The Red And The Grey – Chapter 1

The Red And The Grey is a novel plotted by Patrick Wilson and written by Mark Wilson and Patrick Wilson. Coming autumn, 2019.

The following excerpt is unedited and is copyright to Mark Wilson and Patrick Wilson Copyright, 2019.

red moon during night time

Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

 

Chapter 1

 

Hitting The Target

 

“Like this, Alfie.”

Shifting the young squirrel’s hold, Brielle loosened his right hand, rotating his entire grip, and then his left, pinching his fingers tighter around the bark cradle of the hand-made catapult.

“Try it now,” she instructed him gently.

 

Taking a step back, she whispered to him, willing the small kit on. “Breathe, and release.”

A second later she watched the Alfie’s chest deflate and his forearms tense as he drew tension into the weapon.

Alfie had already attempted seven shots, compared to three that most of his classmates had taken, to hit the target. Small for his age, he had crafted a gorgeous catapult from willow twigs and stretchy vines. One of the finest Brielle had seen for a kit his age. His hands, despite dogged hours of practice, still struggled to summon the strength needed to make best use of his superb weapon.

Brielle held her own breath willing the kit on. Alfie’s gaze narrowed.

Clunk.

His class mates, cheered and all tension disappeared from the small kit’s body. Ears twitching, he turned to look up at his teacher.

“Thanks, Mrs Tearmann,” he grinned.

 

Brielle offered him a smile of her own. Placing her arm around him, she drew him closer that only he might hear her words.

“Determination, Alfie. And focus,” she whispered. Behind her, Brielle’s own children mouthed the mantra, affectionately mocking their mother.

 She had repeated the mantra to the group countless times over weeks. Weeks in which the little kit had steadfastly practiced despite so many failures.

Alfie nodded silently. Basking in his little victory.

 

“Not bad for a runt!”

Brielle whipped her head around to admonish the owner of the gruff voice.

Locking her eyes on their guard, Lars, she bored them into the Grey.

Beside her, Alfie’s little body sagged, his elation at his small triumph crushed.

“Mind your own business, Lars,” Brielle instructed the Grey.

She bobbed a nod down at Alfie. “Any one of these kits is a better shot than you are.”

Lars, lounging on a mossy tree stump beside his partner, waved her off lazily. “Greys don’t need those ridiculous weapons. “Above it, we are,” Lars grinned.

Infuriated by his casual disdain, Brielle felt heat rise in her cheeks and ears.

“Incapable, is what Greys are,” Brielle replied.

 

Lars rose to his feet, covering the ground between them faster than Brielle could follow the movement. Finding the large Grey stood over her, pressing his bulk against her chest, Brielle ignored her instincts to back away. She lifted her chin and pushed right back with her full weight.

The kits in her class gasped. “You’ve no right to…”

Lars silenced her with a lightning fast slap to her cheek that sent the Red sprawling to the forest floor.

Dazed, Brielle struggled focus her eyes, but sensed that Tod had placed himself between her and the Grey. Forcing her eyes to obey, Brielle cast her glance over the kits in her class. Most of them had stayed back. Her eldest daughter, Chase, stood, her arms wide, corralling and comforting the younger Reds. Chase’s little sister, Bendis, amongst them.

Lars, on his hind legs, had risen up to his full height, assessing Tod as he stood glaring up at the Grey. Eyes darting from Brielle to Tod, Lars’ face broke into a mocking grin.

“Brave for a Red, boy.”

Enraged, Tod dashed at the Grey, right arm cocked to deliver a blow.

Lars laughed loudly as he delivered a brutal right fist into the kit’s face.

Tod’s nose crumpled under the grey’s fist. Flung back several feet by the impact, the young Red landed on his back next to his mother.

“Or simply stupid,” Lars sneered, looking over his shoulder for approval from his fellow guard.

Glor, an older grey on duty with Lars, who remained laid on the tree stump, showed only a passing interest in Lars’’ scuffle, offering the junior guard a half-hearted smile.

