Tag Archives: trilogy

A Song for the Brokenhearted: William Shaw

“Violence had its echo.”

A Song for the Brokenhearted is the third volume in William Shaw’s Breen and Tozer trilogy. The dynamic between these two main characters, both outsiders for different reasons, are a major draw for this series. CID CS Cathal Breen, known as ‘Paddy’ doesn’t ‘fit in’ with his Division, and Helen Tozer, never taken seriously by her male colleagues, is a young female policewoman, Temporary Detective (“Probationer,”) who hails from the countryside. In the first book, She’s Leaving Home, the mismatched team of Breen and Tozer tackle a murder case, in The Kings of London Breen investigates the murder of a wealthy art collector, and this final book in the trilogy, opens at the Tozer farm. Helen has given up on her career and has returned home to work. Breen is there for.. well read The Kings of London for that one.

The series is unique for its 60s setting–Tozer, in the first book is the source of many sexist comments and expectations from her male workmates who think she exists to make their coffee and giggle over their jokes, and meanwhile Beatlemania rages through Britain. Shaw’s characters are firmly rooted in their time, so we have speculation about why a nice girl like Helen Tozer wants to be a policewoman, but the answer to that lies in her past.

a song for the brokenhearted

That brings me to A Song for the Brokenhearted–anyone who read the first and second books in the series knows that Tozer is haunted by the brutal, unsolved slaying of her sister Alexandra. This vicious crime is the root cause for Tozer’s career choice, and the murder is so deeply embedded in the character of Helen Tozer that we know its solution had to occur somewhere in the series. With Breen bored out of his mind on the Tozer farm, he grasps how the unsolved murder permeates the household. He begins poking around in the cold murder case.

Murdered people never really go away. They stay with you. If you never discover why they were killed, or who the killer was, it’s worse. As a policeman he knew this from the families and friends of the victims that he’d met over the years. Now living here, the dead girl was all around him in this house.

Using Tozer’s influence, he accesses the old files and discovers that information regarding a key witness, one of Alexandra’s many secret lovers, is missing from storage. After discovering the name of this witness, a wealthy local married man, Breen begins digging into the case, and the past comes back with swift retribution.

As with the previous two books in the series, the author does an excellent job of recreating the 60s atmosphere without nostalgia, and since this entry in the trilogy is set, mostly, in the countryside, the 60s references are more social values than star power, so at one point, for example, we see a pregnant woman puffing away at a cigarette–funny how that seems shocking these days, and hear about jury selection for the Kray brothers’ trial.  Shaw presents the generational gap between Breen and Tozer as the world of the 50s clashing with the 60s. This is a world in flux with rapidly shifting values. In this novel, there’s an additional element of colonialism, and the Dirty business carried out in Kenya washes up in unexpected ways in spite of, apparently, being swept under the rug.

Review copy.

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The Sudden Arrival of Violence: Malcolm Mackay (Glasgow Trilogy 3)

“You live your life with big secrets and they come to define you.”

Book 1 in the Glasgow Trilogy, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter introduced main character, the meticulous, laconic freelance gunman, Calum MacLean. In this first novel, Calum is hired by crimelord, Peter Jamieson to kill lowlevel drug dealer, Lewis Winter. Lewis has been part of the Glasgow drug scene for years, but he’s started poaching on Jamieson’s turf. His execution will be a message to Winter’s powerful new friends.

