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M Stanley "martiboy" (London, United Kingdom)
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One Day In The Life Of Jason Dean (Best of British)
One Day In The Life Of Jason Dean (Best of British)
Price: £1.54

4.0 out of 5 stars Quality bit of Brit Grit, 16 Dec 2014
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Jason Dean is an a hard man, a very hard man, the kind of scary-looking bloke who gets sent to collect debts and, if needs be, kill people, which is exactly happens on this particular day, but the problem is that his heart isn’t really in it any more. He has a wife who hates him, and the only thing he truly loves is his daughter, Sophie, who occupies his thoughts a lot on this particular day.

So when local gangster, and all-round Wagner-loving psychopath, Mickey Archer, tells him to deal with some debts and then kill a skinhead car dealer who has sold Archer a dud vehicle he does so more out of fear of his boss than any desire to flex his muscles.

Jason’s debt collecting duties happen with mixed success. One of the men, an elderly soldier, commits suicide in front of him, and the other involves dealing with a nightmare family of the kind you’ll find on many deprived council estates. Jason ruminates on writers during many of these incidents, partly because although Jason isn’t a well educated man, due to parental negligence, among other issues, he is a well read and intelligent one.

Finally, he has to face up to the dealer and go through with Archer’s request, but even that is fraught with surprises…

A Day in the Life of Jason Dean is a very strong performance written in a stylised local vernacular that helps burrow into the mind of its protagonist. The character of Dean, who could so easily have been a cliché in the wrong hands, comes across as a sympathetic and even sensitive soul, albeit of the kind that you wouldn’t ever want to upset. The disagreement, although it’s more one-sided than that, between Archer and Dean about Wagner and Shostakovich is both funny and scary, and there’s a similar feeling of unease in another meeting between the two men later in the story – you always get the feeling that Dean is treading on eggshells around his boss. Similarly, Dean’s love for his wife and daughter is equally well evoked, and pays dividends towards the end of the story. Jason Dean is a very well written tale with a genuine compassion towards people on the lower rungs of British society and comes highly recommended.


Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit
Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit
Price: £1.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Surreal and bizarre short fiction, 16 Dec 2014
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Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit is published by Broken River, run by J. David Osborne, and is a collection of his short fiction. Most of the stories have both feet firmly in surreal territory (Kafkaesque in some cases, and like hallucinatory American writer John Hawkes in others). Bleak black humour abounds, as do massive and radical disjunctures from traditional storytelling, in tales that effortlessly straddle the worlds of nightmare and reality. Whether it’s two corrupt Mexican police officers obsessed with dark magic in the title story, the nightmarish western Amends Due, West of Glorieta, or the strange and compelling tale of drug dealers, police and a man whose body is inhabited by a lot of very unwelcome guests in The Thick Fog Of The Alabaster Mountains, these tales meld body horror, grim violence, ethereal strangeness, altered realities and strange black humour. The tales glitter brightly in clipped, clear prose before burning away just as vividly like flies in a zapper. Other tales that made a strong impression were Imprinting and the superb Three Theories on The Murder of John Wily, which reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges in the way it was structured and written. Highly recommended.


The Bitch
The Bitch
Price: £3.12

5.0 out of 5 stars High quality heist noir thriller, 16 Dec 2014
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This review is from: The Bitch (Kindle Edition)
Les Edgerton’s crime novels and short stories have a rich vein of truth and knowledge running through them that most crime writers, even the most talented, simply can’t emulate. Which is hardly surprising considering that he once spent a couple of years in prison for burglary at the Pendleton Reformatory in Indiana. Even the most stringent research is a mediocre substitute for real life experience. And it’s this kind of experience that filters down through the bedrock of Edgerton’s novel, The Bitch, and permeates the actions of its two main characters, Jake Bishop and Walker Joy.

The Bitch in this case is not a woman, but the nickname that cons and ex-cons alike give to the three strikes and you’re out sentencing structure of the American legal system – the point at which prisoners become ha-bitch-ual offenders and go inside for the rest of their lives.

