Bait, Grist and Security – Mike Hodges

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Mike Hodges’ Bait, Grist and Security, three darkly comic noir novellas from the cult director of Get Carter.

More on the book later, but first I’ve got an extract from chapter one of BAIT.

Summer is hell here.

Winter is the only time to be in this place. On a wet night preferably.

Like tonight.

The dark sea, flattened by rain, laps against the long curving beach. White-painted iron railings and ill-lit weather shelters recede into the mist. An amusement arcade, boarded up, sits like a blind man watching nothing.

The Grand Atlantic Hotel, a vast, corroding edifice, looms over the deserted esplanade. A torn canvas banner flaps over its darkened entrance, announcing the presence of the Brotherhood of Magicians Conference. Bedroom windows stacked up to the murky sky are black patches. The magicians are long in bed.
They’ll need steady hands in the morning. The clock tower strikes on the hour.

Twice.

An approaching motorbike cuts through the sound of rainwater smacking the tarmac. The red Yamaha rounds a corner slowly, ominously, powerful as a shark. A metallic titanium flip-front helmet glints under the street lamps. Moulded gloves with visor wipes, grinder boots, cowhide jeans and a leather jacket embossed with a bloody knife embedded in the rider’s back. The rider steers his machine along the esplanade before circling a traffic island housing the public urinals, all the while scanning the empty street.

A municipal shelter with a noticeboard advertising local events for wet winter nights stands beside the amusement arcade. It’s here the bike comes to rest. The rider leaves the engine running as he nervously pulls posters from a saddlebag.

He works fast, skilfully.

Soon the forthcoming amateur operatic production of Annie Get Your Gun is no longer forthcoming. But ‘The Personal Improvement Institute: A Course in Leadership Dynamics’ is. The etched face of a wild-eyed mountaineer intending to give a slide lecture the very next evening is replaced by the well-fed features of Dr Hermann P. Temple, who will show you the QUICK way to the TOP! during his impending weekend course on SUCCESS-POWER GETTING!

A similar fate is accorded ‘Pinkie and Barrie, the Comedy Duo’; ‘Diana Barnham playing Bach on the Clavichord’; and the providers of ‘Merrie England Banquets. Book now to avoid disappointment.’ All disappear within seconds to be replaced by five identical images of Dr Temple. A quintet of pointing forefingers, quiffs and eyes that would make a cobra back off.

*

A solitary light snaps on.

It’s on the third floor of an office block five minutes from the esplanade. The bare bulb backlights the gold lettering on the window: ‘Mark Miles Intercontinental’. Below that: ‘Creative Publicity and Personal Management’. On the bottom line: ‘MAKE your MARK with MILES. He’s WAY ahead.’

The block housing Mark Miles’ office is just that: a block. It has all the charm of a coal bunker. Built in the sixties, it’s an early example of how easily even smart people can be conned. Concrete is beautiful. Or so the architects decreed at the time.

Providence House, for that’s the block’s portentous name, takes on a gloomy appearance in the torrential rain. Mark Miles appears at the window, taking off his helmet, while simultaneously dropping the slatted blind. One side falls faster than the other, which doesn’t happen in movies, but almost always does in real life. Cursing, he tries to level it off, one-handed. Instead it becomes uncoupled and collapses on top of him. Mark Miles and his blind have one quality in common. Both spend their lives dangling.

Mark is sick of being a small fish in a small pond. His only remaining heroes are the sharks in the local aquarium. These massive glistening predators eye the awed visitors on the other side of the glass with contempt as they sweep majestically past in their eternal search for a way out. Like them, Mark wants to command respect. To this end, his pinball mind has been hyperactive since being approached by Dr Temple’s people to promote his weekend course. Leadership dynamics might just be the metamorphosis needed to take him to the top.

And quickly.