Still partly-stunned, Brielle rolled Tod over that she might see her son’s face. Moving Tod’s hands from his nose, Brielle found her son bloodied; his eyes tear and hate-filled. The kit was furious, but he was also petrified.

Placing both of her hands on his cheeks, she told him, “Calm, Tod. Today’s not the day.” Observing him, Brielle watched the fire in his eyes dim slightly.

Rising to her feet, she rounded on Lars.

“He’s only ten years old, for maker’s sake!”

The same disdainful grin playing on his lips, Lars cocked his head, regarding the young downed Red.

“Big for a ten year old,” he noted with amusement. “Big enough square up to a Grey, he’s big enough to learn that it’s a bad idea,” he informed Brielle.

Moving his eyes down Brielle’s body, Lars cocked an eyebrow. His expression, playful, his eyes bottomless in their scorn.

“You darker Reds think that just because you resemble us, you can take liberties. Remember your place. You’re beneath us.”

Lars jutted his chin toward Tod. “Teach your kit some manners. Or I’ll do it for you.”

Waving her off with a hand, Lars turned away from the teacher, returning to his spot on the tree stump.

Staring after the Grey, Brielle took several moments to rein in her anger, before turning back to her son. Crouching on one knee, she helped Tod to sit up.

“Pinch your nose here,” she instructed him, placing his fingers at the correct spot. “It will clot in a few minutes

Brielle’s eyes flicked up to meet those of her eldest daughter. Well doneshe nodded, silently conveying her thanks to Chase for caring for the younger kits in her class.

Returning her attention to Tod, she helped the young Red to his feet.

“Steady….”

 

A chilling scream-bark broke into her intended words.

Lars and Glor shot to their feet. Noses sniffing at the gentle breeze, ears rotating to locate the direction of the scream.

“Pine martens, Lars” said, his voice low. Glor nodded once and both Greys tore up the bank of an oak, leaving the group of Reds alone in the clearing.

 

Instinctively, Brielle’s class of Reds gathered around her and Tod. Tod pinched harder at his nose with one hand, the other subconsciously, uselessly wiping at the blood on his chest fur.

 

Assisting Chase in gathering her class around her, Brielle whispered, “They smell the blood.”

 

 

Avian by Emma Pullar – Review.

The Blurb:

CENTRAL IS LOSING ITS GRIP ON THE CITIZENS OF GALE CITY.

Megan Skyla, who refused to play by Central’s rules and become a surrogate for her masters, has thrown the city into chaos. Corrupting those around her, she and her friends are forced into hiding – hunted by Central, the evil rulers of Gale City. Skyla’s desperate attempts to keep everyone alive ends when they’re kidnapped by feuding gangs.

Skyla cuts a deal and then betrays both gangs. Now there is nowhere left to run. It’s the desert or die. Her best friend, Crow, thinks she still wants to find a way to cure the Morbian masters of their obesity and finish what she started.

But Skyla has other plans. She’s sure there are settlements in the desert, there must be something out there … and there is. Something terrible.

Skyla is about to find out there’s more than one way to bring about change but one truth remains … Central must be destroyed in order to ensure her survival. There is no other way.

My review:

First off, I have to say, the covers in this series are truly gorgeous.

Avian is a worthy follow-up to Skeletal.

Pullar continues to impress with her creativity and her skill in subverting any expectations her readers may have.

Good character development and solid plotting, shoves the characters through Pullar’s darkly-invigorating world.

Pullar’s writing has progressed from book one, leaving behind the little foibles and bad habits of the debut writer, a visibly more confident author can be seen stretching her skills with this latest entry.

Great stuff.

Available is available now from Bloodhound Books and from Amazon.

Pressure by Betsy Reavley – Review

The Book:

When the submarine departed, none of the ten people on board knew it would turn into a nightmare.

Trapped on the sunken vessel on the bottom of the ocean and unable to escape, one of them is discovered dead. The tension escalates as the survivors realise there is a murderer among them, who is preparing to strike again and again…

With mounting desperation, people begin to turn on each other. While they struggle to identify who is responsible, each must contend with their own past, the claustrophobia and the secrets they are hiding.

But who is who?  And which of them will be next to die?

