Book Review: Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler

 

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“I slapped a strip of duct tape over his mouth.” C.S 

Genre: Humorous Crime Fiction
Pub First Date: 2001
Publisher: UglyTown Publishing/Dell Books
Length: 274 pages
Paperback : Orion Tech on Amazon5.87)

Charlie Swift just pumped three .38-caliber [sic] bullets into a dead polar bear in his taxidermist girlfriend’s garage. But he’s a gun monkey, and no one can blame him for having an itchy trigger finger. Ever since he drove down the Florida Turnpike with a headless body in the trunk of a Chrysler, then took down four cops, Charlie’s been running hard through the sprawling sleaze of central Florida. And to make matters worse, he’s holding on to some crooked paperwork that a lot of people would like to take off his hands. Now, with his boss disappeared and his friends dropping like flies, Charlie has got his work cut out just to survive. If he wants to keep the money and get the girl too, he’s really going to have to go ape…

Gun Monkeys(Back Cover Book Blurb)

That little scene was enough to make me pay out some cash for this title. Gangsters and polar bears? I thought, I gotta have me some of this.

I came to read Gun Monkeys via Twitter of all places. I ‘Follow’ the author, Victor Gischler simply because I find his Tweets amusing. He has a slight acerbic tone laced with humour, writer rants (don’t we all) and glimpses into his family life (such as which film he will be watching with his young son). I’m late to the show – as you can see by the publishing date – but better late than never.

Gun Monkeys has been called by some, a Florida comic crime caper, and Gishler’s love of Noir, crime, gangsters and history of comic writing comes through in this novel.

I usually take longer than most people I talk to, to read a book these days (weeks), I seem to be slowing down as I get older, but the pace of writing and regular action kept me moving along, so I completed it in three days (a record for me!)

Charlie Swift is one of the gun monkeys of the title, he works for crime boss Stan as an enforcer. He is a stereotypical anti-hero – bad guy with redeeming qualities. Many of the characters fit the expected Film Noir tropes – gangster with a heart and a ‘Ma’ he loves, a sassy, intelligent female, Marcie, whom Charlie falls for because, like Charlie, she can she the necessity for plastic sheeting and the multiple uses of duct tape, I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should’ve put some plastic down.” A lumbering, huge muscle guy, Lou, and sleek-suited mob boss, Mercury. Despite being set in the present day, the lingo used often sounds a little like that spoken by gangsters in the 40’s and 50’s movies – BUT – it doesn’t feel dated, or clichéd. Instead, it moves along at a cracking speed, as Charlie attempts to help his boss, track down the ‘other’ bad guys and deal with consequences that keep springing up.

Charlie is a crack shot with a gun we are told, yet he doesn’t have it all his own way. To be honest, Charlie has a hell of a time. I don’t know if I’d ever want to be friends with Charlie Swift, but I didn’t dislike him, ever, even when he pumps a bullet into some guys knee (and worse).

I found Gishler’s writing and characterisation to be solid, and although the territory – Noir Gangster-land – is very familiar to me, I found a freshness to this writing, which I reckon is pretty difficult to do without slipping on the cliché banana. 

There are some nice comic touches, although as the story progresses the comic elements lessen. There is a lot of violence, but nothing stomach churning. There’s a high body count, but meh, isn’t that the world of gangsters? It’s pulp fiction, it’s fun- despite the violence, it’s overflowing with swearing, it’s contemporary hard-boiled, it’s not Raymond Chandler, but it was an enjoyable read, enough so that I will be taking a further delve into the work of Victor Gischler.

I’m giving Gun Monkeys

4 stars

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Book Review – Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell

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Hot Lead, Cold Iron Book Cover

Genre: Crime Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Dark fantasy, Urban fantasy
Pub First Date: 2014
Publisher: Titan Books
Length: 305 pages
Paperback : Bookdonors on Amazon (£3.72)

” Mick Oberon may look like just another 1930s private detective, but beneath the fedora and the overcoat, he’s got pointy ears and he’s packing a wand. Among the last in a line of aristocratic Fae, Mick turned his back on his kind and their Court a long time ago. But when he’s hired to find a gangster’s daughter sixteen years after she was replaced with a changeling, the trail leads Mick from Chicago’s criminal underworld to the hidden Otherworld, where he’ll have to wade through Fae politics and mob power struggles to find the kidnapper and solve the case.”