He switches on a battered desk lamp, puts it on the floor and kills the overhead. Mark has to be careful. The landlord suspects that, contrary to the terms of his lease, the office also doubles as his living quarters.
The landlord is right.
That’s why the chipped commode with ‘Hospital Property’ boldly stencilled on its lid, and smuggled in under cover of darkness from his late grandma’s council flat, is disguised with a potted palm. He lifts the palm and urinates into the china basin.

Slopping out has always been a complicated ritual. When he first moved into the building, the landlord – Fred Snipe, thin as a drainpipe
– was wont to ambush him on his early-morning run along the corridor to the communal lavatory. After several narrow escapes, Mark devised a strategy whereby he transferred the contents of the commode into a plastic first-aid box before embarking upon this essential mission.

Now, on their occasional encounters, Snipe’s nose twitches like a gerbil’s at the odour. His mouth opens but words refuse to emerge. He just can’t bring himself to ask what the container contains. Mark relishes these precious moments, smiling and patting the Red Cross on the box. ‘Preparation H, Fred. Works wonders.’ He sometimes varies the exchange: ‘Glycerine suppositories, Fred. Never fails to get you moving.’ Or, if he wants to make the landlord really blush, he adds, ‘Clinically proven to be effective against irritation and itching piles.’

These words always play on Snipe’s retreating figure.

Mark now eases out a crumpled futon and sleeping bag from under the defeated sofa, carefully avoiding any tangling with its bare springs. Rolling back and forth on the floor, he sheds his clothes and slips into the kapok envelope.

Light out.

