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Posts tagged ‘crime noir’

“An intelligent novel that twists your gut.”

December 13, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

We are thrilled to share another wonderful new review for a ‘backlist’ title – a proof that great books don’t have a ‘use-by’ date!

REACH THE SHINING RIVER by Kevin Stevens in NB Magazine

Cover art by Keith Mallett

Stevens has written a grippingly sinister murder mystery that oozes menace and violence. Reach the Shining River captures the deeply corrupt and racist atmosphere of the 1930s, creating a feeling of dread and fear for the characters. This is a fight where the good guys are vastly out-numbered and out-gunned and where looking the wrong way at the wrong person can get you killed. Under the veneer of polite, civilised conversation, the golf club drinks parties and the sumptuous elegance is a rotten core, a canker. The question is, is it so embedded in the daily life of the city as to be immovable?

There’s a conspiracy at the heart of this thriller, but it’s not that simple; all motives are suspect and even those trying to do good have their limits. There are echoes here of the political shenanigans of All The King’s Men, the conspiracy at the heart of Chinatown, and the real life story of Louisiana governor Huey Long. It’s a bleak vision of the segregated society, greed and economic despair that rings very true. Reaching the Shining River is superbly plotted and suspenseful, This novel is haunting and chilling. When a black man is murdered, we see the value white society places on that man’s life.

Kansas City, 1935, even though the Volstead Act has been repealed and prohibition ended two years earlier, liquor distribution in the city is still controlled by the Italian mob. The police, from the commissioner down, are getting a cut of the gambling action, prostitution, drugs and the numbers racket. A few rich white men get richer, even in hard times. Boss Pendergast controls the legislature, he owns enough politicians to dictate to the State and kiss off the federal authorities. Against this backdrop, there’s only one thing worse than being a dirt-poor white person, and that’s being a dirt-poor black person. Not a drop of the New Deal aid, following the financial crash, has made it to the Negro part of town. The tone of the novel is beautifully reinforced by the painful and poetic lyrics of the blues that infuse this gritty Noir, underlining the prejudice and corruption of the times.

Reach the Shinning River

Cover of the 1st edition, 2014

Sunday morning and eleven-year-old Wardell comes across the body of a “coloured” man, just like him, just outside town. The battered corpse is lying face down in the mud between the Missouri River and the rail track. Wardell runs to the Negro district to tell them what he’s seen. Mr Watkins knows it’s no easy matter reporting such a death. An hour later, he returns with a white police officer who makes Wardell take him to the body. He takes the boy back to town but he threatens him before he drops him off. Wardell best forget what he saw if he knows what’s good for him and his family.

Emmett Whelan and his wife Fay haven’t been close since the miscarriage; the old resentments about Emmett not being part of the ‘right set’ resurface. Fay relies on Daddy, Lloyd Perkins, for her spending money. He and his brother Robert are big men in this city, whereas Emmett is a poorly paid Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor. Lloyd has some people he wants his son-in-law to meet, distinguished gentlemen of the golf club – they have a proposal for Emmett.

The dead man, Eddie Sloane, didn’t show for work at the Sunset Club on Saturday night so Arlene sang with Otis on piano. Arlene and Eddie have been lovers for two years now. When she eventually reports him missing, the police don’t want to know, won’t even take a report. Even when his body turns up, Detective Timmins, in charge of the case, does nothing. There are people in the black community who won’t let the death of another black man just slide. The Friendship Brotherhood and Eddie’s lover Arlene hire a PI, a white detective from Chicago, to investigate.

Kevin Stevens

Lloyd Perkins and his business chums talk about reform to Emmett, and urge him to find out who killed Eddie Sloane. The city needs a clean-up; it would be good for them and good for the prosecutor that could bring it about – Fay would respect that. Eddie was killed inside city limits, so as a county prosecutor Emmett would have to tread carefully, but someone needs to conduct a proper investigation. Roddy Hudson, state prosecutor, and the FBI are still angry with Kansas City for not cooperating on law enforcement and the New Deal; they will help.

Emmett brings in an old friend, a former detective, to investigate. The autopsy shows that Eddie was beaten badly, then shot three times, one in the head – police style. He stepped on the wrong toes, didn’t pay a debt or was just in the wrong place. Emmett, Arlene and her son Wardell are drawn deeper into a world of dirty cops, racism, corruption and personal danger. The people they are up against have no morals; they will stop at nothing.

Stevens’ powerful evocation of the shameful segregated world that is pre-war Missouri is a classy conspiracy thriller. An intelligent novel that twists your gut. In the spirit of the best American noir.

Paul Burke

Read the first pages of the novel here: https://betimesbooks.com/2014/07/29/excerpt-reach-the-shining-river/

And another excerpt, with a soundtrack: https://betimesbooks.com/2015/05/29/reach-the-shining-river-lover-man-excerpt-soundtrack/

Original review: https://nbmagazine.co.uk/reach-the-shining-river-by-kevin-stevens/

 

“If you are in the mood for something different, this may be it.”

December 10, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Dirty Pictures by Patricia Ketola reviewed by Paul Burke in NB Magazine

This novel is extremely well-written, it reads like a page-turner and the story is fascinating, but it won’t be for everyone, it might even be described as niche. Here’s why I think it might not appeal to some: If you want a straightforward thriller or a straightforward romance you might not get this, it’s a bit of a genre-bender. Dirty Pictures is a love story and it’s a story of murder, it has elements of the family saga, twentieth century politics, art history and a definite erotic tinge. More than anything, it’s Martel’s story, she narrates a beguiling tale, this is her life, her world – it goes where it goes, unapologetically. As a love story it is unsentimental, as a thriller it’s intriguing. If the fact that it doesn’t fit nicely into a specific box puts you off you will miss out.

Ketola has her own ways of seeing things, she makes leaps and connections in ways that more conformist linear storytellers wouldn’t. Dirty Pictures isn’t surreal but it tips way over the edge of orthodox behaviour. That’s not a bad thing. Parts of the story you might expect to be followed up are abandoned; it’s unsettling, but also very true to life. Experience is a series of events that we weave a path in and out of, we don’t have perfect knowledge, we move on. Where the narrative drive appears to divert from expectation, and we are directed to a new theme, the novel becomes more exciting. One thing leads to another, and then the story moves on, plot lines are discarded, and it’s invigorating to read. You will have no idea where it will all end up, but you won’t be disappointed.