Book 2: How a Gunman Says Goodbye heralds the return of the Jamieson’s organization’s aging gunman, Frank MacLeod to the job following his convalescence in Spain for a knee surgery. Both books examine the individual within the criminal organization with a solid argument to support that a gunman is destined to have a lonely, solitary life due to the nature of his chosen profession. Both Calum and Frank’s stories of how they operate and conduct business are set against the simmering turf war between Jamieson and car dealer Shug Francis, an ambitious man who wants to seize Jamieson’s business concerns. Jamieson is a mid-level gang lord–not a particularly good place to be. It’s easy to be cannibalized by another upward moving competitor.

the sudden arrival of violenceBook 3: The Sudden Arrival of Violence begins with Calum now under the yoke of the Jamieson organization. No longer freelance, he cannot pick and choose his jobs, and the book opens with Calum completing a very unpleasant hit against a civilian. The job confirms Calum’s decision: to leave the business while he still can…

While Calum plots his escape, Jamieson is plotting to bring down Shug Francis and his operation. This involves concocting a story that will implicate Shug in a violent crime, and using key people, carefully placed, to make sure that the police swallow Jamieson’s fiction. On the outside looking in is DI Fisher, busy putting two and two together and coming up, repeatedly, thanks to corrupt coppers, with the wrong numbers. Underneath the murky surface of both Shug and Jamieson’s organization are betrayals, mixed loyalties, and double crosses, and Fisher is picking up the pieces of gingerbread which lead him right to the conclusion Jamieson wants him to make.

Writing a review of the third volume in a trilogy presents a challenge as you can’t say too much about the plot without revealing spoilers from the other books, so instead, I’ll concentrate on characters and quotes.

There are two ways of playing the situation that Calum’s in. The subtle way, and the sledgehammer way. From where Calum’s standing, the subtle way looks like a waste of time. They know he’s running and they’re making moves against him. They must know that he’ll work out what they’re up to. Playing subtle achieves nothing. Can’t trick them, when they know more than he does. So you go down the sledgehammer route. You go aggressive, confrontational, none too subtle. You let them know that they’re in a bloody great big fight. Let the bastards know that if they want to take you down, they’re going to have to work for it. Few people can play that part well. Most aren’t intimidating enough. Calum is one of the few who is. They know how dangerous he can be.

The first two books in the trilogy examine the role of the individual in the criminal organization, and that theme continues here. The organization’s success rests on brilliant strategic planning but also loyalty to the organization plays a crucial role. In these uncertain times, both Jamieson and Shug Francis must appear to be in control, for some gang members may jump ship if they sniff weakness or disaster ahead. Jamieson’s right hand man, the strategical brain of the operation, is Young, an unpopular man, but Jamieson’s trusted lieutenant. Shug Francis has a similar relationship with Fizzy–a man he’s known since his boyhood. In this novel, both Jamieson and Shug question the decisions of their right hand men–can Fizzy grow with Shug’s big new plans? Does Young make a terrible mistake when he tries to block Calum’s exit strategy? Friendships within the organization are not encouraged as loyalty to the organization comes first before any personal feelings, and in book 3, that makes a difficult choice for muscle man, George–a man who’s accompanied Calum on many a job and even took orders from Young to sabotage Calum’s relationship with a woman.

Both George and Calum, still young men, are prime examples of how you ‘can’t be a little bit criminal.’ Both men want to pick and chose their jobs, but by this third volume, they are both being sucked down into the criminal vortex of the Jamieson organization. Here’s Shug mulling over his decision to get into the drug trade:

That’s the problem with things being easy. You think it’s going to stay that way. You think that if you can put together a car-ring, then you can put together a drugs network. Control it top to bottom. You become used to that level of control when you have an untouchable operation. So you plot. You organize. You employ. You identify the weakness in others. Identify the target and the mechanisms you can use to bring it down. Take the target’s share of the market. The  move onto the next. The next one always being slightly bigger than the last. Keep working it that way until you get to the top.

Peppered with memorable, strongly drawn, vivid characters, this excellent, hard-hitting series is highly recommended for crime fans who like their crime novels bleak and dark. This third volume of this gritty, hard-driving trilogy leaves the possibility of a fourth book (removing the ‘trilogy’ from the series) wide open….

Review copy.

