|Posted on February 11, 2013 at 7:00 AM||comments (0)|
When Good Men Do Nothing, UK crime writer Paul Grzegorzek's latest novel, opens with the blind date from hell, the secretive MI6, a pile of murders, a booby-trapped boat, government manipulation of the news and enough technical crime scene jargon to satisfy the most hardcore CSI fan.
And that's just in the first 100 pages. The rest of the novel fleshes out a terrorist conspiracy brought to light after an assassin goes on a killing spree.
As I noted in my review of Grzegorzek's debut, The Follow, the plot is framed by the author's experiences in UK law enforcement. They pad the story in this novel, too, lending an air of realism that can't be faked.
However, as anyone in law enforcement would tell you, that type of job consists of crushing boredom punctuated by brief bouts of terror. Fortunately, Grzegorzek wears his writer hat for most of When Good Men Do Nothing. The chapters are short, the plot moves quickly, the action is constant and the mystery grows another leg whenever things look certain.
Outside of the terse plot, Grzegorzek continues the gruff cadence he introduced through Constable Gareth Bell in The Follow. Grzegorzek gives us Detective Sergeant Rob Steele this time around, although he's hardly different from Bell. There's the gallows humor, the rough treatment of low lifes, the air of invincibility and other similarities.
It had me wondering why Grzegorzek didn't just turn Bell into a recurring character. When Good Men Do Nothing could easily have been a prequel or sequel to The Follow, or at least been branded as part of a series within Grzegorzek's universe.
That's the writer in me thinking here. The reader enjoyed Grzegorzek's sense of dark humor, such as this passage from the beginning of chapter 18.
"Justin Evans was a cross between a garden gnome and something you'd wipe off your shoe before you got in the car."
I cracked a grin at that one and several others. It's part of the reason I enjoyed When Good Men Do Nothing.
You will, too. Click here to get it for the Kindle for $2.99.
|Posted on December 6, 2012 at 8:00 AM||comments (0)|
Ladies and gentlemen, this - THIS - is old school noir. Written by one of the new school's foremost masters of the style, Heath Lowrance.
Lowrance gives us protagonist Crowe this time around (although, in this novel, they're all antagonists in some way). He's just out of prison and looking for work. His old enemies are more than willing to give it to him.
After a mission to intercept a prisoner goes wrong, Crowe finds a trail leading to a cult called The Church of Christ the Fisher. It's not your average cult, even by the crazy standards such organizations have set for themselves.
Revenge is the theme that opens City of Heretics, but it quickly morphs into one about religion. The cynical tone of Lowrance's prose matches the desperation of the novel's lost souls searching for redemption or a purpose. The injections of this theme never feel preachy, and the supernatural elements are just enough to keep you guessing. Especially with that infamous Ghost Cat.
If you want some no-BS, tough guy reading, this is the novel that will deliver. Lowrance has crafted a tight story that never drags. The action is swift, brutal and ubiquitous.
|Posted on December 5, 2012 at 9:30 AM||comments (0)|
This is the fourth and final part of an e-book mystery serial. Read my review of the controversial first part here.
This final piece of the puzzle has Morna and Gordon wrapping up the mystery behind a suspicious package (aka The Wrong Delivery). I thought I had this series figured out, but the ending surprised me in a good way. That the twist came totally out of left field speaks highly of McDroll's jaunt into serialized fiction. That's what a good series should do. Ramp up the mystery at the end of each installment. Then hit 'em with something unexpected at the conclusion.
I recommend getting all four parts of The Wrong Delivery and reading them back-to-back. These are fun reads, more on the cozy side, and they include plenty of dark humor.
Click here to get The Wrong Delivery, Part Four: Running Out of Time from Amazon.
|Posted on July 30, 2012 at 8:05 AM||comments (0)|
I always like when a reviewer "gets" my crime thriller novel, Cleansing Eden: The Celebrity Murders. Not that readers have a hard time understanding the plot, but there are elements underneath that require some digging. And when a reviewer nails them, it makes me smile.
Click here for the latest Cleansing Eden review. Good way to start a Monday.
|Posted on July 10, 2012 at 11:15 PM||comments (0)|
Actually, let's not take the bus to a strip club. Instead, let's click here to check out a nice review of Maynard Soloman Takes the Bus to a Strip Club over at Detectives Beyond Borders. I especially enjoyed the discussion in the comments area.