*

In the street below Mark’s office, a black umbrella is opened from the shelter of a shop door. A man, short and paunchy, steps out, his suet- pudding face glistening in the rain. His name is William Snazell and he’s a private detective, a gumshoe. Dressed in a faded raincoat and shapeless trilby, he takes a final look at the darkened window before crossing the road. His shiny rubber galoshes shuffle through the sheet of rainwater.

~~~~~~

Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published by Unbound on 29th November 2018. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Unbound for the review copy.

In ‘Bait’, a slippery PR man, Mark Miles, is unaware he’s being manipulated and dangled as bait by an investigative reporter until he’s swallowed by a sadistic mind-expanding cult from
America.
In ‘Grist’, the bestselling writer, Maxwell Grist, ruthlessly uses real people as fodder for his crime novels before finding himself living up to his name and becoming grist for his own
murder.
In ‘Security’, an American movie star, unhappy with the film he’s working on, refuses to leave his hotel for the studios, while in the corridor outside his luxury suite mayhem and murder take over.

Blog tour: 35 Deaths by Mason Ball

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Mason Ball’s The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County. More on that later.

Mason has dropped by to let us know ‘Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Me’.

Over to you, Mason

#1 A painted fool
When not writing, I am a cabaret performer and award-winning emcee. As ‘Benjamin Louche’ I’ve hosted and appeared in shows up and down the UK, as well as in Europe and America. For the last nine years, along with my wife Rose Thorne, I have co-produced and hosted monthly cabaret show The Double R Club (inspired by the world of David Lynch).

#2 An explosive debut
I wrote my first poem, entitled Fireworks, Fireworks, Bang, Bang, Bang at the age of six: (transcribed from original)

Fireworks Fireworks bang bang bang.
They are pretty.
They Sparkle in the night.
Thhey spray some colours
They light the sky.
They are golden.
Whizz whizz they go.
The Catherine wheel gose round.
They spray a rash of stars in The dark.

#3 Cheers
I first tried gin when, at the bar, I ordered a beer and my friend Kris ordered a G&T. I ridiculed him good-naturedly for the next half an hour, then when we returned to the bar he suggested I try one; It’s been my drink ever since. For this, and for many, many other reasons, #35Deaths is dedicated, in part, to Kris. My favourite gin at the moment is probably Tanqueray Ten (gifts are always welcome).

#4 What’s the opposite of hagiography?
While at London Metropolitan University as a mature student, I won the Sandra Ashman Prize for my poem Mother Teresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. This was the first time I’d received money for something I’d written and as such it somewhat blew my tiny mind.

#5 Banana Man
Until the crowdfunding campaign for #35Deaths I had never eaten a banana. Yes, I know it’s weird. I promised when I reached a certain percentage that not only would I eat one, but that I would film it, in full cabaret garb, for people’s ‘entertainment’; which I did. The verdict was that I am not a fan of the banana.

#6 Like fingernails on a blackboard
The over-amplified sound of the pouring of carbonated drinks in TV adverts set my teeth on edge and drives me mad!

#7 Fleeing the scene of the crime…?
I was born in Essex, but I escaped.

#8 Hot chocolate
I once dressed up as a bar of chocolate to promote Walker’s crisps. Another performer dressed as a chili and together we represented the Chili Choc flavour on the Walker’s website. Our slogan was “where sweet meats heat!” The guy playing chili was a street dancer however and when we attempted a humorous ‘chest bump’ I went flying and cracked my head on the concrete floor, thus screwing up ex-footballer Gary Lineker’s dialogue to camera.

#9 Who am I?
As a child at playschool / kindergarten, I would wear a different hat every day: fireman’s hat, crash helmet, baseball cap, gangster’s trilby, army officer’s cap etc. I think these days they call that multiple personality disorder…

#10 “May the force be with you”
I appeared in Star Wars, episode VII: The Force Awakens, and Star Wars, episode VIII: The Last Jedi as a creature performer; in the former as Praster Ommlen, and in the latter as Sosear Latta -as Sosear Latta I was photographed by Annie Leibovitz! I was also a Vogon in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy and a mummy in The Mummy and The Mummy returns.

The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County, by Mason Ball is published by Unbound. You can find Mason on twitter @MasonBallAuthor.

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Mason Ball for inviting me onto the blog tour.

The dying years of the great depression; John Bischoffberger is a Pennsylvanian doctor adrift in Naples, Maine, struggling with his loss of religious faith and retreating from painful memories of The Great War.

As Medical Examiner John must document deaths that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Yet as he goes about his work, he begins to suspect that the deaths he is called upon to deal with are in fact far from routine.

He becomes convinced that three itinerants are going about the county, killing. An old woman, a little girl, and a thin man are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, brutally murdering men, women and children; and the deaths seem to be drawing closer to John: others who may suspect foul play, then acquaintances of his, then perhaps friends, even family members.