At the start of The Bitch, after a second stint in jail, Jake Bishop is a reformed character working as a hairdresser and dreaming of opening up his own salon with his pregnant wife, Paris. The trouble starts when he takes a phone call from Walker Joy, his one-time cellmate, to whom he owes a very big favour, begging for help: by getting him out of a jam with a dodgy jeweller that he owes money to. His thinking clouded by fears of The Bitch, Jake declines. He is then warned by the jeweller that he has knowledge that will put Jake inside for a third strike and also intends to frame Jake’s younger brother for a recent burglary of his premises. Jake is left with no choice but to take the job on.

The job is to steal a few very special stones from a jewellery designer who is away for the weekend, but there will be a lot of other jewels in there too. If they can pull it off, the take will be massive.

The only problem is that, in true noir style, anything that can go wrong does go wrong. Jake is left wondering just who he can trust, and just how far he can go to avoid the ever-present third strike life sentence. Well, he goes pretty far, believe me, but to say more would spoil things…

I enjoyed The Bitch immensely. It is written with skill and care by a writer who knows his stuff personally, and that comes through in the fear and increasing desperation of Jake’s narrative voice. Thoughts of that dreaded third strike are always on his mind, colouring his decisions, clouding his judgement, making him irrational – it’s an impressive piece of first-person narration. But it’s the plotting and organising of key events in the narrative that impressed me most. There are times in many noir stories where events tumble into the protagonist’s path with such frequency that there’s always the danger of the narrative tipping over into parody. Les Edgerton sidesteps these potential problems adroitly through a combination of fine writing and slowing the narrative down to allow the characters and readers time to draw breath. He drops a few twists along the way to a really satisfying ending, in which he gives Jake a truly great line of closing dialogue. If you are a noir fan, a heist fan, or a straight up thriller fan, there’s plenty in The Bitch that will satisfy you. Highly recommended.


The Disassembled Man
The Disassembled Man

4.0 out of 5 stars Violent and surreal noir, 16 Dec 2014
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Having been impressed earlier this year by Jon Bassoff’s psycho-noir stylings with the cracking Corrosion, I decided to find and download some more of his work, which led me to The Disassembled Man under the pseudonym of Nate Flexer.

This novel shares some traits with Corrosion (grimy first-person setting with an unreliable and insane protagonist, a keen eye for blue collar American life, and a rich cast of repulsive low-lives) but also diverges in some respects, bringing in a sense of the supernatural with one of the cameo characters (although this seems open for interpretation, at least in my reading of the text (the protagonist is insane, after all)).

The protagonist, Frankie Avicious is man at the end of his tether. He’s a heavy-drinking slaughterhouse worker who is in love (more obsessed) with a stripper. His obese wife, whom he hates, wants to leave him for another man because she believes he married her for her father’s money, which happens to be true. But his father-in-law, who owns the factory where he works, has such little respect for Frankie that he’s placed him in a dead-end post on the slaughterhouse killing floor rather than in a more palatable post in the office. Frankie decides to murder his father-in-law and then his wife in an attempt to get his hands on the inheritance money and run away with his stripper, with a little guidance from a mysterious and creepy watch salesman. Like all noir plans it inevitably goes wrong in the worst possible way, but it takes a few wild twists and turns before the gruesome and nightmarish finale.

The Disassembled Man is another very fine piece of noir from Jon Bassoff. It’s very well written with a neat line in glib metaphors and hardboiled one-liners. It isn’t as strong as Corrosion, partly because some of the supporting characters feel a little underdeveloped, like they’re just there as Frankie’s cannon-fodder, but the prose conjures up some wonderful images, especially during the hellish finale, and there are some great set-pieces and intense moments of suspense. If you have a strong stomach for violence, this novel comes highly recommended.


The Scent of New Death
The Scent of New Death
Price: £1.83

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, fast-paced thrills, 16 Dec 2014
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When Phil Gaines’ new wife, a kinky young barmaid called Paige, and his business partner, a psychopathic pervert and genius getaway man called Jeff, run off together it’s a case of so far, so bad. But when he realises that they’ve also made off with his life’s savings, accumulated from years of bank robberies executed with zen-like calmness and precision, it’s a matter of life and death. Until this point, Gaines has managed to live a quiet and controlled life of meditation in his modest apartment in Modesto, California apartment and successful robberies out of the state.

But now his life is anything but quiet and controlled. He wants his money back and his wife and partner dead.

