Standstill by J.A. Marley – Review

 

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Book Description:

Even the deadliest criminals leave a trail…

When a psychotic policeman drags the young, ambitious thief, Danny Felix out of bed, he could not imagine he was about to be plunged into the robbery of a lifetime. 

Corruption and coercion follow the corrupt Detective Inspector Harkness everywhere he goes and now he has Danny just where he wants him. 

But Harkness isn’t the only officer with Danny in his sights. Christine Chance is getting closer to him while doing her best to be a mother to her seriously ill daughter. 

Can Danny escape Harkness with his life intact? Can he avoid detection by Chance?  And does he have what it takes to use the streets of modern day London to pull off the theft of the 21st Century? 

Danny thinks he can…but there will be bloodshed?

 

Review:

Standstill is an invigorating read that feels like it is adding something quite fresh, modern and fun into an often tired and clichéd genre.

J.A. Marley writes with all the technical skill and self- assurance of a seasoned writer whilst managing to make his characters, plot and dialogue feel vital, realistic and utterly connected to the plot which unfolds at pace throughout this novel. For a debut author Marley’s ability to tell a story, which he fires relentlessly at the reader, is notable.

Written in third-person, past-tense throughout, Standstill is one of the paciest and most engaging novels I’ve read in recent times. The reader follows a number of characters through several weeks in which they are brought together on the road to what is essentially an audacious heist at the finale of the book.

What sets Marley’s characters, and his story, apart from the usual heist romp is his ability to convey the very best and the very worst of each of his characters; exposing their intentions, motivations and desires without judgment.

Marley lays his characters bare before the reader, utilising some lovely flashback techniques that in less able hands could’ve been unengaging exposition dumps. Marley takes these moments and expertly crafts tender, or brutal or, heart-wrenching insights into his main players. This is not an easy technique, that a debut writer is assured enough to utilise, and in such fine manner, is impressive.

My favourite example of this was a scene in which Danny replays sections of his childhood whilst picking locks. This scene was heavy with metaphors and symbolism and was a completely perfect little section of writing.

Marley’s characters are the lifeblood of this wonderfully invigorating read. Each of them pulses into vivid life displaying psychological damage, realistic motivations, flaws, virtues. Each are genuinely lost while still remaining intent on their goals. Complex stuff, from some truly terrific characters, none of whom are minor or act as bit-players.

Dialogue is also a major strength throughout. Always believable, and never wasted, Marley’s dialogue serves to move the plot or the character development forward. Not a ‘spoken’ word is wasted as filler.

Marley writes in an episodic manner. Short, sharp scenes, no nonsense, no fluff; each crafted to accelerate the plot or expose characters’ intentions. I could easily see these characters used in an ongoing TV series. A personal highlight for me, was Marley’s use of Mr Bright Sky to serve as a beat for the heist. Loved this.

The main flaw for me in this novel (and it’s a minor one) was with the main character, Danny. Whilst we saw excellent development with CC, and to a lesser extent, Harkins, I felt that Danny did not change significantly throughout the novel. He remained, for me, largely unaffected by the events unfolding around him, and at moments, a little too in control at all times. His past gave him a lot of doubts and flaws, I’d have liked to have seen more of these exposed in the latter art of his story. Really though, it’s a minor quibble, and one I’m sure there will be adequate time to work with on the follow-up.

A hugely impressive debut novel from a talent to watch.

 

Standstill is available now from Bloodhound Books and at Amazon worldwide.

 


 

ABOUT J.A. MARLEY

 John A. Marley’s writing career started with a poem about two brothers who both liked sausages…their names were Butch and Dutch and his Primary School teacher Mr. Murray liked it so much it made the main noticeboard at the entrance to Holy Child Primary School in West Belfast.  A little older but none the wiser, he ended up as a film journalist in his native Northern Ireland, contributing to local newspapers, BBC Radio Ulster and latterly writing as the main film critic for the glossy magazine, Northern Woman.

John’s love of good stories came from the Irish predilection for telling a good yarn and the fact that there was nothing quite like sneaking away his Dad’s battered paperbacks to read even though he knew they were meant for adults and not kids. And so pulp fiction such as The Edge Westerns by George G. Gilman, the adventure novels of Alistair MacLean and the thrillers of Jack Higgins all served to whet his appetite for a good story told at pace.

These days, his reading tastes still focus on thrills, spills and good plot and he can’t walk by a James Lee Burke or an Elmore Leonard without pausing to read a few pages…even if it is in a busy bookshop. 

John runs his own production company Archie Productions which he launched in 2008. Prior to setting up his own indie, John enjoyed a wide and varied career in television with creative roles at Talent Television, Planet 24, Carlton Television and Walt Disney UK. 

John’s broadcast media career started in his native Northern Ireland as a radio host.