This respected crime fiction review blog won a Spinetingler Magazine award for its work. If you're an indie crime writer, it's a big deal to get reviewed here.
And if you're not an indie crime writer, suggest an e-book to your favorite stripper.
|Posted on June 26, 2012 at 6:30 AM||comments (0)|
Disclaimer: OK, it's not actually Cleansing Eden: The Celebrity Murders, my crime thriller novel. The review is of Pick Your Poison, an anthology of my work that includes Cleansing Eden.
Technicalities aside, reviews like this one from Montpellier, France, make me extra daisy-sniffin', kitty-pettin', brownie-bakin' happy. Gal-damn rosy, son. Because the reader "got it."
No, not in the douche-tastic way some snob premiering a painting might want people to "get it." I mean the reader took time to understand some of the literary devices I used to tell the story.
Such as, well...I'll just let her do the 'splainin'.
'Cleansing Eden' is a story about the evils of drugs and celebrity worship fed by the media. There are two main characters - the 'older man' and the 'younger man'. They remain anonymous for most of the story, identity being a connection to self-awareness and consequences.
The younger man is anonymous because he is a drug addict, and his identity has been lost in the subjugating influences of drug abuse. The older man is anonymous because he is a criminal - he makes and distributes recreational drugs. For him though, the worst evil in modern society is celebrity, and because he believes that celebrities steal the identities (metaphorically) of a worshipping youthful public, they should be eliminated.
Interestingly, as he becomes increasingly insane, the younger man does the opposite. He starts to wake up and work out what he wants, a thought process long since dormant from drug abuse. The denouement of the story is based around the challenge of his new awakening and desire for life.
There is much social comment in the story. The older man goes on at length but the message is clear. It manages not to turn into a preaching novel of moralising boredom thanks to the skill of the writer.
An entertaining, thought-provoking read, added to which are a number of short stories not linked to the original novel.
And if you think I'm shittin' ya, here's the link to the review on Amazon UK.
Now to celebrate with some Freedom toast.
|Posted on June 18, 2012 at 6:00 PM||comments (0)|
A collection of extraordinarily diverse stories. Some authors have embraced the theme of burning bridges, using broad strokes to outline it, whilst others have been more subtle. As quirky a collection as you will find.
There are stories of chance encounters. There is a tale of revenge that goes horribly wrong. A man on a mission does battle with extra terrestrials in his quest not to be late for work. In K.A. Laity’s excellent fable like story Horse Clock the goddess Sekhmet reflects on the past and makes a decision. In another story a wise guy gets his just desserts for messing with the wrong guys daughter. In B.R. Stateham's The Gift hit man Smitty helps an injured mobster by doling out his own brand of justice.
Mark Cooper Disciple hints at horrors in his usual deft way. In Joshua J. Mark's Safety First we are given a cleverly constructed and intelligently written glimpse into the mind of a killer. Paul D. Brazill tells a beguiling tale of beginnings and endings. Benjamin Sobieck’s tale The Last Injustice was moving and humorous at the same time. L.Vera’s Killing Deities conjured up wonderful visual images for me.
There are a whole host of other talents within this collection. You won’t perhaps like every tale in this collection. One or two make even have you scratching your head in confusion. However, if you are open minded embrace the diversity contained within this unique collection. A charity anthology that is well worth the cover price.
Format: E-book Anthology
Click here to get Burning Bridges: A Renegade Anthology from Amazon for 99 cents. All proceeds go to charity.
|Posted on May 4, 2012 at 6:00 AM||comments (9)|
Les Edgerton's The Bitch is one of the most arresting crime novels I've read this year (no pun intended). It chronicles ex-con Jake Bishop's attempts to avoid "The Bitch," a slang term for "habitual criminal." It's similar to the Three Strike Rule. Jake already has two strikes when a prison buddy calls him up for one last job.
The yarn itself was compelling on its own, but I suspected I was reading a story-within-a-story. Author Edgerton served time in the same prison as his Jake character. His colorful past is already well-known in the crime fiction world, but I still wanted to pick his brain. How much of the story was true?
Fortunately, the author was more than happy to do an interview. Here it is, unedited and unfiltered. Just 100% pure Edgerton. Read the whole thing. His real-world answers could put fiction to shame.
