Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You know it's the summer holiday season in Newcastle when ...

... the shops are bedlam; 'car park rage' abounds; there's an eerie glow in the night sky caused by excessive Christmas lighting; the beaches are crowded; Santa goes surfing ... and there's a new Barry Maitland story serialised in the local paper.

This year the story, Blood River, is set on the Danube River and will unfold over 14 episodes.

In an interview last week, Barry said there was "a knack to writing in episodes ... you have to end each part with something that will keep people interested and coming back for more." He certainly did that in Monday's first episode which started with Kate on a cruise on the Danube, one year after a boating accident that left her husband Larry missing, presumed drowned, and her brother dead. While having a quiet drink in a Viennese cafe, a strangely familiar man sits beside her, and she is shocked to find that it's Larry.

This is, I believe, the third year that Barry has written a story for the summer editions of The Herald. Last year's story, Blood Pearl, was set in Broome in the north west of Western Australia. And the 2006 story was Blood in Umbria. I have enjoyed all of them.

The bad news is that unless you can get hold of print copies of the The Herald you won't be able to read it, as the story doesn't appear to be available from the newspaper's website.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Paying for It by Tony Black

Publisher: Preface, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-84809-021-7

First line: Funerals make my eyes water.

Gus Dury is an alcoholic on a downward spiral. He had a promising career as a journalist until he was involved in an unfortunate incident with a member of the Scottish parliament. With no job and no prospects, and his wife starting divorce proceedings, life looks much better through the bottom of glass.

When his mate Col’s twenty year old son, Billy, is killed, the official verdict is suicide. Col knows it was murder and asks Gus to investigate. Gus soon finds that Billy was working for a Russian gangster called Zalinskas and had got himself in way over his head.

As he delves deeper into Zalinskas' business dealings, Gus discovers a people-trafficking operation smuggling in girls from Eastern Europe to work in brothels, and uncovers police and political corruption at the highest levels. He is warned off a number of times, in increasingly violent ways. But Gus is not an easy man to intimidate, and he doggedly continues on to the shocking conclusion.

PAYING FOR IT is a terrific first novel from yet another Scottish crime writer. (What do they put in the water there?!) The Edinburgh that author Tony Black portrays is a very dark place, but it's not just the criminal underworld that is so dangerous and brutal. Flashbacks to Gus's horrendous childhood with an extremely violent and abusive father, show that home isn't always the safe place it should be.

Gus is a hard man with a smart mouth. He has a black humour, and his speech and thoughts are peppered with slang and classic noir-style metaphors. His character develops a depth and complexity that isn't immediately apparent, and despite all his faults, he is a likeable character. His life may be a complete mess, but underneath he's a decent, caring person and a loyal friend. He reminds me a lot of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor.

I have one minor quibble – the constant naming of cigarette brands. It seemed every time Gus lit up (which was quite often) he smoked a different brand, and for some reason we had to be told this. However, although irritating, it didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

With plenty of action, smart dialogue, a pacy plot, and a group of likeable characters, PAYING FOR IT is a splendid debut.

Tony Black is a journalist living in Edinburgh. He was born in Newcastle, NSW (hey, that's where I live!) but grew up in Scotland and Ireland. PAYING FOR IT is his first novel, and with the second, GUTTED, in the wings, hopefully this is just the beginning of a long series about Gus Dury.

For more information visit Tony Black's website.