Hot Lead, Cold Iron (Back-book cover blurb)

First off, I have a confession to make – I’m one of those people who rolls their eyes when others mention certain themes of TV/Film/Book whatever, that I deem ‘stupid’ or ‘unbelievable’, you know what I mean? Conspiracy theorists, fantastical creatures roaming modern cities, and so on – except, I do read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, so where do I draw the line? Hard to say.

So, when I read that Ari Marmell‘s book was about a Private Investigator who is a Fae, I almost turned tail.

I discovered this book through entering the world of Dieselpunk/Decopunk writing, researching some titles. I read the opening 5 pages and… ordered it!

I think I have mentioned before that I enjoy crime writing, all kinds and in all forms (I have a huge collection of magazines about serial killers – yeah, publishers, you might want to bear that in mind next time you refuse my submissions!!) And this, I would say, is first and foremost a detective story. The protagonist, Mick Oberon is, as I mentioned, a Fae, living and working in 1930s Chicago. But the thing that hooked me is Marmell’s use of language, particularly the language of America, in that time period. The lingo is not only relevant to the time period, but has the humorous yet threatening quality of such well-known characters as Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade –

One, I don’t chisel my clients, Archie. Ain’t good for business…And two, get your hand off me before I make you eat it.”. M.O.

This isn’t just a detective story, it’s Noir, one of my favourite film genres.

Mick Oberon explains that he is obliged to speak in this manner in order to function in his present day. I love this style of speech. Watching the old Humphrey Bogart films I didn’t always understand what was being said, but I sure as hell got the inference. Gangster speak is used throughout ‘Hot Lead, Cold Iron’, but not so as you don’t know what characters are talking about.

The story is written in first person – Mick Oberon’s – and so we get a pretty thorough explanation of Fae. Marmell has actually given some thought to magic and how it is used; Oberon’s magic is not the same as another type of Fae’s magic for instance. The world of the Fae – the Seelie Court (and it’s darker counter-side, the Unseelie Court) are almost copies of the real world, brilliantly explained by Marmell, as a result of Fae lacking creativity but being excellent mimics.

No matter how unusual some of the plot-line or characters or environs may seem, Marmell has written with psychological realism, thereby ensuring the story does not fall apart due to some random shit he wants in there. Though I did struggle somewhat to visualise some of the setting of the Seelie Court in Elphame, my impression of size kept shifting, so I was unable to get a clear understanding of the size of structures or beings. And I did enjoy the time spent in our world more than in Oberon’s home world.

Oberon is a likeable, milk-drinking, wand-toting good guy with a hard-boiled attitude that he wears like his coat. We don’t, in all honesty, know too much about his background – he’d tell you to mind your own business. And this is another aspect of the writing I enjoyed, Oberon often directly speaks to the reader, he gives you enough to understand the world you are entering, but also enough to pique the interest for further reading – “My name is Mick Oberon, or at least it is now.” He says things like – “You Joe’s.” Referring to humans and the reader alike, he doesn’t always reveal the whys and wherefores of his actions, you are being introduced a bit at a time to his way of living – “And if you think it all went easy for me, you ain’t been paying attention.”

This kind of story, with these kinds of fantasy elements, could easily have fallen flat – or worse. It’s success rests on the main character’s voice; as much as the plot and setting need a certain amount of historical accuracy, it is how Marmell has written Oberon’s voice that makes it work well. And it’s not just (if you like this kind of language) the gangster speak, Oberon is an intriguing character and charismatic too.

If you get gangster speak and understand a little about the world of faeries, you get the title – Lead as in bullets – Iron as in faeries hate it.

Hot Lead, Cold Iron is action-packed fun, well-written with wisecracks enough to satisfy Raymond Chandler fans, it is the first in a new series by Ari Marmell – ‘A Mick Oberon Job’ or Mick Oberon #1.

And I will be purchasing the second book – Hallow Point.

I’m giving Hot Lead, Cold Iron

4 Stars

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Steampunk Collection

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler
Steampunk Adventures

I forgot to mention – This:

A book, I wrote!