Elizabeth Martel, known as Martel, has her bottle of tequila and her mother’s Percocet to hand, oblivion here we come, but then Terry rings. Normally she would rush over to her disabled friend’s house (he was hurt in a bike accident), but she’s already pissed, she is mourning her mother, Carlene, so he will have to wait. So the next morning Terry sympathises over Clara’s death (he grew with Martel but he still can’t get her mother’s name right). Then he offers her a job – and she’d be doing him a favour. It’s worth $10,000 just to check it out, and she could use the money.

Patricia Ketola

Agri-business billionaire Preston Greylander has a Rembrandt, Martel is an expert on Dutch and Flemish art. The painting needs cleaning and he needs advice on how. Greylander is a detestable man, a typical WASP, he is also a destroyer of countries and continents in the pursuit of profit. Martel advises Greylander to have to painting restored by Van der Saar in Amsterdam. She doesn’t mention that she first learned art on Hendrik van der Saar’s knee, literally and figuratively. After her meeting with Greylander, Martel insists on knowing why Terry also had her invite him to a cocktail party. Terry has had enough of life and in a grand gesture he wants to take Greylander with him: murder-suicide.

“I’m through with this life.’ he said. ‘I have a need to get it over with, and while I’m doing it I might as well take that rotten bastard with me.”

Martel agrees to take the painting to the restorer in Holland, it will be the first time she has seen her former lover in twenty years. For the privilege, she gets $25,000 and expenses. While the firm of Van der Saar clean the painting, Martel and Hendrik rekindle their love affair. When she is back in the US, Martel brings Greylander to the cocktail party and to his death. The crime is instantly covered up, Martel’s contract is cancelled, but paid in full. The painting is still in Amsterdam. Pookie Greylander, now 102, although she lies about her age, is part of the Swiss branch of the family, she wants the Rembrandt. The family lawyer wants the restorer to “find” a signature on the canvas ($1M).

Hendrik has a confession to make (more than one, actually quite a few!). Martel also has confessions to make, if the two are to become permanent lovers and trustful friends again. Martel thinks she is being followed: maybe the family of Preston Greylander have connected her to the crime and want revenge? Hendrik says Pookie Greylander has the Rembrandt painting now, but does she? Is it an original or a fake? Did Hendrik add a signature to increase the value and “authenticate” the work per the lawyers “request”? The story will diverge in ways you won’t see coming – just go with the flow.

So why would Martel so easily agree to the murder of a man she doesn’t know? Well, there’s history here. Her family lost their farm in Dakota and became miners in Colorado because of the Greylanders. Her family has a radical tradition from the Wobblies to the present day. Terry has his own fascinating story. So does Hendrik, but the politics of the past generations of his family and Martel’s don’t align.

There is a leap of faith or two here, but Dirty Pictures is fun. If you are in the mood for something different this may be it. The world isn’t always neat and tidy, neither is Ketola’s vision.

Paul Burke

Original review here: https://nbmagazine.co.uk/dirty-pictures-by-patricia-ketola/

REMINDER: The Dark Manual promotion on Amazon UK

October 22, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

We don’t want you to miss it!
Until the end of October, Colin O’Sullivan‘s chilling and thought-provoking novel THE DARK MANUAL, due to become a TV series, is promoted on Amazon UK, and you can read the e-book for £0.99 only!

October treat: Amazon UK promotion for Colin O’Sullivan’s novel “The Dark Manual”

October 1, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

During the whole month of October, readers in the UK & Ireland can buy The Dark Manual here for £0.99!

This is, of course, a Kindle edition. Print edition is also available on Amazon, the Book Depository (free delivery worldwide), etc.

Or maybe you prefer to watch it on TV? It’s coming, but it will take a bit of time, so why not discovering the novel now?

More about The Dark Manual here

Meet the author: Colin O’Sullivan

 

HEAD GAMES: the first review comparing the novel and the graphic novel

September 21, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Review published on September 21, 2018.

Whichever version of Head Games you choose to read, the novel or the graphic novel, you’re getting a juicy slice of Americana to feast on. I decided to tackle both books because I thought it would be interesting to read one straight after the other (starting with the novel, which was written first, so that the images in the graphic retelling weren’t influencing my idea of the characters in the novel). Head Games is noir with a touch of humour, in fact I may be underplaying that a bit because I suspect McDonald was having a lot of fun writing this novel and turning it into a graphic read too. Still, Head Games has that hard-boiled feel to it, in the best tradition of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s. A treat for fans of the classic adventure thriller but there are a few knowing twists along the way that gives the give the books an edgy feel.

As McDonald put it in the introduction to the graphic novel, “….you’ll be riding shotgun in a ‘fifty-seven ragtop Bel Air….” [with Hector Lassiter]. That’s because Head Games has revolution, grave robbing, betrayal, ambush, a treasure map, a secret society, political corruption and a host of shoot outs. It’s an homage to a golden age of crime writing with a modern twist – there is so much fun to be had in these pages for fans of the classic American crime story and noir cinema.

It’s rare to get a chance to compare the original novel with the graphic rendition, these two seem apt for the experiment but to be very boring about it, you get the same kick, the same excitement from both (there are a few differences I’ve noted below). Head Games has a double meaning, it refers to the skullduggery in the plot (sorry!) but also to the fact that this novel is a bit of a mind game for the reader too. The main protagonist Hector Lassiter is a writer, he’s also the narrator of most of the novel, so we see things through his eyes but maybe we should take some of the things he says with a pinch of salt? It’s a playful format.

It’s 1957, South of the border. Three men are sitting at a table in a seedy cantina in Ciudad Juarez. There’s Eskin ‘Bud’ Fisk, a short-sighted reporter, poet, here to interview Hector Lassiter, a playwright and crime novelist turned screenwriter. Then there is Bill Wade, a mercenary, con man and a drunk. Wade pulls a bundle out of his duffel bag and unwraps the skull of Mexican general and bandit Pancho Villa. Lassiter knows in his water that the skull, with wisps of hair still attached, really is that of the general. Not least because of the mandibular prognathism (pronounced jawbone, an under-bite). Lassiter tells Wade to put it away before they attract attention. The locals would happily kill three gringos for such a prize and it wouldn’t be a pleasant end. Wade’s idea is for Lassiter to smuggle the skull across the border into the good old US of A. He has a buyer lined up, probably the guy who organised the grave robbing theft in the first place thirty years ago – Senator Prescott Bush. He is prepared to pay $80,000 (rumour has it that he personally stole the head of Geronimo some time past). The men should have been paying attention to what was coming because four Federales burst into the bar waving shotguns.