P.S. Click here to buy The Bitch on Amazon. It's available at all other fine e-retailers, too.
* * *
BEN: It's impossible not to compare the lead character in The Bitch, Jake Bishop, to yourself. You both did time in Indiana's Pendleton Correctional Facility, for example. Was The Bitch catharic to write?
LES: First, a small correction. When I was in prison, it was “Pendleton Reformatory.” Only, it wasn’t a “reformatory,” but one of the two Indiana maximum prisons, the other one being Michigan City. The only difference between them was that cons 30 and younger were sent to Pendleton and cons older than 30 went to Michigan City.
The “correctional facility” is a recent name change and nowadays they have a juvie facility in addition to the main prison. While I was there, then-President Johnson conducted a national study and concluded that Pendleton was “the single worst prison in the U.S.”
And, it was. There were eight riots during my stay, not including the one I walked in on when first sent up.
As to your question, Ben, writing it wasn’t much in the way of a catharsis at all. For a couple of reasons.
One, I’ve written about my experiences there in many of my previous novels and short stories, and so the “catharsis” value has pretty much been exhausted by now.
And, two, I’ve never lost a lot of sleep over my experience there. I was a criminal and going to prison is just part of the deal of being “in the life.” That “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the time” is pretty much the way it is. Just a part of the job description. Criminals are pretty good at compartmentalizing things and when you’re in the joint, you’re in the “zone” and not outside, on the bricks in your mind, and when you’re out on the bricks, you don’t waste a lot of time thinking about the joint.
I see a new breed of criminal today on TV where these guys are crying when they get caught. What kind of punk cries?
BEN: One of the themes throughout The Bitch was having to make a bad choice in the pursuit of something better. For example, kill Person X to save Person Y, yet create a new problem with Person Z. It's almost like the game is rigged. Does this reflect your view of the world, that we're doomed to a certain fate no matter what we choose?
LES: Ah! So you’re asking me if I have a Calvinistic view of life—that predestination thingy!
Well, on Monday’s I think that, and on Tuesdays I don’t. On Wednesdays, I don’t care.
To be honest, on most days I don’t care. I have a different vision of morality and God and all that. Most days, I fit the definition of a nihilist quite accurately. Expediency is what gets me through life.
For instance, I don’t perform criminal activities any longer and it’s not because I had some kind of “come to Jesus” moment or some kind of epiphany. I’ve just weighed the pros and cons of performing a criminal act and since I’ve been there (inside the walls), I have a clear idea of what that’s like and so far I haven’t come across a crime whose possible rewards outweigh the possible penalties.
If I ever do, I’m pretty sure I’m off that good citizen dais and out there doing the crime. But, it’ll have to be the perfect crime with an enormous upside. At my age, to go back to the joint is a certain death sentence and I’m not quite ready for that. Incarceration really is a good deterrent once you’ve experienced it.
BEN: On that same note, Jake is sucked back into the world of crime despite trying to get as far from it as possible. Is this a fear you were exorcising through Jake's character?
LES: Not really, but I can understand Jake completely. He’s the guy I could be if I had a moral view of the universe. Except, he’s really kidding himself that he’s a moral person.
In the end, he’s as nihilistic as I am. Not trying to come across as some kind of “badass” hardened criminal type, but I really don’t feel like I have a lot of fears. I’ve done time, been homeless, been shot at, been stabbed, had just about everything you can imagine thrown at me and can never remember feeling anything at the time than the same thing—that what was happening was interesting and would make great material for my fiction.
Detached is the best way to describe my feelings at any of those times. I’ve always thought “what’s the worst that can happen” in any situation I’ve been in, and never has that “worst thing” been all that bad.
It’s the feeling I had when I was in a shootout with what I thought were cops in a grade school and it’s the feeling I had when my call girl girlfriend Cat had stabbed one of my other girlfriends and was trying to eviscerate me. “What’s the worst that can happen here?”
In those cases (and others) the worst was death, and hey… nobody gets out of life alive, so what’s the fuss all about? It’s going to happen to all of us (death) and if you worry about it, it seems to me that you’re kind of… what’s the word?... oh, yeah… stupid. It’s going to happen at some time, so when it does what’s awakened is a feeling of avid curiosity. What’s it going to be like?
