Monday, 31 December 2012


Image from here

My New Year's resolution for 2013 is to actually finish the crime novel I started a while ago. Chapter one is almost there so I thought it would be a good time to post it and ask for reactions from readers and whether it excites and makes you want to read on and follow the story to its conclusion.

If you are able to comment then please do. Feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome but I hope you enjoy this anyway.

Hot puffs of breath mixed with the frozen mist in rapid clouds that melted into the fog, knees thudded in objection beneath a skirt too short, every muscle in her torso tightened, the tendons at the back of her legs strained and pulled against their will. Her vest top clung to her in an impossible sweat and made her freeze even more. Her arms were red and blotched with purple patterns around the goosebumps like tiny pimples in need of a skin cure.

The streets were quiet but she knew she'd have a chance if she could just get across the new development site to the High Street or the alley car park. Taking main roads to the town centre where the police station was, and where she knew people would still be out celebrating Saturday night, could be a blessing but she couldn't take the chance again of flagging down a passing motorist for help. He must know she'd gone missing by now and he'd be looking for her. She squeezed through a gap in the fence around the development site, squatted down behind a parked car on Victoria Street, her stomach cramped in panic, forced bile to her throat which she spewed out into the gutter.

Dirty hands with long fingers that ended with jagged and broken fingernails torn into bloody tips wrapped across her mouth and swiped it dry leaving a grubby trail. Her mind was numb, focussed only on cold and fear. It was incapable of rational thought made senseless by the drugs he gave her. She repeated to herself to wake it up : “car park, alley, High Street.” She had to stay focussed. They were just ahead and help was just beyond. She darted looks left, right, behind her, crept out from around the car, the road was still quiet. No moving cars, no people, but several vehicles, white with frost were parked along each side obviously asleep until rush hour in the morning when their owners would struggle to get them started again.

The lights of the apartment blocks on one side of the street were out except for a couple near the top in a soft hazy daze against the fog. The grand houses with stone steps leading up to big doors looked formidable and dark. The tatty houses on the other side of the street looked mostly uninhabited. She weighed up her best chances. Knocking doors would leave her exposed, out in the open, unprotected and bait if he came cruising by as she stood freezing, filthy, blood-stained and wretched waiting for someone to answer the door. If she tried to make town he could be hiding, waiting and he'd see her before she got there. Her brain wouldn't work. It just told her to run and run fast. She stood, wrapped her arms around her and hunched into herself as if trying to squeeze her slim frame smaller into invisibility. She walked rapidly to the end of the street, past the corner shop, and then broke out into a sprint over the bottom end of High Street and to the car park at the entrance to the alley. She bobbed down again behind a parked car panting rapidly but hope of help there left her when there was no one around and no sound but that of her own breath still making the air around her warmer that it made her.

She crawled through the cars on all fours towards the alley that would take her to the top end of High Street where she was certain she'd get help. Somewhere deep from the depths of panic, fear and pain her brain agreed and proved her right when she entered the long dark old brick alley where she immediately heard cackling laughter and floating chatter rise up from the town centre.

The sound of normal happy life crept along the top end of High Street and got stronger as revellers approached the far end of the alleyway that shrouded her. Her intended roar for attention dissolved into a pathetic squeak from a parched throat on fire that did nothing to protect her from the freezing cold but robbed her of her voice. She screamed again as best she could as she ran along the alley but her voice again deserted her and was easily strangled by guttural laughter and playful high pitched squeals as the drunks walked on oblivious to the hope she had in them. Then there was silence. A stillness, like the moment when birds stop singing, insects vanish and flower petals close in defence against the sudden and furious storm that beats down in blind fury through heavy still clouds onto the exposed and open landscape.

The only sound was her own breath and her heart thumping against her rib cage. She stopped to listen to the noise outside of her own body and held what little breath she had. Nothing. No-one. She released rhythmic gasps as she fought to refill her lungs with air and bent over, hands on her ripped knees. She darted anxious looks up and down the black alleyway, hair in rats tails hung each side of her face and flicked like whips as they blew away from her as she puffed. Street lights bounced pale light into the blackness and she knew she was not far. It would be over soon. They'd have to believe her. She stood, and straightened, more relaxed this time, more focussed on where she needed to be and turned to run again. And then the blow. Sharp, searing pain in her temples and the back of her eyes, warmth spread like thick syrup down her face, and then darkness descended into black.

A man smiled, bent over her and lifted her up as if she was drunk and had to lean on him for support as he half carried and half dragged her back along the alley to the car park. Footsteps and mixed gentle voices sounded at the top High Street end of the alley so he shifted quickly into one of the old piss-stained and littered alcoves in case they turned in. He held the girl up against him and both melted into the darkness under cover of his black clothes. He held his breath as the clip clop of shoes and chatter of lovers got closer, level, and then moved past him before they stopped a little further up. They embraced. He heard the sound of their kissing like dogs slurping the last of the food in their dish. Animals, he thought. People were only animals with basic needs and he knew what they'd be doing tonight when they got home. Animals.