However, his ex-cohorts have plans of their own, which include framing and killing Gaines in a big robbery that will make them a lot of money if they can pull it off. But when the plan goes awry and Gaines escapes it leaves the main players chasing each other across the state to the home of an ageing pornstar, where their blood-soaked destinies await.

Mike Monson is a fairly new author to me. I’d read a couple of pieces of his flash fiction over at Shotgun Honey (Tough Love being an especially memorable tale), but The Scent of New Death is I believe his first longer-length work. Although the title page calls it a novella the story manages to cram more incident and character into its pages than many works that are twice the length. And I honestly loved every second of it. The characters of Phil, Paige and Jeff are fully realised and are starkly contrasting. Phil is controlled and calm most of the time, thanks to his zen meditation, but he also has a sociopathic disregard for human life, which means he’ll kill anybody who gets in his way. Paige is wild and initially fun-loving, though her idea of fun differs markedly from that of most regular people. Jeff is as vile as they come – a sexually deviant psychopath with absolutely no regard for human life and enjoys murdering for the sheer thrill. Even the minor characters have a feeling of interior lives, rather than as pieces to be moved around an elaborate literary chessboard. The prose is clear and precise and doesn’t get in the way of the action and incident, of which there’s plenty, and the dialogue is sharp and snappy without being showy. It is a superb crime thriller with some very, very violent and kinky moments. If you’ve got the stomach for it I can’t recommend The Scent of New Death highly enough. Superb.


Long Lost Dog of It
Long Lost Dog of It
Price: £2.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another hit for Broken River Books, 25 Aug 2014
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The Long Lost Dog of It is the debut novel by Michael Kazepis, a writer who I hadn’t heard of previously. It’s published by Broken River Books, who are fast becoming one of my favourite indie publishing houses.

The novel is set in Athens during one of the anti-austerity protests that brought the city to a halt in 2011. The narrative focuses on the lives of a vagrant who used to be a police officer, a young lesbian couple who are having serious relationship difficulties, and a hitman who has returned home for his father’s funeral. They have nothing in common with the exception of a violent incident that occurs in the latter half of the tale – an incident that impacts on their lives in ways both major and minor.

TLLDOI is quite an original spin on the ensemble cast novel. Usually, these kind of ensemble cast novels are linked by an event that happens at the beginning or first half of the tale, and the characters’ tales develop out of this event. TLLDOI turns this on its head and deals with what happens to these people before the main event. It unfolds at an unhurried pace, taking its time, revelling in the details – the sights, sounds and smells of Athens – and lets the characters breathe a bit before finally tightening its grip on the story.

TLLDOI is superbly written. Kazepis has a poet’s eye for a descriptive turn of phrase. He doesn’t ladle on the metaphors, nor does he waste words in getting to the point. He builds his characters well and brings them to life with some choice dialogue and dramatic moments. Of course, some characters are stronger than others. Maniotis, the hitman, is incredibly strong, as is Varia, the vagrant, and some of the supporting characters like Karras and Mesrine are just as fully realised. The tale of Junesong and Pallas, the lesbian couple, although strong, didn’t hold my attention as well as the other stories, partly because the main focus of the narrative, involving Maniotis, would have worked just as well if they weren’t in it. Still, that’s a minor caveat.

And it also has one of the best action sequences I’ve read in several years. A gunfight between two of the characters that escalates into a wider conflict with the police and ties most of the characters together in one way or another. I doubt very much that I’ll read a more stunning setpiece this year.

TLLDOI is a very confident debut by a writer with real promise. It’s another hit for J. David Osborne’s Broken River Books, and it comes highly recommended.


The Big Rain: Toulouse, France (Atlantis)
The Big Rain: Toulouse, France (Atlantis)
Price: £1.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tough Case, 1 May 2014
I very much enjoy the work of Paul D Brazill – a writer who seems to be on a one-man mission to make Brit Grit (and its various practitioners) known to the outside world. His writing (short work especially) is tight, controlled, inventive and his prose style just drips with atmosphere.