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Game by Anders de la Motte

Game is the first book in a trilogy from Swedish author Anders de la Motte. The second volume, Buzz, is due to be released in January, and the third and final volume, Bubble, follows in February.  The author was a police officer and also worked as Director of Security for an IT company, and it’s easy to see how that background slots into the plot. This is the story of a marginally employed slacker, Henrik “HP” Pettersson just out of prison, who’s about to blow his “crap Mcjob.”  When the novel opens, he’s been partying, has a hangover, and is returning home on the train. He doesn’t give a toss about the job as he only took it so that he could claim unemployment in due course. HP is the sort of person who finds justification for all of his screw-ups; there’s no learning curve here, and in his mind, if he does something wrong, the fault is society’s.

GameA passenger leaves the nearly-empty train and HP notices that he’s left his phone behind. Checking for a lack of security cameras, HP switches seats and picks up the phone intending to sell it to a fence for “easy money.” The phone looks expensive but there’s no manufacturer’s name anywhere to be seen. There’s just a number: 128. While HP is looking at the phone, noting that it has a camera, the screen lights up with the words: Wanna play a game? At first HP ignores the prompt but when it appears repeatedly, and includes Henrik’s name, his curiosity, boredom combined with poor impulse control lead HP to accept the challenge. From that moment on, Henrik is in the Game and under the direction of the Game Master. Through the phone, HP is presented with a series of challenges for which he receives points and cash rewards even as he competes with other players for status and fans. For someone like HP, it’s the best of all possible worlds, and he thrives under the gratification of the Pavlovian system designed, it seems, to stroke his ego with instant feedback through the cyberworld, monetary compensation and the illusion that he’s some sort of rock star player.

It’s all great fun, until suddenly it isn’t. HP’s tasks becoming increasingly more serious and then they turn deadly….

In this age of virtual realities where some of us spend more time on the internet than we do with real live people, Game makes a statement about crossing the boundaries between the real and the virtual worlds. While HP is the main character, the book introduces many computer geeks, hackers, IT specialists and conspiracy theory whackos as HP tries to unlock the secrets of the Game. There’s also HP’s sister, Rebecca, a woman with a dark past who’s molded fear into toughness. As a member of the Security Police, she’s dedicated and focused–the opposite of her brother, but they are both connected by their pasts and a secret that landed HP in prison.

Game is a fast-paced read. No argument there, and this trilogy will no doubt make a great film, so move over The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. On the positive side, the author shows HP’s moral decline as he becomes fixated on the Game, and his addiction sucks all of his negative character traits to the surface. There are problems with the book, however, some of which may an issue of the formatting of my kindle edition. The action between characters shifts with no indication that we’re leaving one set of characters and moving to another with the result that I was confused several times as to who ‘he or she’ was.  I’d go back a page or two and re-read and it would still not be clear. There was a scene in which HP is having enthusiastic sex with an unnamed woman, and he refers to three sex partners in two hours which seemed so bizarrely out-of-place with the rest of the novel. At one point, I thought perhaps it was Rebecca who had sex with her brother, (WTF) so I went back and reread but nothing was clearer. So I kept reading and later finally realized that Rebecca had had sex with another male character whose name wasn’t mentioned at the time, so we have two separate sex scenes which seem to be the same scene with just two characters named: Rebecca and HP. Back to that confusing shift in perspective. I wonder if I’m the only one who was mixed up about this. Initially the writing seems clumsy and then it appears to improve, or perhaps I was swept away by the action.  

Translated by Neil Smith

Review copy

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Point and Shoot by Duane Swierczynski

“Wait, wait, wait.” Hardie said. “Water evacuation? Knocked unconscious? What happened to all that shit about a gentle splashdown.”

