on both fronts. I heard Hall refer to her new novel as noir which it is, but it also has the bells and whistles of a psychological thriller without falling into the latter’s clichéd trappings.

The narrator of the book is Miriam Macy, and, yes, she is an archetype of the unreliable narrator but I’ll say this about Miriam, she lives her truth, whatever that means when people say that. From the first few pages, we learn that Miriam is kind-of on the run from the law, the reader is unsure whether she’s actually fleeing or the cops just want to talk. Miriam’s narration leaves us with the feeling that we don’t know what really happened back in Los Angeles. Though we are only being fed bits of Miriam’s past, the reveals come out slowly and naturally. With Miriam, Hall has created a character that behaves consistently throughout even when at the end of her tether. We don’t know where Miriam will end up.

The other mainstay of the psychological thriller is the twist . . . I mean THE TWIST. Hall doesn’t play with that and it could be for two reasons, first that her book’s origins–this is a well-known story after all–and the second, which is more likely, is that Hall is that good of a writer, so confident in her skills that she does not have to rely on the sleight of hand.

Hall populates “They All Fall Down” with interesting and strong characters. I’m not going to list off the cast of the book here, I’d rather have Hall introduce them and for you to form your own opinion of them. Hall’s “They All Fall Down” is as entertaining as it gets while watching someone spiral out of control–and in this book that means everybody.

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Guillotine by Paul Heatley

If you are unfamiliar with Paul Heatley’s work then “Guillotine” (All Due Respect) is a great place to start. Heatley is becoming a master of American noir in the vein of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain.

“Guillotine” opens in a nameless seedy bar in an unnamed town somewhere in the States. Even though the bar has one stripper lazily leaning up against a wall, it would be a stretch to call what she was doing dancing just as it would to call the bar a strip joint–it puts the down in a rundown.

Mikey sits in a booth in the back, near the toilets. The stink of piss wafts out the swinging doors every time someone goes to relieve themselves. He had a whiskey, and he sips it from time to time while he watches the door. He waits. Tommy said he would reach the bar at ten. It’s half past that.

Heatley tells the story in present tense giving “Guillotine” a sense of immediacy highlighted by the action that Tommy brings into the bar. He has a story to tell Mickey, a story involving a local crime boss and his twenty-something daughter who is on the lamb with one of his henchman. As Tommy’s tells his story, not only do we learn why he’s there and who his is, a typical low-level thug with unrealistic big dreams, we get some background on Mickey, a freelance hitman with an infamous signature, a signature that has given him the moniker Mickey Guillotine–a name he’s not to fond of.

“You know where he is, why don’t you do it?”

“Cos I ain’t you, Guillotine. I ain’t a pro.”

Mickey locks his eyes with Tommy’s bloodshot peepers. “Don’t call me that.”

Tommy holds up his hands. “Sure, sure.”

Heatly’s novella moves from Tommy’s failed meeting with Mickey and then the chapters swap between the principle characters: Lou-Lou and Leon, the couple on the lamb; Big Bobby Joe, the boss; Davey, his number two; Tommy; and Mickey. In each chapter we jump into the world of one of the characters, see the motivation, and watch their fuckups because this is noir and fuckups are just as predictable as gravity.

There is a tendency in crime fiction to have the reader to feel okay about what’s happening, that their voyeurism of this naked world is okay, that the reader feels better about themselves even as the story devolves into violence. Yeah, that doesn’t happen in “Guillotine”. Heatley embraces noir’s fatalistic motif and its compatriot the blackness of defeat. “Guillotine” strikes at the nerve of noir and never lets up.

“Guillotine” will only take you a few hours to read and it’s well-worth the $10.95.

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Choose Your Parents Wisely by Tom Trott

Today marks my review of the second book of Tom Trott’s Brighton’s No. 1 Private Detective series, “Choose Your Parents Wisely”. Joe Grabarz, the protagonist of the series, has been ignoring the latest missing girl hubbub in Brighton. Things quickly change, first and foremost, an outrageous reward has been announced by the 8-year-old girl’s parents. Grabarz and the other two private eyes in Brighton are now hot on the trail.

I was a bit concerned picking up “Choose Your Parents Wisely” because it clocked in at almost 75,000 words while the first in the series was under 50,000. But my fears were unfounded. Whereas “You Can’t Make Old Friends” focused on one case and a lot of Brighton history–which was interesting–Trott weaves several plots throughout “Choose Your Parents Wisely” and loses a lot of the Brighton history. It is obvious in the reading of these two books that Trott loves Brighton. Hell, I might even visit Brighton if I even make it across the pond.