Lassiter just has time to get Fiske down when the shooting starts. In the gunfight Wade, ironically, gets his head blown off and Bud Fiske, the young journalist, saves Lassiter’s life. The problem is Federales usually come in a big posse so they need to get out of town sharpish. The two men torch Wade’s car as a distraction and flee. Across the border, they head for Lassiter’s house, not that he spends much time here, there are bad memories. That’s where they run into three more armed men. Most likely theory is that the good senator decided to reduce costs by having the skull repossessed by the hired help. Fiske and Lassiter give up the skull but this is only the beginning of the trouble. More than one person out there wants that skull badly! Including a couple of supposedly long dead bloodthirsty hombres.

There’s a healthy dose of violence and killing that follows, pretty much starting form the point I left off. Burned out cars riddled with bullets, amateur bounty hunters, stone cold killers, more grave robbing, sleazy politicians and bent spies not to mention the Skull and Bones secret society, an early forerunner of the “deep state”.

Lassiter and Fiske detour to Venice California where Orson Welles is filming Touch of Evil (one of the great noir movies). Lassiter knows Welles but he’s a big ‘friend’ of the Kraut, aka Marlene Dietrich. I won’t tell you what this is all about but it reinforced the noir credentials of the novel and adds to the playfulness of the story. When Welles is jealous about Marlene he abuses Lassiter, who notes as he leaves the set:

“I heard Marlena say to Welles, ‘Stop it you fool what does it matter what you say about him? He’s a man…..that’s all.’”

Thus insinuating himself into film history as the last line of the movie is:

“He was some kind of a man….What does it matter what you say about people?” [Tanya/Dietrich]

It’s a nice in joke/conceit. Lassiter also picks up a girl friend, Mexican beauty, Alicia Vicente.

Both the novel and the graphic novel have potted histories that add a bit of background colour (although it’s in black and white in the graphic novel): Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arango in 1878, and was a bandit by the age of 17, having killed the man who attacked and raped his sister. In his early twenties he changed his name to Villa and became a robin hood style bandit. Originally fated by the Americans, General Black Jack Pershing was impressed when he was sent to parley with the Mexican Revolutionary, Villa, in 1913. In 1916, Villa’s men were blamed for a raid on Columbus, New Mexico, killing local inhabitants. Pershing was sent south to catch Villa dead or alive, a mission that was called off when the war in Europe ramped up. It wasn’t until Villa had retired that he was gunned down in the street, shot in the back, in 1923. His body was dug up in 1926 and the head taken, it was rumoured to contain a map to Villa’s treasure.

The dialogue is pure hard-boiled heaven – snappy, witty, cutting. There are echoes of the road movie and a great sense of place as the novel shifts from location to location. Lassiter is a great character and some of the set pieces are solid gold. As a bonus the novel contains a readers’ guide, a short story and an essay on Lassiter.

The novel has a breakneck pace but the graphic novel ramps it up a bit – spare, crisp and action packed. The drawings reinforce the dark atmosphere and the text bubbles are sparingly used, which is an indication of the clever visual interpretation of the original but the hard-boiled style is maintained. The images lead you to the double meaning of Head Games pretty quickly. I loved the sequence in Venice, CA, where the opening shot of Touch of Evil (one of the most iconic movie scenes) is recreated in the graphic novel – it’s a nice doffing of the cap to Welles and the masterpiece of the cinema. The shot of Wade reaching for the skull in the duffel bag makes his face look like a skull presaging his coming end. There are a few heads that get blown off in this story! The simplified story here is more direct than the novel but essentially the same. I’d have no problem recommending the novel or the graphic novel depending on your taste, both are entertaining and exciting reads.

Paul Burke @ https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/09/head-games-novel-by-craig-mcdonald-and-graphic-novel-by-craig-mcdonald-and-kevin-singles/

“Novels are all about commitment” – Colin O’Sullivan’s profile in Books Ireland Magazine

September 12, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Colin O’Sullivan, author of Killarney Blues (Winner of the Prix Mystère de la Critique 2018 in France), The Starved Lover Sings and The Dark Manual, features prominently in the latest issue of Books Ireland Magazine.

Nostalgic or futuristic, even visionary, his novels focus on characters “grappling with loss, the past and their lack of purpose”, in a turbulent political environment. But O’Sullivan firmly believes that “we have enough inside us to withstand, to cope, and eventually to surpass. We are still here, after all, or I should say, despite all.”

Meet a writer who “has an understanding of the power of words, their placing, their specific meaning” and “reflects the current malaise and modern preoccupations”*, “sends language out on a gleeful spree, exuberant, defiant”**, and who is “one of the finest storytellers out there, a lyrical master of the written word”***.

Books Ir & Colins books

* From a Book Noir review by Paul Burke

** Endorsement by writer Niall Griffiths

*** From a review by Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions

 

 

 

More praise for “The Dark Manual”

September 11, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Review published on Book Nudge / Book Noir, August 31, 2018.

The Dark Manual defies easy categorisation; it’s a literary novel, a very desperate tale of love and loss, a noir thriller, of real and imaginary threats and a sci-fi speculation (which could be read as prescient future gazing). O’Sullivan has carved himself a distinct niche in the blackly comic noir world. The Dark Manual proves that he is as comfortable writing about Japan, the place where he has lived for many years, as he was writing about his native Ireland in his earlier novel Killarney Blues. The Dark Manual is a mature rounded work, assured and confident, at times lyrical and beautiful but also punchy and sharp. Susie Sakamoto’s bleak world is painful and depressing but compelling and honest. Yet this isn’t a hard read, it’s engaging, inventive and thought-provoking.

So The Dark Manual takes us into the world of Susie Sakamoto, an Irish woman trapped in a nightmare since the disappearance of her husband and son, Masa and Zen, in a terrible plane crash at sea. Susie is alone in her grief, except for the homebot, Sonny.