It’s been over a year since I read part II of the Charlie Hardie trilogy by pulpmaster Duane Swierczynski. The first novel in the series Fun and Games is the story of middle-aged, washed up former police consultant Charlie Hardie who’s split from his wife. Hardie’s latest gig is housesitting; it may not sound like much–no pension, profit sharing or career expansion, but hey, with a heavy burden of guilt, all Hardie wants these days is the quiet life. He’s looking forward to his job housesitting for a Hollywood music producer, but all hell breaks loose when he steps inside the Hollywood Hills home and encounters a terrified bit part actress, Lane Madden who claims that The Accident People–a secret team who specialize in Hollywood whack jobs are outside of the home and about to murder her….

Part II Hell and Gone finds Hardie incarcerated in a secret underground prison compound, site 7734, owned and operated by The Accident People. For those under lock and key in the facility, it’s hell on earth with no parole, daily brutality and an on-going mind-fuck.

point and shootNow that brings me to Part III, and for this Hardie/Swierczynski fan, the book was a long time coming, but well worth the wait. With a trilogy, there’s always the concern that the action will flag, but no, Swierczynski, who creates micro worlds of paranoia and violence loaded with sophisticated, adrenalin-high, pulp-action, Point and Shoot brings the Hardie trilogy to a phenomenal conclusion. Fans of the earlier two books will not be disappointed, and if you haven’t read any of the Charlie Hardie books, you need to start at the beginning.

For those who have read Fun and Games and Hell and Gone, some old, familiar characters are back in action–including Hardie’s arch-enemy, Mann  “with Charlie Hardie blinking neon in her brain,” hot on his trail, and thirsting for revenge. Mann is one of The Accident People –Hollywood Star Whackers who then stage grubby “narratives” to support the death scenes they create.  The Accident People are just one arm of The Cabal–power brokers whose tentacles of control and manipulation extend far beyond Hollywood. Hardie is the only person to cross The Accident People, dig into the structure of The Cabal and still live to tell the tale. Part III: Point and Shoot finds Hardie trapped in a secret satellite, in orbit 500 miles above the earth. He has a food and water supply, a list of duties to perform along and an order to kill anyone who shows up–not that that seems to be a likely scenario. There’s no communication with the outside world, and Hardie has been told that he must ‘behave’ or that his estranged wife and son, back in Philadelphia will have “an accident.” Just in case Hardie gets any big ideas, and in order to keep Hardie focused, he receives a daily transmission from a hidden camera inside his family’s home. Hardie, who’s gained a reputation of being unkillable, sees no choice but to behave, and he plugs along stoically and stubbornly, but then one day, he receives a visitor….

That’s as much of the plot as I will reveal. To those new to the trilogy, you will discover Duane Swierczynski’s unique style which blends non-stop action with humour. After all, here’s Hardie, this geezer, an unlikely hero, no spring chicken, who keeps on truckin’ with stubborn tenacity. Hardie is a loner, a one man-show, and this is one of the facets of his personality that has kept him alive. Reading the books in the Hardie trilogy is a unique experience in a literary Die-Hard sort of way.  If you want action, if you want distraction, then Swierczynski is the author for you. Honestly, no-one does this sort of pulp action better. Please someone out there make films from these books; they’re begging for movie adaptation.

“Whoah. You okay, man?”

You twist your head around to see a bearded guy standing there with a notebook in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Even upside down you can tell he’s a hipster douchebag, central California version. The chunky glasses, the greasy hair, the tight unbuttoned shirt. He’s in dire need of a shower and a hug.

“I’m doing just great,” you say.

“Where did you come from?”

“Space.”

The hipster douchebag, probably a fucking poet or something, doesn’t quit know how to respond to that, so he focuses on the big dude lying facedown in the sand next to you. He crouches down next to you both.

“What about him? Is he okay? wait a minute…are you guys wearing spacesuits? I thought you were just fucking around with me there.”

Can’t get anything past this guy.

“Can I show you something?” you ask, reaching for an imaginary pocket, and the moment his eyes track down to you hand you nail him. It feels good to take out some aggression on someone who totally doesn’t deserve it. By the follow-up rabbit punch he’s already out cold on the sand. Leaving you with two unconscious bodies on the beach. Let’s hope hipster douchebag has car keys.

