Wednesday, April 29, 2009

THE COLOUR OF BLOOD by Declan Hughes

Published: John Murray, 2007
ISBN: 978 0 7195 6841 1

First line: The last case I worked, I found a sixteen-year-old girl for her father; when she told me what he had done to her, I let her stay lost.

After receiving some compromising photos of his missing teenage daughter, Emily, along with a ransom demand, wealthy Shane Howard employs Dublin private investigator Ed Loy to find her. This task is no difficulty for someone with Ed's knowledge of Dublin's darker side. However, disentangling himself from the Howard family proves more difficult.

When Emily's ex-boyfriend is found murdered in his flat things start to get very messy. Ed finds himself enmeshed in a complicated web of pornography, blackmail, gangsters and murder; not to mention a family with some deeply buried secrets that they would very much like to stay buried. The key to the current events lies long in the past, and as Ed starts making the connections that draw all the threads together, the story moves along at a rapid pace until the final dramatic scenes.

The Colour of Blood has an extremely complex plot, and it's a sign of Hughes' skill that he was not only able to keep track of all the various threads, but to untangle them so neatly by the end. The story revolves around the Howards – and a more dysfunctional family you'd never want to meet. On the surface they appear to have everything – money, success and social position, but underneath they're sinking in a veritable cesspool of deceit and secrecy. Ed's involvement in the case is further complicated by his attraction to Shane's sister, the beautiful and sexy Sandra Howard.

Ed is tough and resilient in the noir PI tradition. He has a strong moral core that compels him to search out the truth, even if that truth is sometimes an uncomfortable one. His past, particularly the death of his daughter, and his subsequent broken marriage, continue to haunt him.

The Colour of Blood is a worthy sequel to The Wrong Kind of Blood, the first in the Ed Loy series, and I look forward to reading the next book, The Dying Breed (The Price of Blood in the USA). The fourth in the series, All the Dead Voices has just been released in Britain and Australia.

For more information go to Declan Hughes' website

Monday, April 13, 2009

BLACKOUT by Gianluca Morozzi

Published: Bitter Lemon, 2004 (English translation: 2008)
ISBN: 978 1 904738 32

First line: Ferro washes the knife under the tap, whistling 'Don't Be Cruel', and the blood drains away, a pale, washed-out red.

Bologna on a holiday weekend in August is deserted. It seems as if everyone has headed to the beach to escape the oppressive heat of the city. Three people who haven't been able to escape, arrive in the foyer of their apartment building at the same time and wait for the one working elevator. Claudia, student and part-time waitress, sixteen year old Tomas, and Ferro, nightclub owner, Elvis lookalike ... and serial killer.

As the elevator rises, all three are lost in their own thoughts, each with a pressing need to reach their apartment. Claudia is desperate to get out of the skimpy uniform she hates, have a cold drink and a long shower. Tomas is thinking about his girlfriend and their plans to run away to Amsterdam that night. Ferro is anxious to collect some things from his old bachelor apartment and get back to his latest victim.

Then the elevator stops between the 11th and 12th floors. The lights go out, the alarm system doesn't work, mobile signals are strangely unavailable, and no one responds to their shouts. The trapped passengers are like “three wasps in an upturned glass”. As time goes on and there is no rescue, tempers fray and tension mounts to an unbearable level.

Blackout opens with one of the most chilling first chapters I've ever read and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. As we see Ferro with the young man he is holding captive it becomes clear he is a sadistic killer who likes to torture his victims, physically and psychologically – and he's very very good at it.

Most of the book takes place in the broken down elevator. As the focus shifts amongst the three trapped people, we see the same events from each character's point of view. The tension comes from our knowledge of Ferro. To the others he is annoying, selfish, and full of himself, but only the reader knows what he is capable of and what he is thinking. Will he be able to control his urges? As the thin veneer of normality he presents to the world begins to crack, our fears for the others heightens.

Morozzi brilliantly creates an oppressive claustrophobic atmosphere, where the heat, the sweat, the lack of air, the despair, and the fear are palpable. There are a couple of twists along the way, but the completely unexpected ending is ultimately a disturbing indictment of today's society. Blackout is a tautly written and chilling psychological thriller and I found it impossible to put down.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fat, Fifty & F***ed by Geoffrey McGeachin

Published: Penguin, 2004
ISBN: 978 0 14 300257 0

First line: A three-quarter moon sat low in the night sky, its pale glow illuminating the lumpy puddles of vomit dotting the deserted forecourt of Burrinjuruk's two-star Truck-On-Inn hotel/motel.

Martin Carter, manager of the only bank in the small country town of Burrinjuruk, is not having a very good day. His marriage is a farce, his stepchildren are indifferent to him, the bank is closing and he's been retrenched. To top it off, it was his 50th birthday yesterday and no one remembered. Yes, he's fat, fifty and his life's, well and truly f***ed.

On his last day at the bank, a million dollar payroll proves too tempting, and after locking up the bank staff (along with a good supply of banana cake and cheap sparkling wine), and tying up the local policeman, he goes on the run in the police 4WD.

His day starts to look up when he saves a gorgeous woman from a nasty bikie. With Faith riding a vintage motorbike and Martin tucked up in the sidecar with the bags of money, they set out on a road trip to find an old school friend of Martin's. Known as the Mad Major he lives in a fortress-like compound in far North Queensland. Along the way they encounter a bikie gang with a difference - who are "somewhere between the Hell's Angels and the Double Bay Mid-Life Crisis Motorcycle Club"; a most unusual retirement home; and a powerful and very wealthy businessman.

But unbeknownst to him, Martin has come to the attention of a mysterious and dangerous man who works for a shadowy government department. Too late, he and Faith realise they are caught up in the middle of something much bigger than armed robbery.

Fat, Fifty and F***ed has a large cast of quirky characters, all seemingly trying to 'out-quirk' each other, but there is a depth and genuineness to the main characters that makes you care about them.

Faith is my new favourite fictional librarian . What a role model! And how could I not love a character who holds my exact views, almost word for word, on coffee (has McGeachin been eavesdropping?!). McGeachin won over this librarian with lines like “'How do you know all that stuff?' ... 'it's my job.' ... 'I'm a librarian'”, and “The history books are full of our outlandish escapades, erotic adventures and deeds of derring-do”.

Fat, Fifty and F***ed is very Australian in character and language, without being over the top. The plot may stretch credibility to its limits, but that doesn't really matter as you find yourself just going along for the ride in this fast fun read.

Fat, Fifty and F***ed is McGeachin's first novel, and he has followed this with a series featuring special agent Alby Murdoch. I have a couple of these in my TBR pile and look forward to reading them. More information can be found at McGeachin's website.