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: An Illustrated Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction 

It’s got treasure hunting, monsters, strange aliens, alternative history, it’s got dashing young men, a ballsy woman with a dangerous ‘side-kick’! It’s got pictures – well, a couple.

It’s pulp fiction, penny dreadful. It’s 12 stories starring the titular Lockhart & Doppler, who travel from Lancashire to France, South America, North America, Saxe-Coburg, Italy and Somaliland!

Grab a copy now! (You could always use it to line the cat’s litter tray!)

Extract:

I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. At a sound behind me I turned. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;

An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”

You know,” Nelson Orange said, “at first I wasn’t sure what about you drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”

Damn! I thought.

Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”

Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”

I beg your pardon?!”

Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.

 

Created and only available on FeedARead.com

 

lucylockhart
L.A.G. Lockhart

 

 

Book Review – The City and The City by China Miéville

Image from  https://locativeliterature.wordpress.com/sections/section-1/

 
Genre: Science Fantasy/Crime
Pub First Date: 2009
Publisher: Pan Books
Length: 373 pages
Paperback : Local Library (£7.39)

 

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.

The City and The City, (back-book cover blurb)

The City and The City by China Mieville
The City and The City by China Mieville

 

China Miéville is perhaps best known as a writer of ‘weird fiction’ [self termed], of science fiction, fantasy, urban fiction – a number of genre terms have been applied to this English writer who has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award three times and the British Fantasy Award twice.

Years ago, I dipped into a story by Miéville and was confounded by the twisting, corrugated way he wrote. I don’t think I reached the end. What the hell was that all about?! I wondered.

Then I tried again – ‘Looking For Jake and Other Stories’, and the same thing happened. Was I stupid? Is my command of the English language so infantile and undeveloped? Most recently, I read ‘Embassytown‘, I say read, I got half-way through and abandoned it.

So why, you may ask, did I bother to continue?

There is something about Miéville’s work that keeps drawing me back. I’m not sure what this elusive thing is that draws me, but I can’t leave it alone. Am I ashamed to have not reach the end of previous novels? Hm, maybe. But ‘The City and The City‘ is different. For one thing, I finished it, secondly, it’s crime, and I’m a sucker for crime stories, and this writing I found more accessible than any of the previous I had read.

The world it is set in is familiar, though the prime cities of the title do not exist. To me, it smacks of East and West Berlin, divided by a wall – in Berlin an actual, concrete structure – in the novel, by ‘unseeing’ and and it is this ‘unseeing’ that gives the story it’s flavour.

In the city of Beszel, where our protagonist; Inspector Tyador Borlú lives and works, the people are living in a grey, sort of post Soviet state. In Ul Qoma, it’s neighbour, the economy thrives; more or less, it’s a chic modern place with better transport, better clothing and so forth. Parts of the two cities overlap, some buildings are even shared by both – BUT – the citizens of neither place are allowed to notice the other.

Trained from childhood, and enforced by both countries’ governments and populaces, the citizens pass each other in the streets without looking or ‘unseeing’ each other.

It’s a bizarre concept. But this is more than a straightforward crime story – of course it is, it’s Miéville! It’s about how we do this ‘unseeing’ ourselves, in real life. We ‘unsee’ what we don’t want to know about – the homeless, we ‘unsee’ what doesn’t affect us directly – an attack on another’s person, we ‘unsee’ what goes on in other countries politically.

Added to this bizarre brew is Breach. To breach an area of one city to another is a crime, the details of how to and how not to are as convoluted as Cold War politics. To breach is punishable. But Breach is also a shadowy, secret and invisible, till it wants to be seen, power. When a citizen has breached the boundary in any way, these dark figures emerge at unnatural speed to ‘clear up’ the situation. When Breach takes someone, they may be extradited – or never seen again.

This is intelligent and original writing. Miéville offers us a Ballardian type world where the rules are both clear, yet unclear, it looks like reality but smells like fantasy, it’s both a murder investigation and a metaphor for our times, and Inspector Borlú is as dogged a policeman as you will ever meet.

 

I’m giving The City and The City

4 Stars

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Getting into TTRPG Writing

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Image curtesy of  @TTRPG Twitter

You all know I write stuff. ‘Course I do, I write this blog for one. Had some stuff published. Done posts for other blog sites.