BEN: "The Bitch" refers to the slang term for "habitual" criminal, which others refer to as the "Three Strike Rule." Wind up in prison three times, and you're "out" for life. Advocates of these laws say they deter crime. Yet in your novel, it seems to encourage it. Jake will do anything - no matter how extreme - to avoid a third term in Pendleton. Which side of this issue do you fall on?
LES: These “law and order” types—politicians and the media, especially—don’t have a clue what deters crime. Or, rather, I suspect they do, but their agenda isn’t to keep people out of prison. It’s to gain votes for pols (for being seen as “tough on crime") and for viewers and readers (in the case of media.). It’s sexy and it’s popular to appear to exhibit the attitude of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” The things they do don’t deter crime in the least.
Here’s what deters crime. Barber school. (I’m using this as an example.) When I was in Pendleton, I had a much higher degree of education than most—I’d graduated high school and spent four years in the Navy and was a radioman and cryptographer. The average educational level of my fellow inmates was about third grade. When most of these guys got out—and most do get out, which straights don’t seem to realize will happen—they have no skills to gain any kind of meaningful employment. Which means, they’ll be on the street again, with no way to gain money for a meal, for a place to crash, for any of that. So, they’ll end up doing what they know how to do. Stick up a 7-11, sell drugs, break into a place.
Well, Pendleton at that time operated under the philosophy of rehabilitation. They actually meant it. The barber school was the best “lick” in the place and inmates fought over getting in. The reason was, the training was the best in the country and as a result barber shop and hairstyle salons were waiting in line to hire us. On the bricks, a guy in a civilian barber school got to cut maybe 1-2 heads of hair a day. He went to school for seven months. In Pendleton, we cut 12-14 heads a day. For at least two years and often a lot longer. When we were released, we were just far, far better at cutting hair than anyone else. Our services were valued and highly. I had to field offers of employment from literally hundreds of places. Guys from civilian barber and beauty schools couldn’t buy a job. They took our leavings, basically.
The result was, about 82% of us stayed on the bricks. We made serious money and got married. Bought homes, joined the Rotary, had kids and coached Little League. Why? Because we had excellent jobs. I was making $500 a week in 1968, which was great money in those days and it went up from there. Legitimately.
And, as great as the barber school was, it was virtually the only program in Pendleton that had this kind of success rate. The reason was we learned a very marketable skill. The second-best lick was the machine shop. Theoretically, guys could learn to be machinists and go out and secure a good job. The problem was, the machinery they learned on was outdated by at least 50 years and so the inmate who’d gone through that program wasn’t much better off than the guy who worked in the laundry or in the chow hall. The barber school program was a huge success and showed what was possible. Very few guys who went through the barber school came back.
But then… civilian barber students started protesting that all the good jobs were going to ex-cons and support for the program went away… Lock ‘em up and throw away the key…
The thing is, nothing the “authorities” do these days deters crime. I can’t think of a single thing. Warehousing criminals is the worst thing to ever happen for a lot of reasons space doesn’t allow me to go into here. What’s needed is a realistic look at criminals and prisons and the wrong-minded approach pervasive in corrections today, but that’s a pipe dream. Too many people making a lot of money off crime and I’m not referring to the criminals.
BEN: "Prison rape" is often the punchline in a joke. The Bitch takes a different approach and details the long-term psychological damage of rapes behind bars. The survivors might be prisoners, but they're still human beings. Is that a point you were trying to make?
LES: First of all, “prison rape” doesn’t go on nearly as much as straights think it does. It’s actually fairly rare. If one were to believe movies, books, and comedians, one would think it’s all that goes on in the joint. And, it doesn’t.
In fact, in my two+ years inside, among over 2,000 inmates, I was aware of maybe 5-10 such instances. There were more going on, I’m aware, but those were all I was aware of. This is one of the biggest myths perpetuated. It’s not a sexual thing—it’s a power thing and most often between blacks and whites. Whites don’t rape blacks as a rule, but blacks will often try to rape whites. In their minds, shows they’re in control.
I got hit on twice in two years. The first was in jail, not prison, so only one time in prison. And, that came about after I got my parole and made the mistake of talking about it. (You don’t tell anyone as there are lots of guys who can’t stand it that someone’s getting out and they’re not and they try their best to fuck up a guy’s parole.) A black guy got in my barber’s chair (a no-no—blacks don’t sit in white barber’s chairs and vice versa, unless one of them’s a punk), and told me he was going to make me his kid.