“Her deep despair. Her piteous and addle-egged mind….Gravity pinning her right down. Gravity seems so much heavier these days; her bones, now leaden and so hard to move. She is rooted. Rooted to this spot. So firmly, so horribly stuck.”

The description of Susie’s home life is so stark and brutal, it could be an interior scene from Blade Runner 2049. As Susie sprawls on the couch unable to relieve the torpor she is irritated by the hoover, is it just a symptom of her malaise or something more insidious? Her life is managed by the homebots, particularly Sonny, model SH.XL8. Susie can cook, she can clean, she used to be able to manage her life, but now the machines do all the work. Even though she doesn’t want to acknowledge their presence they become one of her only means of discourse. Sonny is male, he responds to commands, but is there a touch of sarcasm in his answers, an independence, is he manipulating her life? Is Sonny arguing with her? For the reader the exchanges with the homebot are witty, for Susie they are both necessary, invasive and disturbing. Did she ask the health information monitor to tell her, her weight, to suggest a revision in her diet?

Susie is adrift after the death of her family, mired in grief and not coping. She was a confident woman working for an online news outlet compiling a column: “a foreigner’s interpretation of Japan”, which was translated from English to Japanese by machine and checked, but rarely corrected, by a sub-editor. She’s not ready to return to work and fills the void with bars and booze with her friend, Mixxy. Are her problems with the robots in her head, are these computers a benign or malignant force. What is The Dark Manual, and what did her husband have to do with it?

There are so many facets to this novel, subtleties to the story, but I have want to concentrate on three major themes. Grief – this is a study of a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, suffering the profound grief of losing her loved ones (grief the devouring monster). It’s grief in an alien environment, or perhaps more accurately, the realisation that any environment becomes alien when grief strikes. Susie’s grief is all she is left with in the world where she has so little real contact to other humans, where everything is done for her by machines but nothing fills the void. Artificial intelligence – the fear of a future in which we may not be in charge, think of a more intellectual Humans (the Channel 4 series). It’s deja vu, the re-emergence of Frankenstein’s monster, except this time there is a genuine concern that the machines will outstrip us. Will we be consumed, altered, rendered helpless by machines? Truth and memory – was Masa the man she thought he was? We all want to believe we know the people who are close to us but do we really know others? What if the human impetus for the robot programmes is not benign? O’Sullivan has an understanding of the power of words, their placing, their specific meaning, that reminded me a little of Bernard MacLaverty’s use of language to conjure images in Cal. This bleak, but also witty novel is a philosophical musing on what we are and how we respond to life; grief, the future, a world inhabited by AI. The dystopian future has been the staple of sci-fi (1984, Brave New World). This is a modern novel that reflects the current malaise and modern preoccupations. As a thriller this is a page turner, a really intriguing read.

The publisher, Betimes Books, is about to announce a major film deal for the The Dark Manual, which will be one to keep an eye out for. [SOON!!!]

If you like The Dark Manual I would thoroughly recommend O’Sullivan’s earlier novel Killarney Blues, an unconventional crime novel of small town living in Killarney – everyone seems to be in a funk. Bernard Dunphy loves American Blues but he’s troubled by his father’s suicide. The sins of the past always have ramifications in the present. A sudden violent act has an impact on Bernard and the young people of the town. Killarney Blues is engrossing, witty, depressing and uplifting. Winner of the Prix Mystère de la critique 2018.

Paul Burke

The Dark Manual by Colin O’Sullivan
Betimes Books 9780993433177, May 2018

Original review here: https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/08/the-dark-manual-by-colin-osullivan/

A tribute to Aretha Franklin

August 17, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

As a small tribute to Aretha Franklin, this excerpt from Reach the Shining River, a novel by Kevin Stevens, writer and jazz connoisseur:

“A full house was tough on the nerves but easier to gather and please. If you knew what you were doing, and Arlene did. Had known from the beginning when, eleven years old, she sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in the Mount Zion church choir. Hitting the notes, yes. But plenty of singers could carry a tune. You had to get the audience involved. Start a conversation with them. You had to have soul.

Otis was at the piano, warming the crowd with a little boogie-woogie. Piney gave him the high sign and he segued into the first song.

The audience stirred, and faces turned stage left. Draymen, day laborers, housecleaners, cooks, domestics: these folks worked with their hands but knew their chord progressions. “Lady Be Good” was Arlene’s calling card – not the white-bread Fred Astaire arrangement but Bill Basie’s Kansas City version, up-tempo, swinging, with Lester Young soloing on tenor like he was making love to the long-legged gal serving drinks.

Arlene stepped into the light, singing just a shade behind the beat, her hands moving down along the sequins of her dress, from breasts to hips to thighs. It wasn’t the words that carried the soul but the ghost of Young’s saxophone, its sexy lines floating in her mind. Voices called out from the semi-darkness, filled with lust and admiration and surprise. Glasses clinked. The air was blue with cigarette smoke. Ecstasy and longing and gospel shouts. But this wasn’t church.

Listen to my tale of woe
It’s terribly sad but true
All dressed up, no place to go
Each evening I’m awfully blue.

The audience went with her from the start. Otis was just good enough. She followed with “All of Me”, “If You Were Mine” and “It’s Too Hot for Words”. Then another of her torch songs, “Body and Soul”.

My heart is sad and lonely
For you I sigh, for you dear only
Why haven’t you seen it
I’m all for you, body and soul.

Out of the lyrics he appeared. Unexpected. Looming in her mind, cool and easy, pork-pie hat pulled low over his brow and cigarette glowing between his lips. From between the lines of a song, like Young’s tenor sax.

Her heart lurched. She struggled to continue.”

“Exciting Poetic Thriller” – exactly!

August 7, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

We just have to share this reader’s review! It’s wonderful when somebody REALLY gets the book! Thanks to @fatorange23, whoever he/she is, for sharing this with other readers:

5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting Poetic Thriller

4 August 2018Published on Amazon.com

Format: Paperback

In order to be a great writer one’s style must be distinct. However, by daring to have a distinct voice a writer runs the risk of annoying or irritating the reader. O’Sullivan implements an obvious technique that’s often tried but very rarely succeeds. He builds the foundation of the plot with brief passages that are equal parts poetry and prose.