So, what’s this TTRPG Writing all about Alex?

Table-top Role Playing Games. As opposed to LARP- Live Action Role Play (kind of like historical re-enactment societies, but with fantasy, and monsters, and probably more drugs!) or RPG in relation to video games (which I also spend quite a bit of time on)

It does what it says on the tin – you play it on your table, like a board-game, with dice and little pewter figures (painted or not), and maps, well some maps, sometimes.

I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for nigh on 30 years – oh, my wasted youth!

I have been DMing campaigns for about 10 of those.

Then a pal sent me a link to – https://morrus.podbean.com/e/8-whats-an-rpg-freelancer-worth/

What? People get paid to write gaming stuff? Thinks me. Of course I knew people wrote all the initial games books – Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Rulebook, Monster Manual, blahdy, blah blah – but get paid?

To write new ideas?

To create new monsters?

And magic items?

Really?

Wow!

But how do you do it? How do you actually go about writing a game for others to play? To sell? What’s the process? How should it look or be presented?

Who does what to whom and when and how?

I haven’t a feckin’ clue!

I have been trawling the internet for three days – and it seems there is some sort of D&D gaming conspiracy going on! *Sh! Don’t talk about it otherwise more writers and creative types will muscle in on our patch.

Today I discovered – Life as a Hired Gun: Freelance RPG Writing https://youtu.be/U7EXayaK-TQ

and I thank those guys (John Bennet, Keith Ryan Kappel, and Christopher Hunt), for sharing their experiences and suggestions.

I’m going to start putting a few posts up here as I go along to share what knowledge and experience I gain on my path to becoming an #RPG writer.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey – who knows where we will end up – roll a D10 and we could run into a brick wall and fall at the first hurdle, twisting our ankle and hobbling back home shamefaced – or – we could vanquish the mummy of apprehension and discover the giant glow-worm of enlightenment!

Huzzah!

Now, where did I put my +2 Bow?

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The female Archer is more deadlier than the male...

TV Review: Who Is America?

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Who Is America? (Image curtesy of Google)

 

Genre: Political Satire

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen

Release Date: 15th July 2018 (UK)

Created By: Sacha Baron Cohen

Network: Showtime
Premise:

Baron Cohen portrays a variety of characters who interview/interrogate, train and discuss pertinent issues with real persons from across the political and cultural spectrum of America. His creations include – Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, far-left lecturer on gender studies and activist who wishes to “heal the divide” in America between conservatives and liberals, Rick Sherman, an ex-convict artist, recently released after about 21 years, and Erran Morad, an Israeli anti-terrorism expert and former agent of Mossad. Both characters have their own Twitter accounts!

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 Erran Morad interviews US Vice President Dick Cheney.

I have been a fan of Baron Cohen’s work since his arrival on British TV in 2002, in the guise of Ali G, a drum n bass enthusiast with a poor education who’s childish questions and inability to grasp the fundamentals of politics, allowed him to reveal the flaws in those he ‘interviewed’.

And this is the basic premise of all Baron Cohen’s characters – they are either dull-witted, or extreme in their own views, or foreigners in an English speaking country, allowing him to behave and ask inappropriate questions, thus hi-lighting the hypocrisy of various individuals who represent the mind-set of certain groups.

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          Someone didn’t read the small print                   (image from tooFab)

 

In Who Is America? Baron Cohen in the guise of Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, dines with a South Carolina Republican and her husband, and not only pushes their buttons with his questions but tests their white, middle-class sensibilities to the hilt by talking about his daughter’s menstruation and how he won’t allow her to use sanitary products.

As Gio Monaldo, an Italian billionaire playboy and fashion photographer from Italy, he gets minor celebrities to endorse things like child soldiers, or to pose in a sexy manner for a supposed advert to help aid workers in Africa fighting Ebola.

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      Nira attempts to ‘heal the divide’!

Occasionally, an interviewee will refuse to continue with the interview – and this is to their credit. Baron Cohen pushes and pushes with more ludicrous or offensive questioning thus exposing an individuals biases, prejudices and idiocy. What sort of politician would agree to drop his pants in order to fend off terrorists? Or take up-skirt photos under a ladies burqa? Or repeatedly shout the ‘n’ word? Jason Spencer apparently! (Spencer has apparently resigned since filming.)