Links:

www.jamarley.com

@jamarleybooks

Bloodhound Books

J.A Marley at Amazon

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Anglesey Blue by Dylan H Jones – Review

Anglesey Blue is a pleasant surprise in a genre I rarely read. Written in 3rd-person, past-tense (again, uncommon in the genre), Jones’ narrative flows well and engages the reader effectively. Despite being a little exposition-heavy at times (for my taste) Jones’ excellent dialogue offsets what could’ve been a minor quibble in the chunks of exposition.

The dialogue feels ‘current’ in a way that many crime writer’s don’t always manage and always has purpose, whether in moving the plot forward or in slowly peeling away to reveal more depth to the characters than one might expect. For me this displayed an impressive technique in showing rather than telling in the dialogue sections, and clearly a strength for this writer.

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The plotting is tight, and mostly pacey, but where it lacks pace, I sensed important groundwork and character development being laid down for future stories, which is always welcome.

 A very solid start to a series. I will definitely pick up the next book.

You can find Dylan H Jones at Bloodhound Books and Amazon.

Undercover by Gerard Brennan – Review

Undercover by Gerard Brennan.

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I’m not a crime-thriller sort of reader and find them to be generally fairly formulaic; but having devoured Gerard Brennan’s ‘Wee Rockets’ and ‘Wee Danny’ back to back, I picked up Undercover, confident that Brennan’s writing would see me through.

Pacey, smart and entirely driven by Brennan’s skilful narrative style and insightful characterisation, Undercover has more heart than a butcher’s window and the makings of a great series of novels in its main Character, Cormac Kelly.

Harbouring none of the clichéd mannerisms, foibles or ghosts of his pulp-noir peers, Kelly (whilst engaging and very much the focus of the story) is used (wisely) sparingly at times by Brenan, who carefully switches narrative perspective and allows his story’s ‘victims’ to come to the fore. This allows the potentially minor characters to show all their own strengths and weaknesses and truly affect the outcome of the relentless tale. Each is given time to develop and show their courage and cowardice, fears and strengths; and drive Kelly through the narrative.

Lydia, Rory, and young Mattie are all given central roles in the story and fully-fleshed characters. The ‘supporting cast’ are very much driving Kelly through their world, rather than being utilized as mechanisms for placing Kelly in various perils. I found this refreshing.

I’m a convert to Brennan’s style of crime novel and can’t recommend this book highly enough.

You can find Gerard Brennan and his books at Amazon, US and UK.

Undercover is published by Blasted Heath.

Bowling Ball by Escobar Walker – Review

Disappointing use of obvious talent

I wanted to like this book, I really did. Escobar Walker is a very, very good writer with a massive talent for observation and for conveying those characteristic traits of people that make them so individual and entertaining. This is the kind of skill that has given people like Billy Connolly a long career and makes for a potentially great writer. Unfortunately Walker isn’t making the best of his considerable writing skill or his capacity for characterisation and cutting humour.

For me, Bowling Ball was one long exercise in relaying as many Scottish clichés as possible in 90,000 words. All the main characters speak with one voice, in that they’re almost indiscernible from each other, blending in to one long narrative throughout the book. To identify each character Walker uses the phrase “my cousin’s flatmate”, or a version of it dozens of times throughout, which is, I suppose, a clumsy way of letting the reader know which character is narrating but becomes annoying as the book progresses. Much simpler to give each character a distinct personality and voice or even stick the character name at the chapter heading.

Every character encountered was either a Frances Begbie (violent Neanderthal) derivative or a victim. None of the characters developed at all during their stories, and if being completely honest, the book didn’t really have a definite plot. This isn’t always a huge problem (see Trainspotting) if the characters have an interesting journey, but the characters Walker has created aren’t allowed any growth and are very much trapped and stunted by the stereotypical values, attitudes and traits that Escobar has saddled them with. Really, the image of Scots as a nation of violent, drunken, drugged up wife-beaters and hoors has been done to death and I was hoping for something a little more intelligent from a writer as good as Escobar. In many ways the image presented in Bowling Ball of the people in its pages reads like it was written by someone who has a trace of knowledge of the area and its people and has just taken all the most spiteful and reprehensible actions and characteristics to drive forward a very wearing and very negative, but often very funny story. This showed in the inconsistencies in the characters regional dialect, often mixing Edinburgh-isms which Glasgow patter. For me this was lazy and added to the obviousness of the plot and characters of the book.

I was incredibly frustrated reading this book because the writer could be an exceptional talent, but must plot an engaging story and populate it with believable and engaging characters who are allowed to behave badly, show moments of humanity in amongst the filth and most importantly to grow as the story progresses.

I will read the next book in the series, because Escobar has me invested in where these people will go despite making them predictable and dull; his writing is that good. Bowling Ball is a debut novel and is entertaining at points, I’ve certainly read debut novels that haven’t been anywhere near as good as Bowling Ball. The writer will have developed considerably in the process of writing it and with that in mind I’d love to see Walker stretch his legs and push himself to construct a story that displays how talented he really is and will follow his writing career and his development in future.

Bowling Ball is available Here.

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The Banjo String Snapped but The Band Played On by Ryan Bracha – Review

Ryan never fails to entertain and inspire.