Below the surface, the pressure is building and time is running out…

My Review:

This is my first Betsy Reavley novel and Pressure is one hell of an introduction to her work.

The basic premise of Pressure is a variation on the ‘trapped together, one of us is a murderer’ type. The novel succeeds in immersing the reader in a too-tight setting, conveying very realistically the confines of both the submarine and the options available to its characters. In some parts the novel feels like an old siege movie in the ilk of Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, in that the overwhelming inability to leave, to even breathe, is ever-present for the characters and the reader.

Where Reavley’s novel differs, is in Pressure, the enemy is very much within, with the multiple threats of oxygen deprivation, close quarters and a murderer pressing in on the cast from all sides at all times. For me, the novel smacked of very modern, snarky slasher movies, isolated, alone, being hunted, but displayed all the char also of an old fashioned, set-in-a-manor whodunit.

The plotting is excellent and the pacing spot-on. A deep sense of foreboding and growing peril permeates the entire novel. Where Reavley excels though, is in her characterisation and the manner in which she conveys her characters emotions, virtues, flaws, vulnerability and cruelty.

Infinitely complex and viscerally-authentic, Reavley characters are fucked-up, heroic, cowardly and complex. Reavley’s use of shifting POV and narrative styles is skilfully-utilised and gave true life to the characters.

The POV shifts continuously, rotating through more than a few persons. I’m rarely a fan of this type of POV shifting, but Reavley has succeeded in altering the POV from person to person, whilst still maintaining the relentless flow and forward momentum of the narrative. This is not an easy thing to do, but when it works, Christ it really works, and Reavley utilized this device perfectly, bringing a tangible sense of immersion, unstoppable forward-momentum and augmented tension.

The shifting POV also served to heighten the impact of the roulette wheel of who the reader has deduced is the killer.

Reavley also plays around with her narrative style; switching between first-person, past tense and present tense to differentiate the flashbacks from the main narrative.

This also worked well and kept the separate sections distinct for the reader.

The highlight of the book for me was the sections placed throughout told form the POV of The Child. Extremely dark, gruelling really, these short interludes acted as intermezzi and demonstrated the depth of the author’s understanding of human suffering and our capacity for foulness and endurance. I wanted more of The Child, but also dreaded having to return to their pitiable world. These Interludes, for me, elevate Pressure, taking a good read and converting it into a great one.

Containing elements of a Thriller, at times dabbling into Horror, Pressure is an uncomfortable read, but hugely entertaining, which is a bit fucked up and entirely magnificent.  

Pressure is available now at Amazon and from Bloodhound Books.

Godsend by JA Marley – Review.

The Book:

It has been eighteen months since Danny Felix pulled off the robbery of his life.  His plan brought London to a standstill, but at a heavy price.

Now, living a quiet life running a charter fishing business in the Florida Keys, Danny is trying to come to terms with the death and destruction he had unwittingly unleashed. However, the low profile is beginning to wear thin and he soon starts to crave the adrenalin rush of his former criminal ways.

Little does he know that three very different women are about to enter his life and turn it upside-down. Soon Danny finds himself right back in the action.

But why has he been chosen? And does he have the appetite to pull off another job where the stakes are so lethally high?

My Review:

In Godsend (Danny Felix 2) we’re straight back into the snarky, cunningly-plotted world of Danny Felix, now ‘retired’ to Florida with his ill-gotten gains (see Standstill) and life as a fishing guide.

In the opening scenes (one of Marley’s most engaging scenes to date, for this reader) we’re treated to a very familiar Danny, ‘Super Customer’ indeed, and a felix who is very much in his comfort zone.

Marley then subverts his reader’s expectation of his main character and discloses the toll taken on his anti-hero in the aftermath of the London bombing from Book one. No indestructible, Gary Sue on display here for Marley’s readers, instead we are presented with the price being paid by an already flawed, but extremely likeable lead character, following the devastating conclusion of the previous book.