As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John’s rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost.

Following his poem Fireworks Fireworks Bang Bang Bang at the age of six, Mason eventually took the whole writing thing a little more seriously, graduating in 2009 from London Metropolitan University, having received first class honours in Creative Writing. In his second year, he won the Sandra Ashman award for his poem Mother Theresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. He has subsequently had work published in Succour magazine and Brand magazine.
Mason is currently working on a number of writing projects, as well as developing his next novel. In addition to this, he writes, co-produces and hosts the award-winning monthly cabaret night The Double R Club (as Benjamin Louche, winner of “Best Host” at the London Cabaret Awards). He also worked as a performer on Star Wars: The Force Awakens & The Last Jedi.
Mason is a trustee of East London charity Cabaret vs Cancer. He lives in East London with his wife, a cat called Monkey, and a collection of antique medical equipment.

Nightfall Berlin – Jack Grimwood

Published by Michael Joseph, May 2018
Source: review copy
In 1986, news that East-West nuclear-arms negotiations are taking place lead many to believe the Cold War may finally be thawing.
For British intelligence officer Major Tom Fox, however, it is business as usual.
Ordered to arrange the smooth repatriation of a defector, Fox is smuggled into East Berlin. But it soon becomes clear that there is more to this than an old man wishing to return home to die – a fact cruelly confirmed when Fox’s mission is fatally compromised.
Trapped in East Berlin, hunted by an army of Stasi agents and wanted for murder by those on both sides of the Wall, Fox must somehow elude capture and get out alive.
But to do so he must discover who sabotaged his mission and why…

I was delighted to be asked to kick off the blog tour for Jack Grimwood’s Nightfall Berlin. It’s a superbly drawn, deftly plotted intelligent cold war thriller, following in the footsteps of the equally excellent Moskva, but could be read as a standalone (if you must!)

Major Tom Fox has been recalled from a holiday with his wife and son to escort a defector from East Berlin. What should have been a relatively easy-in, easy-out quickly spirals out of control, leaving Fox trying to avoid capture by the Stasi and solve a murder for which he is the prime suspect, on both sides of the Wall.

I do love a good Cold War spy thriller and Nightfall Berlin is a superb example of the genre. Less glitzy than Bond, more real than Bourne, it feels utterly authentic of the time and Fox is a complex, believable protagonist. A real sense of time and particularly place too, something which I really like in a book.

Grimwood ratchets up the tension with a relentlessly as Tom Fox finds himself in increasingly perilous straits as he navigates the back streets of East Berlin and beyond. I’ve long been a fan of his books and love his way with language, drawing us into the story, sketching out the political and cultural climate of the time.

Whilst Tom Fox is a great character, he’s just one of a host of layered, complex individuals, key of which is his son Charlie who has his own story to tell. There are one or two familiar faces along for the ride as well!

Highly recommended.

Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood is published on 17th May 2018 by Michael Joseph. Many thanks to Sam Deacon for inviting me to take part in the tour.

Jack Grimwood, a.k.a Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta and christened in the upturned bell of a ship. He grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia. Apart from novels he writes for national newspapers including the Times, Telegraph, Independent and Guardian. Jon is two-time winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel, with Felaheen, and End of the World Blues. His literary novel, The Last Banquet, as Jonathan Grimwood, was shortlisted for Le Prix Montesquieu 2015.

(On a side note, Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk books (Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen) are bloody brilliant, and count amongst my favourites – I urge you to give them a try. Or if you prefer something a little more… vampiric and Venetian, The Fallen Blade is also superb. Enjoy!)

The Perfect Victim by Corrie Jackson: blog tour

Delighted to be a part of the blog tour for Corrie Jackson’s The Perfect Victim.

Husband, friend, colleague . . . killer?
Charlie and Emily Swift are the Instagram-perfect couple: gorgeous, successful and in love. But then Charlie is named as the prime suspect in a gruesome murder and Emily’s world falls apart.
Desperate for answers, she turns to Charlie’s troubled best friend, London Herald journalist, Sophie Kent. Sophie knows police have the wrong man – she trusts Charlie with her life.
Then Charlie flees.
Sophie puts her reputation on the line to clear his name. But as she’s drawn deeper into Charlie and Emily’s unravelling marriage, she realises that there is nothing perfect about the Swifts.
As she begins to question Charlie’s innocence, something happens that blows the investigation – and their friendship – apart.
Now Sophie isn’t just fighting for justice, she’s fighting for her life.

Here’s an extract from the book.
~~~~~
PROLOGUE