Honestly, if someone told me that I would NOT be inclined to read the book because I’ve seen it fail so many times. But the reason why it almost always fails is the poetry (or maybe more correctly put the poetic prose) doesn’t advance the plot. Usually, it will only serve to re-establish something. O’Sullivan advances the plot, economically even, while showcasing his skill as a poet – all the while, keeping the reader fully engaged and turning the pages.

I read comparisons to Murakami, Aldiss, and even Black Mirror writers. I love all that stuff but I personally think O’Sullivan offers us something we really needed much more deeply: a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe. Horror that dares to be great.

Does it get any better than that?
viewbook.at/TheDarkManual

A glorious review of Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel “The Dark Manual”

June 15, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Isaac Asimov had Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov’s laws are sourly tested in Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel, The Dark Manual. The author, Winner of the Prix Mystère de la critique 2018, just gets better with each book, and with this, his third, he is becoming one of the finest storytellers out there. His prose keeps one glued to the page, with delightful concentration.

Colin O’Sullivan does not write a bad line. His characters become a part of the reader as they turn the pages, and they dwell in the mind between reads. I found myself setting the book down, two or three times, but not able to leave it until I picked it up again, and read some more. Colin O’Sullivan’s writing style reminds me so of jazz, with its one-word, then two-word, then three-word sentences. Bop, bop, bop-bop, until you realize you have read a paragraph, then onto a new riff. Lyrical, powerful, humorous, poetic, emotional. He is a lyrical master of the written word. There are sections of the book that are heartbreaking, in their emotional and physical sense of loss, and moments of humor, surprise, suspense, pure sudden horror, and stark naked joy.

Susie Sakamoto, came from Ireland, to live in Japan with her husband, Masa, who designed and built “homebots,” domestic robots. Their primary role: clean the home, cook, make drinks, tend to the owner, and stand still in the corner when turned off for the night.

With their little boy, Zen, Masa and Susie have a happy life, until the day when Susie bids goodbye to her son and husband at the airport, where they are setting off on a trip to South Korea. A trip that becomes a tragedy when an errant missile launched from North Korea causes the plane they are on to break apart, its pieces and bodies of those on board falling into the sea. Her dear husband and darling son, suddenly gone. Their bodies never recovered.

Susie now spends her days in a deep depression, going over the what-ifs, coming to hate the homebot that lives with her, and staying drunk most of the time. Appearing at work, where she is a reporter, occasionally, but contemplating suicide, and spending nights in a bar getting wasted and mourning the tremendous loss she has suffered. A drunken Irishwoman in Japan, with little reason to get up in the morning, except to order the home robot to bring her another drink, while outside, in the trees, the owls are gathering, as if something was amiss.

At the bar she hangs out at each night, Susie becomes somewhat friendly with the ultra free spirit and flamboyant Mixxy Makanea, a Japanese woman who speaks English, and pretty much does what she wants, when she wants, and with whomever she wants. When Mixxy struts into a bar, all heads turn. Green streaked hair, fishnet stockings, glossy lips, and just a touch of white powder under her nostrils, she is ready to steal the evening. Mixxy is one of the great characters from the author. With her flash flamboyance and pizzazz, she colors the novel with her profane antics, and so-what attitude. Mixxy also feels the presence of the owls. Knows they are in the trees. Watching.

Susie continues to struggle with whether to live or die and blacken it all out once and for all. Her anguish palpable. Her loss profound. Her hatred for the annoying domestic robot growing each day. Then she begins to hear about the Dark Manual, a legendary means to shut off all the machines, that might or might not exist. Susie starts thinking that if she could find it, she could shut the damn thing off. Shut them all off. If she gets Mixxy to help her, could they find it? Did her husband write it? Is it close by, within her reach?

Meanwhile the homebot waits. All the homebots wait. Lights flashing on and off. Eerie sounds emitting from where there mouth would be. Do they come into the bedroom at night to watch the sleeper? Are they capable of harm? If Susie and Mixxy find the Dark Manual, will the machines know, and try to stop them from shutting them down? Can they think? Can they communicate with other homebots? Are they evil?

Worst of all, can they kill?

Meanwhile, outside, more owls gather in the trees, and now also the crows. They too gather and caw in the trees and rooftops. More and more of them. Watching. Waiting.

–Marvin Minkler of Modern First Editions

read an excerpt here

Is your home robot cute?

May 17, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Another short excerpt from Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel, THE DARK MANUAL, for your enjoyment:

“Where’s your ‘bot?”

“It’s shut down for the evening. I’m sick to death of listening to the fucking thing.”

“Oh, bring him in. I want to see him.”

Susie hates the personal pronoun. Calling it a him. Zen was a he. Masa was a he. Her father and grandfather, now they were hes and hims. Cars were forever referred to as she by men, and ships and boats too. Maybe the he could actually be refreshing, and feminists the world over could rejoice together in the knowledge that not all machines in servitude would be referred to as female. There’s a thought. There’s probably even an article in that.

“Command system on!”

There is silence for a moment; Mixxy in particular is holding her breath in anticipation. They don’t have to wait long.

“Coming, Miss Susie!”

Sonny glides into the living room.

“He does call you Miss Susie! That’s so fucking cute.”

Looking down upon its silver frame and stiff comportment, Mixxy gasps with delight. Susie frowns in habitual scorn.

“Hi, I’m Mixxy. Nice to meet you.”

Sonny extends its hand like a well-mannered child; Susie wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly sprouted impeccably combed hair with a cow’s lick to boot.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Mixxy.”

It is able to differentiate between male and female voices, so Mixxy gets her accordant Miss. Susie hopes that it will get overused to the point where Mixxy will look for the nearest available hatchet.

“Wow, you are so handsome, little guy. Much more handsome than mine.”

“Don’t they all look exactly the same?” asks Susie.

Susie had seen the factory, and the scores of them lined up there. She’d seen the catalogues. Her husband had designed the bloody things, for God’s sake, so she should know a wee bit about them. They were all identical. There was nothing handsome about hers.

“When you get to know them they start to show their own personality. Even their faces start to change. Don’t you think? Can you not see it?”

“No. I can’t.”

“This one…already. He seems so full of life. And joy. And a right little charmer too.”