Panic attacks, self-doubt and countless shades of guilt and shame have seeded in Danny Felix’s soul, adding a new layer to an already terrific character. Felix is not allowed to merely move on from his actions in London and suffers the after effects of his deeds. Terrific characterisation and development here.
Fucking beautiful dialogue is on display also throughout with Marley slipping into Americanisms easily and convincingly, which isn’t always a strength for books written predominantly in UK English. Marley makes the shift appear effortless.

Having read Standstill, I didn’t really feel any great need for Felix to appear again as a lead character, I felt his story had been told. I was very wrong in this regard.

Godsend does what all good sequels do and takes the leads into new situations and challenges, developing their characters and squeezing their emotions and capabilities. The new characters introduced made great additions to Danny Felix’s world, and it was terrific to see some familiar faces from Book one return.

Marley writes with a thoroughly modern voice, always injecting an extraordinary amount of charisma, humour and depth into his characters. Each individual is well-motivated and allowed to display their strengths and flaws, rather than merely convey whatever is needed to move the story forward.

Marley is a writer who clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously, which shines through in his excellent characterisation and dialogue. Due to this, the characters population his novels feel fresh and believable, no stereotypes of the genre in sight, which is refreshing. Alongside, Ryan Bracha, Mark Tilbury, Robin Hobb and Jonathan Maberry, Marley has converted me from being an interested reader to an avid fan of his work, and an author whose books I simply can’t miss.

Godsend is a wonderful next chapter in Danny Felix’s story and a fine step forward inMarley’s development.

Godsend is available now frm Amazon and from Bloodhound Books

The Key To Death’s Door by Mark Tilbury – Review.

The Book:

 

If you could discover the murderous truth of a past life and seek justice in this one, would you?

Teenager Lee Hunter doesn’t have a choice when he nearly drowns after spending the night at a derelict boathouse with his best friend, Charlie Finch. After leaving his body and meeting a mysterious light that lets him to go back to the past, Lee finds himself reliving the final days of another life. A life that ended tragically.

After recovering from his near death experience, Lee begins to realise that he is part of two lives linked by the despicable actions of one man.

Struggling against impossible odds, Lee and Charlie set out to bring this man to justice.

Will Lee be able to unlock the past and bring justice to the future?

The Key to Death’s Door is a story of sacrifice, friendship, loyalty and murder.

 

My Review:

No messing about… I fucking love this novel. I read a lot of books, this one is, by quite some distance, my favourite read of 2018 to date.

Tilbury’s use of POV and narrative style is completely perfect throughout and Lee/Paul’s voice carries the reader very nicely through the changing time periods and settings. Very nicely done.

Tilbury’s believable and charming dialogue aids the effect of this this tremendously. The technical skill displayed here shows how considerably Tilbury has developed as a writer with this work.

The novel felt very current, but also prodded a lot of nostalgia that’d connect not just with 80s kids but with kids of any era because of the themes of friendship and family and fidelity used.

It read as very visceral, very real, but also played out on my mind like a Quantum Leap episode. Pure entertainment at its best.

 

With the recurring themes of friendships and newly-minted courage, and loyalty, it felt like Stand by Me, and a little element of Stranger Things, but only in the feel of the people and settings. This wonderful work is not derivative in any way of those films and shows but does evoke the warm glows of childhood, despite the darkness throughout. It felt familiar and dangerous and modern and strangely comforting. Wonderful stuff.

Tilbury has revealed a golden moment in this book. Not just in comparing the lives of present day kids to those of the past, but the social commentary on domestic violence, the apparent exterior normality of the central monster, friendships that transcend circumstances and the deep loyalty of the boys. The author has portrayed the boys in a very genuine way and not fallen into trying to use youth-isms or patronised their POV in any way. I loved these teen characters and the simple courage they discovered within themselves as the novel progressed.

Some scenes are horrific but they make the sun shine all the brighter when it comes out. Despite the darkness it’s a very hopeful novel, which is quite some trick.

I loved the little quirks that Mark has used to flesh out his characters, giving them a too-real presence for the reader. Charlie always refereeing to Lee as Gus is one of those special little character kinks that bring great characters and stories to life. I was delighted that Tilbury didn’t force any explanation of why Charlie does this. It just is, and it’s fucking perfect.