As I mentioned in my earlier review, Grabarz is a character pulled from 40s or 50s noir and plopped in the 21st century. This leads to some oddities, but overall, like the first book, Trott has created an enjoyable private detective novel with “Choose Your Parents Wisely”.

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You Can’t Make Old Friends by Tom Trott

I remember when I first saw the covers of Tom Trott’s Brighton’s No. 1 Private Detective series, I was totally blown away cover artist Thomas Walker’s work. These are not the sort of gems you see on self-published books.

When the opportunity came to participated in a blog tour of Trott’s series, I could not pass it up. My gut feel was if a self-published writer went to the such lengths to produce such a good looking book, well, the prose couldn’t be that bad. Yes, I was judging a book by its cover.

The story opens with Joe Grabarz, a private eye barely making a living in the seaside city of Brighton, England, waking up in his office smelling of another night of drinking. Even though the local police considered Grabarza a person non grata, a friendly cop calls him in to look at a murder scene. Before Grabarz is pushed behind the blue and white crime scene tape, he recognized the body of his childhood friend. And, like all good crime stories, things go pear-shaped from there.

There are a few first-book problems with “You Can’t Make Old Friends” such as awkwardly drifting from first-person point of view to third-person and back again. Grabaz is out of place in today’s world as he lives his life with the ’40s sensibilities of the hard-boiled private dick. But the writing, man, some of the writing in “You Can’t Make Old Friends” is great and that allows me to forgive some of Trott’s rookie mistakes. This description of Brighton’s sister city Hove blew me away.

Well, imagine a beautiful woman. Gorgeous. Cultured. Everybody loves her. And she’s fun too, a bit too much fun sometimes, if you know what I mean. Well, if you can imagine her, then Hove is her perpetually disapproving younger sister. The sort of woman who when mistaken for her sister, “You’re Nancy, aren’t you?” would reply, “Deborah, actually.” And it’s that “actually” that sums up Hove.

“You Can’t Make Old Friends” isn’t the perfect book, but Trott shows that he’s got the chops. I’m intrigued to read the next two books of the series.

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

This book almost had me. Almost. “The Wife Between Us”, a 2018 New York Times bestseller, came as close as anything in the psychological thriller genre for me to recommend if not for the first third of the book which utterly ruined it for me.

The rest that follows is filled with major spoilers.

“The Wife Between Us” alternates between Vanessa and Nellie, the former is the ex-wife of Richard pursuing the latter who is his soon-to-be-wife. Part One focuses on a cat and mouse game between the two with Nellie knowing that someone may be pursuing her while Vanessa teeters on the end of sanity as she tracks Nellie down. Are you ready for the parlor trick? Turns out Vanessa and Nellie are the same person with Nellie’s timeline occurring several years prior to Vanessa’s story. FFS. (Nellie is a nickname Richard had give Vanessa when he first met her.) Hundreds of pages just for this stupid reveal. Nothing but a gimmick, a goddamn gimmick.

Oddly enough, I did keep reading Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s book because the story sucked me in like a good TV movie, you know the ones with commercials every ten minutes. In Parts Two and Three, we learn that Vanessa is actually pursuing Emma, who is now Richard’s soon-to-be wife and we discover the why Nellie’s Vanessa’s marriage with Richard ending and her reasons of pursuit.

I made it all the way through, but there’s no reason for you to do so unless you start on Part Two. My recommendation? Wait for this to pop up on Netflix.

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Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

If you scanned any of the literary websites for Best of 2018, you will have come across Ottess Moshfegh’s name for her latest book, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”. There’s quite a buzz about her writing, so I went back to her second book, “Eileen”. Her first book, “McGlue”, just came back into print.

The narrator of “Eileen” is the main character of the book several decades after the most pivotal weeks of her life and it is this story she retells: the days that led up to her abandoning her life in 1964, her drunk father, her dead mother, and her job in a prison for teenage boys. As the narrator tells it in the opening paragraph:

I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair. You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special.

Moshfegh’s “Eileen” is not a blow-by-blow of the events leading up to her flying of her leaving X-ville, rather it’s a mediation on the narrator’s lost youth. This is nothing like a crime novel even though a heinous crime is committed.

Many books pretend to enter the psyche of its characters, but with Moshfegh’s “Eileen” we are swimming in the narrator’s weirdness and basic inability to function in society. Yes, the reader feels like a horrible fly on the wall as we witness some throughly disturbing psychological episodes, but knowing that the narrator has some how made it through to the other side of life allows you to keep reading on. Moshfegh is as good as everyone says she is and if given a chance, I’m sure you’ll dig this book too.

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