Susie is still thinking about hatchets, pickaxes, or what was that weapon the young boys used to talk about when they were young and playing at war games? What was it called? A bazooka! That was it. Bazooka! Susie wants a bloody bazooka! It may be not the greatest thing ever invented, but surely, it is the greatest-sounding word.

The homebot’s face looks up to directly engage with the house guest.

“Would you like anything to drink, Miss Mixxy.”

“And so well-programmed! Or does he just see into my soul? Your husband did such a good job with this one. Yes, Mr. Sonny. I will have something to drink.”

“Make two cups of coffee, Sonny. We’ve got work to do.”

The Dark Manual is available for readers in the UK and Ireland, as well as on all Amazon sites except USA and Canada
viewbook.at/TheDarkManual

 

 

Interview with Colin O’Sullivan in Your Secret Library

Project

A few days before the release of Colin’s third novel, THE DARK MANUAL, a Trinity College Dublin graduate Polly Young interviews her fellow Trinity College alumnus for Your Secret Library Magazine:

Colin O’Sullivan is a poet and a novelist, author of Killarney Blues (2013), The Starved Lover Sings (2017), and The Dark Manual (May 2018), published by Betimes Books. His first novel, Killarney Blues, has won the prestigious “Prix Mystère de la critique” in France.

Excerpt from “The Dark Manual” by Colin O’Sullivan

May 2, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

From Chapter 3:

Susie suddenly lashes out, sending the cereal bowl flying from the counter out into kitchen space. It smashes to pieces against a side cupboard and lays silent on the floor in thick white shards.

“Turn it off,” she shouts.

“Yes, Miss Susie.”

The grey woman on the grey beach vanishes and there is nothing but the silence of a woman and her mechanical charge in a lonely kitchen, once more.

The homebot moves tentatively towards the broken bowl. It looks up at Susie and waits a second before softly inquiring:

“Shall I clean the floor, Miss Susie?”

Susie stares at him. Even if she wanted to hide her disgust she’s not sure she could manage it.

“You don’t even know, do you?”

“Know what, madam?”

Susie laughs. Madam! That’s a good one – Masa programmed that word in too, no doubt. Was that meant to impress? Who was it meant to impress? It all seemed like such a sick prank now.

“Don’t madam me. Your Miss Susies are annoying enough. If Masa thought that was some kind of joke…to have you all polite and…you don’t even know what happened, do you? Last night, again you said: Mr. Masa recommends you take some herbal tea. Remember that? In your shitty, horrible voice. The present tense. You haven’t figured it out, have you? That the present tense is no longer viable. What you should have said was: Mr. Masa used to recommend you take herbal tea. Used to. When he was alive. When he breathed and laughed and sang bad karaoke in bad bars. Before he was blown to smithereens. But how could you know that? How could you know?”

Susie’s eyes are malevolent now and she feels them flaming red in her sockets. They sting and burn: late nights, scalding tears, the sourness of spirit and no clear target of recrimination.

“You haven’t a clue. Or, if you do…no, you can’t process it at all, can you? I mean, a mere mortal such as I, a stinking bloody human can hardly process it, so how could a thing, without blood…a thing…even…”

The words are choking her and she can no longer spew them out. She has exhausted herself. The confusion of her thoughts. Could it know? But how could it know if Masa was not there to program…or, has it been programmed in such a way that all news feeds become part of its knowing? When a dog’s master doesn’t come home from the hospital, does it know that it is dead? Does a dog know about death? Or simply that its master is absent? Does a homebot know that its master is no more? And if it does, does it care? The breakfast milk feels like it is curdling inside her, her guts clenching, her blood pressure is high and rising.

Sonny bends to the mess on the floor. With an outstretched hand and with dexterous digits it goes to pick up a shard of ceramic but is halted by Susie’s command.

“Leave it. What difference does it make?”

The homebot freezes in its half-bent position. How fast it is to respond to her every utterance. How quick its every perception. She flings her spoon, hitting it on the head and making a pinging sound, but the homebot shows no reaction, not an ounce of emotion.

“Doesn’t even hurt, does it? How the fuck could it?” Susie says, breathlessly.

Sonny rises to its full height.

“Miss Susie, I…”

“I’m going to be late. Bring the car round.”

coming out on May 15

e-book available for pre-order

“Colin O’Sullivan writes gloriously”

April 16, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

In Tom Russell’s song about Lightnin’ Hopkins, ‘Scars on His Ankles,” he writes of Lightnin’s scars on his ankles where the chain from the chain gang cut his skin. In Colin O’Sullivan’s jewel of a first novel, Killarney Blues, winner of the “Prix Mystere de la critique,” in France, the main characters also have scars, but they are the emotional ones, ones that were thought to be buried, ones that lie scratching deep beneath the surface of their skin, never to be forgotten.

Thirty year old Bernard Dunphy is a jarvey by trade, driving a horse-carriage, that carries the many tourists, who flock to the lovely Irish town of Killarney each year. Pulled by his old worn-out, dying, but gallant horse, Ninny, Bernard is considered by most a town weirdo. Gap-toothed, overweight, and grubby in his old tobacco and sweat stained black coat, that he wears on even the warmest of days. Walking alone through the town, large headphones in place, listening and mumbling along with the likes of blues-man Son House, as his raw, passionate, stomping sound tears up out of his body and soul, filling Bernard’s ears. “That rhythm is the beat of Bernard’s heart.”

He knows all the old blues-men, from Muddy Waters to Howling Wolf, Sleepy Ma Rainey, John Estes, and Robert Johnson. They are his heroes, and Bernard cannot get enough of them. In his small room alone at home with his guitar and voice, he records blues songs, then gives them to his childhood crush, and love of his life, the beautiful Marian, though she is less than pleased about it. In fact, her two childhood friends, Cathy and Mags, delight in teasing her relentlessly about poor old goofy Bernard’s ongoing devotion to her.

Bernard’s other childhood friend is the handsome, popular footballer, heavy drinker and ladies man, Jack Moriarty. Jack is supposed to be Mags steady, but he is spending a lot of bed time with her best friend Cathy behind Marian’s back. Bernard and Jack share a dark secret that remains a scar on their souls from a terrible night back when they were little boys, young and innocent. A terrible night that also scared Bernard’s father John Dunfey, who also loved the blues and taught Bernard to play, and his mother, Brigid, who smothers Bernard with love and devotion, since her husband John Dunfey’s questionable death by drowning in the lake. They only have each other, a home that once held lovely memories, but also a never-mentioned shameful secret. A secret that during this green, glorious summer will finally scratch through their skins, and alter all their lives.