Who Is America? May be more of the same from Baron Cohen, but it is still hilarious, we Brits love seeing people knocked off their high horses or taken down a peg or two. But the fact that Baron Cohen is still able to produce such a programme says a lot about American (and British) society. We don’t listen, we don’t read the small print, we don’t pay attention, most of us – and especially those in high-profile positions – fail to question our own opinions and attitudes to those who are ‘not like us’. We can be so small-minded and bigoted and obsessed with how we appear that we are not listening to what is really going on.

 

Baron Cohen strikes me as one of those frighteningly intelligent people we so often see in comedy – think Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Chris Morris (all British) – who hold a mirror up to society and we either don’t ‘get it’, or laugh ourselves silly because we do, but with the added poignancy of feeling impotent to do anything about the issues highlighted. We need humour like this, we need people like Baron Cohen to show us what ludicrous monkeys we can sometimes be.

I give Who Is America?

5 Stars

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Build-A-Blog (For Absolute Beginners)

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Build a blog at any age.
(Image curtesy of Wikipedia)

The blogosphere is an exciting space online for people to build communities and express yourself. You might be a manager of a corporation, a student with a passion for communication, or a hobbyist. Building a blog is relatively easy.

The first thing to know is – what kind of blogger are you?

You may not have the technical skills necessary to start a blog, or you may think you do not have the skills to start a blog – there are plenty of free, open-source systems that guide you through the process, allowing you to design your site how you wish, including WordPress, Wix and Blogger.

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It can be a community. (Image curtesy of art.co.uk)

If you can use e-mail, you can blog!

Each system has it’s strengths and weaknesses, reading other people’s blogs and playing around with one or two will quickly show which you feel most comfortable with – by the way – don’t be put off when you see some ‘amazing’ layouts and designs that others have produced, you do not have to have all ‘bells and whistles’ for your site – it’s the content that will keep you and potential readers interested.

I assume that you are reading this on some sort of computer, which means you already have some of the skills necessary.

Don’t assume that because a person’s blog has amazing graphic content, it will be an amazing read, similarly, do not assume that the more simple layouts are dull – remember, it is content that matters most.

Who is your blog for?

In the media industry, they call this your ‘Target Audience‘. It maybe that you are writing a blog as an alternative to keeping a diary, in which case, what you write and how you write and display it only matters to you.

You also do not need to base your blog on the job/career you have. If you are a chef, you may want to post recipes or amusing anecdotes about your experiences in the industry. However, you may not want to write about the industry you work in, but release a hidden passion onto the blogosphere – you may whittle small celebrity figures from pine wood, you might be a huge sports fan and provide commentaries on the latest games with an alternative angle to broadcasters, you might have a penchant for designing wacky alternatives to the morning alarm clock – whatever your thang, make it interesting and fun for you, first and foremost – otherwise, what’s the point?!

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And you don’t need huge machinery to do it.

Take your time.

You don’t have to go charging ahead with layout design, business links, marketing, social media link-ups, images, audio, video – heck, you might never want to do some of those things. If you are after a reader following, this will take time too – be patient.

If you get yourself into a pickle, press the back-button, delete, undo – it’s not the end of the world. The thing that got me when I first started blogging, was when I changed the style (WordPress calls it Theme), of my page. Suddenly everything was in a different place, some stuff wasn’t there anymore; as far as I could tell (it was, just under different headings!).

You might yell “Aw shiiiit!” if things don’t go as you expected – but you can’t break anything – unless you throw your laptop out the window – remember to use your Delete button, or just go back using the tab arrows on your internet page.

Set up your blog. Write your first post. Log out. View it as a reader. What does it look like? I know, mine did too!!!!

It may have been noticed by one or two of you, that I myself only have a very loose theme to my posts – hence the blog name – Flailing Through Life – this is how my brain works. I am interested in too many things for me to whittle it down, plus, I enjoy having a broad brush to paint with – and that’s the first and last reason to blog –

– enjoy it.

And here’s a little bit of Bowie to set you on your path….