The best thing about the books of Swierczynski are that they may be works of the imagination but they are not that far-fetched that they seem impossible. We’ve probably all read a story in the paper that somehow doesn’t smell right. Duane Swierczynski writes pulp novels, but he does a great deal more than that; he mines the depths of the weirdest stories out there, and then with imagination and humour pushes the boundaries of fiction until the impossible, the conspiracy theories, the shadowy power-brokers, and our deepest fears and paranoias becomes strangely, and terrifyingly, possible.

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Still Life with Volkswagens by Geoff Nicholson

“You don’t think there’s something eye-catching about jack-boots, Nazi uniforms, death’s head insignia?’

Another entry in my Year of Geoff Nicholson, and this time it’s the second volume of the author’s Volkswagen trilogy: Still Life with Volkswagens. This follows Street Sleeper, and there are so many repeat characters with continued history that readers should begin with the first book and then read on. In Street Sleeper, Barry Osgathorpe aka Ishmael, the Zen Road Warrior, bought a battered old VW Beetle, dumped his long-suffering girlfriend, Debby, and took to the road to ‘find himself.’ Along the way he met Fat Les, a VW mechanic, who converted Barry’s junker into Enlightenment, a loaded Beetle that is the envy of those who see this gleaming machine, and together with Enlightenment, Ishmael had many adventures and met the woman of his dreams–even if the feeling wasn’t mutual.

still life with VolkswagensBack to Still Life with Volkswagens which finds Barry (yes, back to plain old Barry) dossing in a caravan in Yorkshire. His short-lived days of adventures are over, and Enlightenment is permanently parked and covered due mainly to Barry’s current obsession about the planet, greenhouse gases and global warming. He’s considering forming a club called the Green Beetles for those committed to never driving their cars:

They may clean and polish them once in a while, even sit in them from time to time with their friends and families. The important thing is; they will never drive them. They will leave their cars parked next to their house or caravan, never start the engines, never pollute mother earth with their deadly fumes.

Debby is still in Barry’s life, and she’d still like to travel a bit but Barry defensively argues that he “never want[s] to go anywhere or do anything.” Problems begin for Barry when Volkswagens mysteriously begin exploding all over England, and banking scion Carlton Bax, the world’s “foremost Volkswagen collector[s]” goes missing. Involved whether he likes it or not, Barry is forced to abandon his inertia. Not only is Barry a prime suspect for both crimes, but the love of his life, Marilyn, now a weather-presenter on television, reappears in Barry’s life and begs for his help. Marilyn suspects that her father, Charles Lederer, recently released from a mental asylum may be responsible  for the war against Volkswagens and the disappearance of her lover, Carlton Bax. (If you’ve read Street Sleeper, you’ll remember both Marilyn and Charles Lederer, and it’ll also make sense to you why Lederer hates Volkswagens).

Since author Geoff Nicholson developed some many great characters in Street Sleeper, it’s wonderful to see them back for the second part of this trilogy. After all, why waste characters by only using them once? So Fat Les reappears–now the proud owner of a “clean and flawless Volkswagen emporium” near Southend. It’s in this building, an “exhilarating piece of Odeon-style seaside deco” called  ‘Fat Volkz Inc,’ that Fat Les runs his very lucrative VW business.  According to humorless Detective Inspector Cheryl Bronte, Fat Les is yet another suspect in the disappearance of Carlton Bax. Also making a re-appearance is Marilyn’s nymphomaniac mum, Mrs. Lederer who gets her “revenge”  on her neglectful husband by offering her body to cab drivers which is a bit difficult when a man she mistakes for a cab driver is driving a custom Beetle.

Add to this crazy list, Phelan, a sicko, cunning neo-Nazi who likes to be whipped (amongst other things) by leather-clad dominatrix Renata Caswell (who also appeared in Street Sleeper). Phelan’s master plan is to organize a gang of yobos or as he describes them: “A band of supermen, roaming this great country of ours in chariots of fire, by which I mean Volkswagen Beetles.”