The green and blue lake beauty of Killarney, Ireland, runs through this wonderfully written novel, and the blues are the glue that holds it all together. Colin O’Sullivan writes gloriously. Hope, frailty, sadness, joy, resilience and surprise. The novel jumps back and forth in time and character viewpoints, but never once does it alter in any way the grand flow of this lyrical and compelling story as it moves forward. The reader carried along steadily, and then hurriedly, as the pages fly by a bit faster, eyes reading in a hurry to find out what happens next, until finally the last paragraph, and a large smile spreads across the face.

Killarney Blues is what the pleasure of reading a totally enjoyable novel is all about.

–Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions

Original review: https://www.facebook.com/MarvinMinklerModernFirstEditions/posts/1498995423542236

More praise for Sam Hawken’s LA FRONTERA five years after its release

April 3, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

If, like us, you value long-sellers over best-sellers and content over marketing, this book might be for you:

Book Noir review, published on March 30, 2018

Every time I read one of Hawken’s novels I enjoy it immensely; he is a consummate storyteller with a real knack for getting to the heart of the matter. La Frontera is a powerful novel because is deals with the lives of real people in tough situations. That has been a feature of Hawken’s writing since his first novel, The Dead Women of Juarez, a blistering thriller based on the murders of 1500 women in Ciudad Juarez during the drugs wars on the border. This was an important novel but Hawken has gone on to write much better thrillers (from a stylistic point of view). I don’t think anybody writes about La Frontera with the same depth of knowledge of the borderlands (north and south). Hawken is a Texan, and he brings the many stories of real people to life with compassion and honesty. In this case it is Ana, Luis and Marisol. That depth of characterisation sets his novels apart from a lot of thrillers and it’s totally engrossing. The people we meet on these pages are nuanced and complicated. Hawken seems to be able to make ordinary detail seem fascinating and once he introduces a character you will want to know their story. Most importantly Hawken knows how to tell a story with verve and depth; La Frontera is fast paced, absorbing and exciting – it is one of his best and that is saying something.

Full review here: https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/03/la-frontera-by-sam-hawken/

Colin O’Sullivan wins the “Prix Mystère de la critique” in France for “Killarney Blues”

March 26, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Congratulations to Colin O’Sullivan, Winner of a prestigious crime fiction award in France: the Prix Mystère de la critique!

Previous winners include:

Don Winslow, Daniel Woodrell, Dennis Lehane, Boris Akunin, Donald E. Westlake, Henning Mankell, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Thomas Harris, and many other fabulous writers from around the world.

“A gem for real noir fans” – a new review of BORDERLAND NOIR

February 26, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Original review published on February 25, 2018 here: http://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/02/borderland-noir-edited-by-craig-mcdonald/

I came across this anthology when I was looking into a feature on Mexican crime fiction, also published this month on BookNoir. I’m glad I did because there is some fine writing here; there is a genuine connection between the stories based at La Frontera, the border. Equally there is a decent variety of interests, style and purpose in these tales. Naturally I have some favourites but I found each piece engaging and thought-provoking, for the main part the fiction is edgy, exciting and original. I think this is a gem for real noir fans.

McDonald has collated eleven short stories, a couple of excerpts from longer works and two short essays. Borderland Noir has contributions from Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Sam Hawken, Martín Solares and several other respected crime writers.

“All roads lead to borderlands of one sort or another”, says Craig McDonald in his introduction. La Frontera has a mystical hold on the imagination of the crime reader, it’s not so much the reality as the myth. “That delicious, dark-eyed myth of the border”, Tom Russell (song writer). The border conjures images of The Day of the Dead, Narcotraficantes, refugees, mariachi and the north/south divide (the rich and the poor). McDonald is keen to point out that borders are a state of mind, it’s not just the physical border, it’s not just about a place or a geographical location. You can imagine it even if you’ve never been to the borderlands.

These pieces reflect on people’s experience as refugees, economic migrants, victims and perpetrators as well as on their desire and desperation. Wider themes are memory, history, corruption and crime – the value of life, and it’s infinite variety along the border. What the frontier does to people and the light we see them in. Villains include a rapist, people slavers, right-wing border guards and vigilantes. These stories are influenced by the best noir traditions, by writers like James M. Cain, novels like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and literary writers like Graham Greene.

Coyote’s Ballad by Mike MacLean deals with two mules (people smugglers), Cruz and Miguel, transporting ten pollos (chickens/people), across the border to sell. Humans as commodities. A young girl is raped and murdered. Rough justice is served but not for the sake of the girl, for greed and for expediency.

To Have To Hold by Ken Bruen (an Irish man surely knows about borders!). Charlene is a mad Johnny Cash fan and she is in a pickle for killing a man.

Trailer dear Fuego by Garnett Elliott. Tench beats a prisoner to make a point for the inmates and the other guards, to establish that ‘the jungle’ has enforcement if not law. Actions have unforeseen consequences in a case of poetic justice.

Reading the Footnotes by John Stickney deals with two men in a car, Federal Agents or killers or both. Postulating on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and echoes of Breaking Bad.

The Work of Wolves by Bradley Mason Hamlin. Devin is pondering the nature of evil. Talking about getting away from his family, going to Universidad, all the while torturing and murdering a man who can’t escape and has to listen to his rambling monologue.

Traven by Martin Solares is an homage to Ben Traven, writer of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Sam Hawken deals with a man murdered in his hotel room with a six-inch stiletto and Tom Russell muses on murder and recent history around Ciudad Juárez.

There are two brilliant essays. One on Touch of Evil, the Orson Welles movie, and the other on Pancho Villa, revolutionary and bandit. Zeltserman tells the story of one of the great noir movies, a tale that happens across the border. Vargas, Charlton Heston, a narcotics investigator in Mexico, witnesses a murder. A businessman and his stripper girlfriend are blown up in their car. As the explosion occurred on the American side of the border Hank Quinlan is called in to investigate, Orson Welles. Marlene Dietrich is brothel owner Tanya. Quinlan frames a boy but he turns out to be guilty, Vargas knows he is framed. A battle for the truth develops between the two men. Dietrich delivers the classic noir line at the end of the film:

“He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about People?”