I always look forward to new story from Ryan Bracha. Very few new and even fewer Indie-writers have the imagination Bracha possesses or the guts to tell a story uncompromisingly. Most new writers find a preferred writing style (narrative, viewpoint etc) and stick with it; Ryan has absolutely no fear and uses many engaging writng styles. John Niven is a standout at this as were Chris Brookmyre and Irvine Welsh early in their careers. Ryan has a very Scottish feel to his writing, in that the characters and situations he creates are invariably entertaining, challenging, complex often brutally exposed and often funny as hell.

Awaiting a Bracha publication is comparable to what Monday mornings (new release day, pre-downloads) were like for a long-term music fan. I don’t get quite the same satisfaction ‘ripping open’ a Bracha book as I did flicking through 45s and later CDs, but it’s close enough to that excitement for now.

With The Banjo String Snapped But The Band Played On, Ryan continues his series of short-stories and his run of form. Whilst I preferred Bracha’s previous book, Baron Catastrophe and The King of Jackals, I found plenty in this book to entertain and engage with.
Ryan’s writing is experimental, he takes chances and is developing with each story, but I had trouble connecting with this particular tale. This is no fault of the author, his prose is as fresh and gripping as ever; but rather as the reader, I found the multiple changes of viewpoint difficult to follow, mainly because I’m a bit simple at times.

I’m docking Bracha a single rating star for one main reason.

I desperately wanted and perhaps expected the main characters to be the actual Jesus, Superman etc and was gutted that they were merely some mates on a Stag-do. I suspect this says more about me than it does about Ryan’s book, but it’s my review and I wanted the real Jesus, so four stars it is.

With the quality of Ryan’s writing he only has himself to blame; he continuously readjusts the readers expectation of his books, each brings something different than the last, and I wanted more from this. Despite my own personal preferences, this is a very good read; smart, vapid and concise writing at its best, but next time give me more Messiah.

Ryan is an affiliate author with Paddy’s Daddy Publishing
Banjo is free on Amazon on 26/6/2013

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The Fix by Keith Nixon

You had me at “I am Fucked “

Any Book that starts with that opening line and goes on to describe its main character being robbed “same time, same place” every Wednesday by a Tramp/undercover KGB agent, cannot fail to grab your attention.

This is a trick that seasoned authors regularly fail to utilize effectively and set the tone for the rest of this fine book. That the author, Nixon, keeps up this level of attention grabbing and sheer entertainment for the next 200-odd pages is to his credit. It’s a difficult thing to sustain pace of this intensity in this kind of novel without confusing or overwhelming the reader but Nixon pulls it off skilfully. The first person narrative used is spot on. I normally detest this sort of narrative but Nixon’s use of this perspective lends the book a nervous, edgy feel and enhances the feeling of action.

Keith takes a main character in Josh Dedman who’s a bit pathetic and should be utterly unlikable (and would be lesser hands) and has you laughing along, shaking your head and cheering the cynical bastard on; mostly because his man voices your own twisted thoughts and makes you grin at them. There are elements of early Carl Hiassen insight and humour in this book as well as a pinch of Brookmyre intelligence in the plot. The last book I enjoyed with this kind of pace (and finished also in record time) was Incompetence by Rob Grant . The Fix shares Incompetence’ irreverent and very accurate observations of the world it’s set in but despite these observations, never descends into a rant.

I’d read another of this author’s books in a heartbeat and would recommend this novel to anyone. No matter which genre you frequent, go hang around with Josh in Margate, you’ll be glad you did.

If words were drugs, and Keith Nixon my local dealer, you’d find my sweating presence waiting for my man on a street corner.
Buy The Fix now on Amazon

Book Review – The Other Side by Terry Tyler

Well.To say that this book was a surprise to me is a massive understatement. In all honesty I almost never read this genre of book and rarely read female authors, (Anne Rice and Herper Lee aside..)a sad state of affairs I know. In this case though, I pulled on my big-boy pants and indulged my feminine side a wee bit for two reasons.

Firstly, I have the odd tweet and FB chat with Terry and she’s braw. Secondly, I liked the Sliding Doors/alternate reality/ mess about with time feel the blurb conveyed (I’m a sucker for stories with what ifs and weird running order.

With The Other Side I got way more than I expected. Well fleshed-out characters who properly developed (in reverse?) as their stories were revealed and interwoven at the skill-full hands of Terry. How she kept this story straight in her head whilst producing it is testament to her creativity, her patience and her logistic talents.

Each character was believable and engaging for me, which I find isn’t always the case for many authors who can barrel through pre-set story markers and forget to realistically describe how their characters change from state A to state B.

Off the back off Terry’s book I’ll be exploring more of her back catalogue and will welcome the new books at my disposal now I’ve broken through the “female authors don’t entertain me” mental block.

Simply; if you like clever, flowing, funny and very human story-telling, in any genre this book will surprise and entertain you as it did me. Give it a go.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Other-Side-ebook/dp/B00843W6QG/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1