His heart bumps against his ribs as he pulls a torch from his pocket and shines it into the space behind the washing machine. He pulls out a brick and his fingers close around something feathery. The baby bird is as light as dry leaves. He’s amazed it’s still alive. It’s been in there for days. There are others buried deeper in the wall that haven’t been so lucky. He folds one hand round the bird and, with the other, he opens the laundry basket and digs around. The Blue Nun bottle is at the bottom, where his mum hid it. He waits a beat, then springs up the steps to the kitchen.
As he tiptoes past his mum, a car shoots past, its headlights turning the sitting-room shadows cartoony. He freezes, not used to seeing cars in this remote place. His mum shift s, snorts, rubs her stomach with a stubby red fingernail. He counts to fifty. The bird quivers, soft and sick, in his hand. He places it on the carpet, beside his sleeping mum, where it twitches, then settles. It looks peaceful but its eyes are milky with death. The boy unscrews the bottle lid. Then he pours the liquid on the carpet, trails it around the sofa, over the cigarette butts, the ashtray, the empty wine boxes, the remains of a congealing pizza. It splashes onto his shoes, drips down his wrists. He saves the final drops for the baby bird.
The boy takes one last look at his mum, then flicks the green lighter. The tiny flame shivers and he realises his hand is trembling. He cocks his head to one side, then snaps the lighter shut. His trainers squeak as he lurches – a childish zig-zag – across the kitchen and rips the crayon drawing from the fridge door. He rolls it into a cone then lights one end and tosses it onto the carpet. As the flames shoot forward in an angry orange stripe, words fill the boy’s head: He himself will be saved, but only through fire.
The boy waits, his eyes watering, lungs filling with smoke as he watches the fi re swallow up the bird. Then he drops to his knees and crawls into the hallway. He is about to open the front door when he hears coughing. It’s coming from the sitting room. His mum is awake. His hand hovers over the door handle. Then he remembers the crayon drawing.
The woman. The boy. The heart.
He opens the door and darts out into the dirty moonlight.

~~~~

The Perfect Victim by Corrie Jackson is published by Zaffre and is released on 16th November 2017.

Anita Robinson Photography

Corrie Jackson has been a journalist for fifteen years. During that time she has worked at Harper’s Bazaar, the Daily Mail, Grazia and Glamour. Corrie now lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with her husband and two children. Breaking Dead, her debut novel, was the first in the journalist Sophie Kent series and was described by Glamour as ‘Gripping . . . crime with a side order of chic’ and by the Sun as ‘Original, amazingly written and tense’. You can find Corrie at her website corriejackson.com or on twitter @CorrieJacko.

The House of Spines – Michael J. Malone


Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who appears to have been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, he finds that Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman …

House of Spines is a deliciously gothic, spooky tale set in an old house near Glasgow. Inherited by writer Ranald McGhie from a long-lost relative, the house is host to a magnificent collection of books, and more than a few family secrets.

Michael J. Malone has created a beautifully layered story, filled with strong characters, not least of which is Newton Hall which becomes a character in and of itself in the book – with creepy corridors, an ancient lift and long-forgotten rooms and a housekeeper/gardener couple who seem to have become part of the very fabric of the house. We follow young Ran as he first delights in his new-found property owner status but soon the house’s… quirks start to show up. As the secrets unravel, so does Ran’s sanity. Are the events really happening, or has his grip on the real world started to fray?

Fantastic characters, a gloriously mysterious house and a delightfully twisty plot. Highly recommended.

House of Spines by Michael J. Malone is out now, from Orenda Books. You can find Michael on twitter @MichaelJMalone1

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for asking me to take part in the tour, and for the review copy.

The Exiled – Kati Hiekkapelto

The Exiled - Kati Hiekkapelto

Murder. Corruption. Dark secrets. A titanic wave of refugees. Can Anna solve a terrifying case that’s become personal?

Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

The Exiled is the third of Kati Hiekkapelto’s books featuring detective Anna Fekete. This time she’s headed home to a little Balkan village to visit her family when her bag is snatched whilst on an evening out with her friends. She finds herself ensnared in a mystery which goes much further than a simple robbery.

It feels strange to be part of a blog tour for a Finnish author, but to be reading about the stifling heat of summertime in Kanizsa, a town in northern Serbia.

Anna herself is a fascinating character, adrift in her home town in the summer heat, a long way from Finland. The exiled is a very topical tale as the influx of refugees on their way to Europe makes its mark on the little town, bringing murder and corruption and even on holiday, Anna can’t escape her instincts to find out what’s really going on.

Kati Hiekkapelto has a great knack with characterisation, and the story  flows at a gentle pace, much like the river which plays such a central part of the story. Anna’s investigations take their toll on friendships and family, but you’re always on her side, willing her to uncover the truth, no matter how hard it might be to hear.

You can find Kati Hiekkapelto on twitter @HiekkapeltoKati or at her website, katihiekkapelto.com

Many thanks, as always, to Karen from Orenda Books for the review copy. Opinions are, of course, my own.

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