Pancho Villa is a potted history of the notorious bandit, raising his own army, his role in the revolution, decline into banditry, raids on the US, falling out with other leaders, tawdry death. Short but not lacking in insight.

Both are excellent encapsulations of important border stories.

The anthology is sectioned into North, South and on the Border. The tales are spare; noir prose, short meaningful stories, pithy dialogue and all direct to the point. This is the heart of noir. Darkly entertaining, a really interesting mix of stories and essays.

Paul Burke

 

Colin O’Sullivan’s “KILLARNEY BLUES” is on RTL!

January 22, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Colin O’Sullivan‘s novel KILLARNEY BLUES (French translation, Éditions Rivages, Sept. 2017) is on the RTL radio (C’est à lire – To be read)!

“This first Noir novel from Colin O’Sullivan is magnificent, very finely written, and profoundly sad. To be savoured while drinking a Guinness and listening to some old blues, by Muddy Waters or Bessie Smith. And if rain knocks on the window glass, like in Killarney, it’s even better.”

C’est à lire : “Killarney Blues” de Colin O’Sullivan

Bernard Poirette, Journaliste RTL

À Killarney, charmante bourgade irlandaise, Bernard Dunphy passe pour l’idiot du village. Il n’a pas trente ans, s’habille hiver comme été d’un lourd manteau de laine et conduit d’une main sûre sa calèche à touristes tirée par sa vieille jument Ninny.

Bernard a toujours le sourire. Il est légèrement autiste. Ça ne l’empêche pas d’avoir deux passions dans la vie : le blues et… Marian, la sublime Marian, qu’il courtise à sa façon, en lui envoyant des cassettes de ses chanteurs préférés. Bernard, c’est en quelque sorte la face lumineuse de Killarney.

Pour le reste, la petite ville a essentiellement du sombre à offrir. La violence perverse de Jack Moriarty, une brute épaisse, sur les terrains de sport comme dans le lit des filles. Parlons des filles, justement : Mags et Cathy, l’officielle et la maitresse de Jack, qui noient leur temps libre dans des pintes de Guinness en attendant le prince charmant. Qui bien sûr ne viendra pas ; rebuté peut-être par les 250 jours de pluie annuels sur Killarney. Rebuté sans doute aussi par les fantômes qui hantent la petite ville… à commencer par celui de John, volontairement noyé dans le lac et dont les lourds et terribles secrets remontent à la surface, comme des cadavres gonflés. C’est tout cela, l’innocence de Bernard et la laideur du monde alentour qui vont se percuter, l’espace de quelques jours, à Killarney, comté de Kerry.

Ce premier roman noir de Colin O’Sullivan est magnifique, très finement écrit et infiniment triste. A déguster en buvant une Guinness et en écoutant un vieux blues de Muddy Waters ou Bessie Smith. Et si, comme à Killarney, la pluie frappe les vitres au dehors, c’est encore mieux.

Christmas nostalgia : Our authors about the best book gift they have ever received (Part 3)

December 14, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Hadley Colt, author of Permanent Fatal Error and The Red-Handed League

Forget Nancy Drew: Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise was my Christmas-gift light-bulb moment of finding a thriller series with a strong female lead, and inspiring my own heroine-driven novels for Betimes Books.

Colin O’Sullivan, author of Killarney Blues and The Starved Lover Sings

This is a big shout-out to my relatives back in Kerry who spoil me and my family in Japan at every Christmas and on birthdays. One of my favourites was a lovely edition of Possessed of a Past: A John Banville Reader, which my benevolent cousin, Martina, also got signed by the great writer. I’ve been a Banville admirer since first reading The Book of Evidence in 1989, and this anthology is a wonderful volume to occasionally dip into and savour the superb stylings of an Irish prose master.

Sam Hawken, author of La Frontera

Sam HawkenEasily the best book gift I ever received was for Christmas in the mid-‘90s, when my girlfriend at the time gave me a copy of a first edition Ace paperback (1970) of Swords and Deviltry, signed by the late Fritz Leiber himself. What a treasure!

Richard Kalich, author of Central Park West Trilogy

The first US edition of Albert Camus’ The Fall (published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1957) given to me on no particular occasion by my twin brother. He bought it with his gambling winnings…

 

Christmas nostalgia : Our authors about the best book gift they have ever received (Part 2)

December 13, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Patricia Ketola, author of Dirty Pictures

One Christmas, when I was about ten years old, I received a copy of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The book was an unusual choice for a little girl, but I was so thrilled by the marvellous tale of adventure that I could not put it down.  Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver captured my imagination and I wanted to join them on the high seas and participate in their quest for treasure. Treasure Island is such a vivid and stimulating work that it’s still with me after all these years.

Craig McDonald, author of the Hector Lassiter series

Many years ago, at the height of my book collecting period, my wife handled contact with Scorpion Press in the UK when I was ordering a signed and numbered edition of James Ellroy’s memoir, My Dark Places. That same Christmas, she surprised me with the far rarer lettered edition, of which only 15 were produced.

Kevin Stevens, author of Reach the Shining River

When I was eleven years old, my father gave me a beautifully illustrated leather-bound edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I read the novel then, have read it many times since, and it remains for me a touchstone of wisdom and great storytelling.

Les Edgerton, author of The Death of Tarpons

The best book gift I’ve ever received, I’ve received perhaps two dozen times. Same book. I have a pile of hardcover copies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, my favorite book. Most of my friends know it’s my favorite book and so for years I keep receiving various copies of it. And, I love each and every one of them!

Fionnuala Brennan, author of The Painter’s Women

It is not easy to choose the best book present I ever received as what was best then I might not regard as the best now. However, I have chosen a book which I received many years ago because I remember it well and think many of its lessons are relevant today.  The book is Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly (Knopf, 1984).  She writes of what she terms ‘follies’, the paradoxes of history, from the Trojan War to Vietnam.  Tuchman (1917-1989) was not an academic historian and perhaps that is why her books, while they could be faulted for not being sufficiently rigorous, were widely read and won her two Pulitzer prizes.

To be continued…