I’ve especially enjoyed the Luke Case tales (Red Esperanto, Death On A Hot Afternoon and The Kelly Affair). He’s a British hack with a nose for booze, women and trouble, nearly always combining the three to disastrous effect. He also has a drifter’s tendency to end up in different places when the going gets tough (which is always), meaning that each story plays out in a new European location. The previous stories were set in, chronologically, Warsaw, Madrid, and Granada. His latest, The Big Rain, is set in a rain-swept Toulouse and deals with the culmination of a story strand that was begun, and left open, in The Kelly Affair. I won’t bother to spoil the plot for those who haven’t read Kelly (or indeed the other tales), instead I’ll suggest that you buy all of them and read them in order. They’re well worth your time and money.

Like in the other stories, the elements and atmosphere rise off the page, so that you can almost smell the tear-gas and feel the rain on your skin and taste the booze at the back of your throat. Brazill is a neat prose-stylist, but he also has the chops necessary to take a tight grip on the story early in the proceedings. He weaves together characters and strands introduced in the earlier books and crafts a fine tale that builds to a powerful resolution. The Big Rain, like the rest of the Case tales, comes highly recommended. Get it on yer Kindle, quick-smart!


Dream Land: A Konstantin Novella (The Konstantin Novellas Book 1)
Dream Land: A Konstantin Novella (The Konstantin Novellas Book 1)
Price: £0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars The biggest Hobo, 25 April 2014
Keith Nixon’s novel The Fix was one of the best I read last year. This tale of crooked financiers, betrayal, and murder featured some great characters, but my favourite was without doubt the homeless Russian man Konstantin Boryakov. Despite his appearance, he had a very specific skillset, and was as hard and sharp as a box of titanium nails. Well, Dreamland is the story of how he became that hobo. He’s ex-KGB, just out of prison, and freshly touched down in Margate, enjoying (not) the delights of the Dreamland amusement arcade, where he makes the mistake of crossing dealer Dave The Rave – or, more to the point, The Rave makes the mistake of crossing and trying to steal from him. Konstantin puts his training to good use and defends himself. He also takes Dave’s money and gets rid of the drug wraps to Dave is carrying for somebody a lot higher up the criminal food chain. And from there it only gets worse for all of them…

Dreamland is a highly enjoyable tale in its own right but also works as a kind of a taster for Nixon’s longer work. The same short snappy sentences, the same foul-mouthed, funny dialogue, and the same tight plotting that made his debut such a pleasure to read are here too in miniature. Konstantin is also great character to spend time with: brutal, hard as nails, curt, weary and also at times capable of tenderness and affection, he lights up the narrative like a beacon. Dreamland comes highly recommended by me. Grab it today and then bite your nails and wait for the arrival of the next Konstantin novellas from Caffeine Nights – they’re just as good as this.


Paul Carter Is A Dead Man
Paul Carter Is A Dead Man
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jacking great!, 28 Mar 2014
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I was pretty taken with Ryan Bracha’s 'Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet' last year. It was enjoyable, ambitious, well-written and tried to do things a little bit differently.

Well, now he’s back with his latest Paul Carter Is A Dead Man. It’s a singular take on the dystopian nightmare tale – think more Big Brother in the Endemol definition rather than the Orwellian one. It’s set in the present day but in a reimagined Britain, which has closed off its borders to the rest of the world after an explosion in 2009 that kills more than 400 of its citizens (including three generations of heirs to the throne). Law enforcement as it was no longer exists. Power (of a sort) is now in the hands of the British people, and criminals are placed in online public courts for twenty four hours, to be judged. The sentence for most crimes, and in most cases, is death, although if not enough votes are gathered the defendant is released unharmed.

As the story starts, Paul Carter is on the run for murdering an internet troll who was ruining his reputation. By the end of the evening he has killed another man (one of the crews – hired thugs recruited as police under the new regime), and his status as Public Enemy No 1. is secured. The one person he can turn to in his hour of need, his cousin Danny, refuses to give him shelter so he goes on the run again, which brings him into contact with Katie, a pretty girl with terrible breath, who has been made homeless by the changes in British society (although homelessness is somewhat different in the new Britain). She takes him back to where she is living with her friend Shane, also homeless. When Carter’s cousin is unfairly arrested, the man decides to do something about it – setting in motion events that will send shockwaves through the hopelessly corrupt system. It will also prove a test of the kind of man Carter is – failing will cost him and those he holds dear their lives…