The Key to Death’s Door is an absolute beast of a novel and one that elevates its author to a new level of skill and technical accomplishment.

 

The key To Death’s Door is available now from Amazon and Bloodhound Books

Killing Mr Black – Preview (Shaping Dougie).

The following (unedited) excerpt is taken from Killing Mr Black and is copyright if Mark Wilson 2018:

Mary’s hands moved quickly and surely, feeding the material though her industrial sewing machine. Decades of experience guided them despite the ordinarily ubiquitous tremors, which all but vanished whilst she sewed. Dougie watched his wife as she worked, enjoying the peace and the certainty of purpose she clearly experienced during these moments.

From his vantage, Mary looked as though she was her whole self, her ‘real’ self as she worked. Her head tilted and bobbed and darted as she adjusted her loose grip and made quick alterations to the path of the material through the needle’s path. Dougie watched her snip part of the material free from the machine and smooth it out onto her work table that she may examine her progress. Dougie imagined her sharp eyes moving over the completed sections and her mind effortlessly calculating the next phase. Although he couldn’t see his wife’s face, experience told him that she would almost certainly be smiling broadly as she worked.

Regretful at having to break the moment, but aware that he must, Dougie stood up from the desk he’d been lean-sitting against.

“Mary-love?” He spoke gently as to not startle her in case she had forgotten he was in the room, such had been the peace of the moment.

Laying her dress-in-progress down, Mary Black turned sharply to lock eyes with her husband. Dougie’s heart wrenched at her expression. He had broken her concentration and the magical effect that sewing had on her. Smiling warmly at the woman he had loved for almost forty years, but now barely recognised, Dougie held his breath and voice, giving her time to process.

Mary’s eyes, wide with confusion, narrowed and then relaxed again as recognition dawned. “Oh,” she said smiling back at him finally. “I’d forgotten that you were here.”

Dougie bobbed a nod. “Yeah, I was trying to be quiet, let you work. Sorry if I scared you.”

Mary shook her head. “S’fine,” she said. Noting that Dougie’s jacket lay on the desk behind him, she asked, “You off out?”

“Yeah.”

“Work?”

“No, love. Just for a walk.”

Mary nodded.

Losing interest, she was already turning back to her task.

Dougie pulled his jacket on and walked over to place a hand on his wife’s shoulder. Leaning over, he planted a soft kiss on her cheek. Her hands already occupied at their task, her mind locked on the dress, Mary barely seemed to notice.

Dougie swallowed regret and headed to the door.

“I’ve left a sandwich n the fridge and there’s plenty tea in the pot,” he told the back of her head. An abrupt surge of guilt almost changed Dougie’s mind about leaving the house. He considered just staying in, perhaps watching the telly whilst she worked. His conscious prodded at him to tell Mary the truth about here he was going. His better judgment whispered that he should keep his secrets.

Making his way from Mary’s work room, out into the hall, Dougie pulled the front door open. Slipping out into the early evening, he whispered a half-hearted goodbye to Mary.

In the back-room, Mary Black’s hands busied themselves, expertly stitching, rotating and adjusting. Skills earned from thousands of hours of crafting garments allowed her to perform on auto-pilot, for the most part.

Hearing the front door close, Mary spoke over her shoulder to no-one, “Bye, Tom. Have fun.”

∞∞∞

An icy wind cut across the Meadows and Dougie pulled his hat down over his forehead as he continued his short walk from his and Mary’s apartment on Gillespie way to the building on Nightingale way where Karen lived.

Karen.

As always, the instant Karen’s name floated up to the surface of his thoughts, his heart lurched with the pain of lying to Mary about her.

Not lying, exactly, just not telling the truth.

Dougie pushed the false justification away. Not telling Mary was lying to her. He knew this and refused to hide from the wrongness of it. Dougie felt like punching himself. Instead he trudged across the meadows towards Karen’s apartment.

Despite the guilt and the pain he felt every time he sees her, Dougie’s time with Karen- never often enough despite how close their respective homes were- brought intense feelings of comfort and a rightness to his empty world.