The girl moaned. He put his hand over her mouth and nose and held tight until she went limp again. A flicker of excitement ran through him as she slumped against him, heat rose in his chest and his heart beat a little faster.

The lovers were too engrossed in each other to notice the world let alone anyone else around them but after the embrace they walked on, chatting, giggling, laughing. He listened carefully and heard a car engine start at the other end of the alley. He waited a minute and then heaved the girl along. The fog had thickened and he could barely make out his battered old Mondeo in the car park but that was a good thing. There was no one around, vision in this weather was limited anyway so he was sure that no one would see him.

He opened the boot of his car and slung the girl inside. She shouldn't have come looking. It was her own fault. She deserved all she got.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


Timeless classic The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler doesn't just grab you by the throat as you read - it's pins you up against the wall, holds you in a vice like grip, and refuses to let go until your eyes blur and can't stay on the page a minute longer.

Using harsh and tension filled prose that shows the seedy side of life in LA, Chandler colours a city black and white, pure and evil, with varying shades of grey. Rain lashes down endlessly as the plot gathers pace and we meet characters as dodgy as a bad fairground ride with a screw loose and as vulnerable as a toddler not strapped in.

I've never read the book before but Ive seen both 1946 and 1976 screen versions, my favourite being the Bogart/Bacall film noir that oozes sexual chemistry, life on the edge, and the seedy side of life for both rich and poor. It's a world of murder, porn, exploitation, blackmail, gambling, innuendo, drinking whiskey and rye and smoking. It's a world now gone - replaced with one far more dirty, less honourable among thieves, and much more shocking.

The Big Sleep keeps you on the edge but it's not frightening and in places is somewhat amusing for a thriller not written as a comedy. However, back in 1939 readers were less desensitised then they are today. Times change and the book stands witness to the underground of that era which contemporaries would have found shocking. Swearing is forbidden in line with the then then sensibilities and moralities. The most profane word used is "nuts," but homophobia is reeled off as an acceptable reaction to gay men, maybe because it was a crime back then, or maybe just because our parents' and grandparents' generation generally were less enlightened. Sexism is also rampant in the book - if somewhat charming and quaint at times.

The Big Sleep is one three crime novels that I've been studying in preparation as tutor of an eight week adult comparative literature course. The other two books we'll be looking at are Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid which will be a lovely counterbalance to Chandler's homophobia and a very different PI, and Bad Boy by Peter Robinson to compare the screen adaptations. Will the DCI Banks series become regarded as the same kind of classic - or are they as incomparable as a grey Plymouth and a Porsce 911?

Thursday, 6 December 2012


Wow. Just Wow. That sums up my response to the new channel Four series The Fear a stomping new crime thriller with a difference.

Richie is a gangster who's been the unchallenged top dog of his town for 15 years and his violent days are behind him. He's got all of the local politicians, police, and officials in his pocket and the cover of respectability to gloss over his gangster past.

He's also got two soft and stupid sons who use his name in vain when dealing with organised sex traffickers from Albania who don't like being used. Promises are made in Richie's name and the Albanians want what they are promised.

When the sons fail to deliver, they take what they feel they are owed and Richie's peaceful new world is blown into oblivion. He's the sort of man that would usually have nipped such a threat in the bud with swift, untraceable violence. But he has a problem. Dementia is eating his brain, he's slipping back into the dark days of his past, he forgets where he is, who he's with, what he's done, and he's unaware of the danger his empire is in and how far his mind is lost.

At the point where he can deal with them and hope to salvage something, his mind goes off on a tangent and any plan for peace goes horribly wrong. Once his condition becomes apparent to the family, his sons are out for themselves. They have always used Daddy's name as a shield but now they have to stand on their own two feet.

The cool and business headed son has been beaten and raped by the gang into submission and compliance and the other is so far off his head on coke he just reacts like an idiot, doesn't think, and has now put the whole family in future danger with nothing to protect them.

Peter Mullan is excellent in the role. Despite his criminal past, you feel for him and his situation. He is like a monster one minute when he beats up one of his sons, and like a frightened child the next in his wife's arms as he begs for help in understanding what is happening to him.

The last episode is on this evening at 10pm. I'm expecting a great climax to the story but I hope like the last Channel Four series that I enjoyed so much Secret State it doesn't have the same disappointing ending.

I expected a better finale following the authentic feel of that political thriller but the fourth episode trailed off into fantasy land as it came hurriedly to an end which could have been handled much better.

I am not expecting to be disappointed by The Fear's ending. It certainly has far less to resolve than Secret State's convoluted plot and in some ways we already know that Richie's life is hanging by a thread. The slow moving bullet heading his way in the very first opening scene gives an indication of how he is going to end up. I suppose it just depends on who is behind the gun that fired it.