Paul Carter is a Dead Man is a well written alternative future dystopia. It is also an effective satire of modern day Britain – a place where people are often judged by the kangaroo court of public opinion on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and other smaller social media networks, where rumours, innuendo and ignorance are often paraded as facts and then shared like viruses from wall-to-wall and retweeted by tens of thousands, where more members of the public vote for singers in public talent competitions than they do for their political leaders. Bracha sets up the base story of Carter, and his transition from wanted murderer to freedom fighter, nicely and then branches out into vignettes that deal with modern day Britain. Although they are well written, I felt that on occasion these vignettes detracted my attention away from Carter’s story. Bracha had expertly built and sustained tension that is then slackened when the tale slows down to take a detour. Part of me wondered if Bracha might have been better served by dovetailing these elements into the story somehow (but, then again, these may pay off later, as Paul Carter is the first of a trilogy). However, this is a minor caveat because the main story and the main characters are so damn compelling and the vignettes are never very long.

Paul Carter is a major step-up from Strangers (which was no slouch, I might add) in terms of the leanness and meanness of the writing. It has more focus, is snappier and punchier, and assembles the main story quickly and neatly. Also, the use of wordplay to remove the swearing from the tale is a brilliant move – more sensitive readers really have no reason to complain about bad language. Bracha also performs the neat trick of making a murderer sympathetic, likeable and a compelling enough a personality to bring the reader and other characters under his spell. This is not easy to accomplish, so kudos has to go to the writer for doing it so damn well. The other thing he does superbly is the final third of the tale, where Carter has to make choices, deal with them, and plan his way out of a very tricky situation. Should Bracha ever turn his attention to writing something a little less ambitious, like a straight-up crime thriller, it would probably be a storming tale. Although, I think the ambition of his writing is partly what makes him the writer he is (a damn good one).

I heartily recommend Paul Carter is a Dead Man to readers everywhere. It’s an entertaining story that also works as an alternative future dystopia and as a satire of modern day Britain.


Peckerwood
Peckerwood
Price: £2.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Another cracker from Jedidiah Ayres, 13 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Peckerwood (Kindle Edition)
When petty scumbag Terry Hickerson sleeps with the Sheriff Jimmy Mondale’s wayward daughter, he’s inviting trouble. Mondale is very tight with Chowder Thompson, a meth kingpin and ex-biker. So tight, in fact, that they run all the organised crime in their little town in Missouri – and it really wouldn’t take that much for them to make a creep like Terry disappear. But Mondale has more important things on his mind: namely a smarmy DA who’s looking to make a name for himself by taking down Thompson and the Sheriff. But when tragedy strikes, Mondale’s once sound judgement goes out of the window and he hunts down Hickerson with the intention of killing him, and Thompson realises that maybe it’s time to break up their partnership and get out of town once-and-for-all.

I loved Jedidiah Ayres’ Fierce Bitches, which was a highly ambitious and linguistically stunning novella set mostly in a small Mexican hell-hole. It was original, despite reworking some old noir tropes, fierce and unlike any other piece of crime fiction published in 2013. So I wasn't sure how he would follow it up for his next project. In a sense, I shouldn't have been surprised that he hasn't really followed it up at all.

Peckerwood is as different from Fierce Bitches as chalk is from cheese. The writing is lighter and looser than the dense, poetic language used in that novella, the tone is funnier, although there’s plenty of darkness in there too, and the characters have a bit more space to live and breathe and bounce off each other.

As the betrayals and blackmails and murders mounted up, Peckerwood began to remind me of a Jim Thompson small-town thriller. In fact, Sheriff Mondale could have been written by Thompson, which is as high a compliment as I can give, because, frankly, the guy wrote brilliant corrupt law officers (read Pop. 1280 and Killer Inside Me, should you have any doubts). But Chowder and Hickerson are both equally well written – Ayres writes very good scumbags, by the way – and the narrative paths that they take feel right. He also has complete mastery over the story and it never feels rushed or forced.

Peckerwood is, in its own way, as impressive a performance as Fierce Bitches, and Jedidiah Ayres is now up there on my small but growing list of new writers whose work I will snap up on the first day of release. Highly recommended.


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