Naturally Still Life with Volkswagens is full of Nicholson’s brand of dark humour. Here’s Barry having a conversation of sorts with Phelan:

“You’re like me Barry. You look at all these people and what do you see? Do you see your equals? Do you see creatures made in god’s image? I don’t think so Barry. I think you see a lot of useless clutter. Don’t you think a lot of that clutter could be tidied away?”

“I’ve never thought about it,” Barry says.

“Oh, I think you have,” Phelan says insinuatingly. “Haven’t you ever thought to yourself that the world would be a much better place if only there were more people like you in it?”

“I suppose so.”

“I’m here to tell you Barry that there are more people like you in the world than you might think.

Take a drive around the M25 Barry. What traits are displayed by your fellow man? Aggression, selfishness, bad temper, competitiveness, madness brought on by stress. that’s not what the world ought be like, is it?”

“No,” Barry admits.

“When Adolf Hitler conceived of the idea of the autobahn that’s not what he had in mind at all. He saw long straight fast motorways uncluttered by riff raff and deviants.”

“What?” says Barry.

“You’re a good citizen, aren’t you Barry? You’re law-abiding, moral, politically middle of the road, not sexually or socially deviant. You’re male and you’re white.”

“Well, to an extent,” Barry stutters.

“Why deny it Barry? Why be ashamed? You don’t want the world left in the hands of extremists and perverts, do you? Of course you don’t. In your heart of heart you’re just like me, just like us. You know Hitler was right.”

“About motorways?”

In this tale of the battle of ‘good’ vs. the forces of evil, Geoff Nicholson’s humour knows no taboos, so he’s just as ready to poke fun at neo-nazis as he is at any type of extremism–be it perversion, obsession and collectors (all favourite themes for this author), so it should come as no great surprise that while the book includes a fair amount of trivia about Volkswagens, somehow or another, various Volkswagen drivers and collectors are mentioned: Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Hitler and even the Fabulous Elvis also find their way into these pages. And for anyone who plans to scream in outrage at the very idea, let me say that Nicholson’s black humour diminishes Manson and Hitler into the pathetic, sick human beings they were, empowered by people misguided enough to sign on for their madness (and no I’m not comparing Manson to Hitler. They just both happen to appear in the book). Who knew so many weirdos were attracted to Volkswagens, and what does that say about me? Oh never mind.

Not only does the author show some of the weirder aspects of the Volkswagen enthusiasts, but by interjecting fact into his fiction (there’s even a bit of the author’s own life in these pages), somehow the craziness blends, and neo-Nazis of the Apocalypse and Volkswagens exploding nationwide just don’t seem that far-fetched:

Manson starts to live out more of his fantasies. He sets up a production line behind the Spahn Ranch, which he calls the Devil’s Dune Buggy Shop. Volkswagens are stolen from town, taken to the ranch, stripped down, converted into vehicles of the Apocalypse. Some of them can be bartered for drugs and weapons, and he hopes they’ll be useful in some of his other fantasies, like kidnapping busloads of schoolgirls, raiding a military arsenal, murdering a few rich pigs.

Pride of the fleet is Manson’s own command vehicle. It is one Hell of a dune buggy. It looks both futuristic and ancient. There is a ‘magic sword’ sheathed in the steering column. locks of human hair tied around the roll bar, a sleeping platform, armour plate, a machine gun mounting, a fur canopy. It has been recently resprayed, then desert sand thrown onto the paint while still wet, to form a kind of camouflage.

When the whole shooting match is over, this Command Vehicle will be displayed at a car show in Pomona, California, and get a lot of admiring attention from the custom Volkswagen fraternity.

Charles Manson Family Dune buggy graveyard Spahn Ranch Dec. 27, 2011 Santa Susana Pass Road

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