Karen’s face floated up before his mind’s-eye.

Twenty-four years old. Still so very young.

The thought brought a sad smile to his lips. About the same age as Frankie at work, but so very different.

Dougie warmed himself with the thought of her as he sliced through the Edinburgh evening, shoulders hunched against the growing wind.

By the time he reached the tall, red double-doors of her building, Dougie’s thoughts were fixed completely on Karen and the short time they would have together before he had to return home.

Entering the building, Dougie smiled at the receptionist, who returned his greeting. As he didn’t recognise her, Dougie assumed she was knew.

“Who are you here for?” she asked pleasantly, regarding- almost assessing- him as she spoke.

“Karen,” he replied pleasantly.

“Ah, ok. I’ll buzz you up.”

Dougie Black thanked her and headed upstairs, heart pounding in anticipation.

Knocking, softly, Dougie pushed the door open a moment later to find the large living room warm and welcoming. Karen was seated in a high back chair, her back to the door. She didn’t turn to acknowledge his entrance. Dougie Black slipped inside, closing the door behind.

Approaching her from behind, he stands a foot away from the chair. “Hi, Karen,” he said softly.

Karen rose from her chair, turning to smile at her visitor. Dressed for indoors in black, she tilted her head as she smiled taking the few seconds she needed to recall his face and their history together. When she did smile, it lit up the room and Dougie’s heart both.

Stateline by Dave Stanton – Review

state-cover

Book Description:

Cancel the wedding. The groom is dead. When a tycoon’s son is murdered the night before his wedding, the grief-stricken father offers private detective Dan Reno a life-changing bounty to find the killer.

Reno, who is nearly broke, decides he’s finally found himself in the right place at the right time. But when a band of crooked cops get involved, Reno finds himself fighting for his life. Who committed the murder, and why? Which cops can he trust, if any?

Haunted by his murdered father and a violent past, Reno wants no more blood on his hands. But a man’s got to make a living, and backing off is not in his DNA.

Traversing the snowy alpine winter in the Sierras and the lonely deserts of Nevada, Reno must revert to his old ways to survive. Because the bounty won’t do him much good if he’s dead.

 

My review:

A solid entry into the genre from Stanton.

Stateline revels in its very overt Americana throughout. It seems intended to be a fun read, and it is for the most part and makes great use of a variety of locations, which I really enjoyed seeing.

The main character, Dan Reno, drinker, damaged, unlikable PI. Yeah we’ve been here before, but the stereotype is pitch-perfect for the novel Stanton has written.

Written in first-person, past-tense throughout, the style and POV is a staple of the genre, and one I unfortunately rarely enjoy. For me the writing style enfolds the reader in a security that the main character, despite whatever jeopardy they’re placed in, has survived the tale being told. Too often this choice can kill the feeling of any real peril. As a personal preference, I think the story would’ve benefitted from switching to a third-person perspective, or keeping first person and switching to present tense.

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this point, and Stanton’s story is certainly very well-written and flows well.

What Stanton does do very well indeed is present his readers an incredibly pacey, whirlwind of a story that ends far too soon for this reader, such was the extent with which it drew me in.

The dialogue is excellent throughout and, despite a few inconsistencies, Reno begins to be established as a character who might have something more to him than the stereotypes we are presented with as his main qualities during this first instalment of the series. I don’t need well-rounded lead characters, I’m happy if they’re a work in progress, and Reno is certainly a character I feel has much to be disclosed about his past, motives and frailties.

If being honest, Stateline was more of a 3.5 stars for me, simply because of the handling of the female characters in this book. At times, poorly-represented, often simply used to push plot or character development forward, the women who occupy Stanton’s novel weren’t allowed any real motivation or any tangible purpose of their own. Several could have added so much more to the story if allowed to do so.

Tightly-plotted and oozing character, Stanton’s Stateline was an enjoyable standalone read, and a competent first entry in a series that has the potential for some great character development.

Like its protagonist, flawed, but all the better for those flaws.

 

Stateline is available now form Bloodhound Books and Amazon