I’d made up my mind what I was going to do if that ever happened and I did exactly that. Grabbed my straight edge and went after him, trying to cut his throat. Chased him all over the barber school and then Jonesy, a black hack, caught me, ran me into the office, locked the door, and took the black inmate over to his dorm. Jonesy could have written me up—and he should have—but he didn’t, which saved my life as I would have lost my parole and I knew if I had to do the whole five years of my bit, I’d have to kill the dude who fronted me and once I did that, I’d be in there the rest of my life. So, Jonesy saved my life, in my opinion.
The guys who get hit on are guys who are all alone. In Pendleton, that meant guys from small towns who weren’t career criminals before and didn’t know anyone. I was from South Bend and had been pulling jobs for years and knew everybody from South Bend and so had all kinds of buddies who had my back as I had theirs. A good example of what happens is one day a new kid came onto our tier from a small town—Tipton—and he seemed like an all-right guy, albeit naïve, and I kind of took him under my wing. Well, a black dude started romancing him (although the kid didn’t realize what he was doing)—giving him cookies, cigarettes and all that.
I warned the kid that he needed to get away from this guy, but he was convinced the black guy was just trying to be friendly. He was. A week later, he’d turned the kid out. Big-time. Not just for himself, but he put the kid on the block. First thing he did was get a ball-peen hammer and knock out all the kid’s front teeth. (Better for blow jobs.) A week after I’d tried to warn him off, the kid was roaming the aisles on movie day, giving blow jobs to other inmates for cigarettes and green, turning them over to his new “friend.” Sad, but he was too ignorant to know when help was offered him.
But, that’s where most rapes come from. It’s just not a common deal at all. It wasn’t something most of us even think about or worry about at all. Seems to happen a lot in movies and in novels written by writers who don’t have a clue.
All that said, I’ve got rape in THE BITCH, don’t I! But, both took place in jail, not prison. One is far more likely to be raped in jail than in prison for several reasons. One, many guys in jail haven’t done time so all they know is from books and movies. So, they try to imitate what they think goes on, especially black guys. Not trying to come across as a racist, but it is what it is.
Second, and more important, guys in jail are hours or mere days away from being under the influence of drugs and that makes you do things and act in ways you wouldn’t when sober. Third, often guys in jail haven’t made the alliances they will in prison and so are more at risk. Jail and prison are vastly different animals.
Your original question was if I was trying to show that survivors or prison rape were still human beings. Well, not consciously. I simply assume they are (still human beings). I think a lot of straights think all criminals are rapists, child-molesters, serial killers and the like. The fact is, the vast majority of convicts are involved in crimes of property more than in crimes of person. Far more guys inside for burglarizing bars and gas stations, for stealing cars, for sticking up 7-11’s, for check-kiting, for assault on the wife who they walked in on as they were banging their best friends, than are in there for the crimes commonly portrayed on TV.
So, yeah; I think most of the guys inside are still human beings. Books, TV and movies are all engaged in sensationalizing prisons and are a long way off from any accurate portrayal. That series on MSNBC is typical bullshit—if a person believed that show, they’d think most inmates are pumping iron all day long or are total nut jobs. Totally unrealistic show, but if they showed the boredom that prison truly is, ratings would plunge.
BEN: You're candid about your colorful past, even writing about it in your bio on your website. Why? As you point out in The Bitch, people can react negatively to finding out one is an ex-con.
LES: For years, I did just that—kept my past secret. Then, I got tired of listening to people who usually had it all wrong. The truth is, most criminals are pretty much like your average citizen. Not that many hang out in strip clubs, have tatts, use drugs and drink like there was no tomorrow. Not that many have killed someone. Not that many have raped or been raped in the joint.
If you took the population of the average prison and set these folks down in the food court of your average mall and dressed them “normally” I doubt if anyone looking at them or listening to them would ever think they were any different than anyone else who might be in the mall. In fact, the average citizen probably talks to an excon every week and doesn’t have a clue. At one time, for instance, I could walk into just about any barbershop in Indiana and almost always someone cutting hair there would be someone I knew from Pendleton. The average lame who came in for their haircut didn’t have a clue. Well, we’re out there in your neighborhood.
Some of us are working in fast food, some are selling insurance, some are working on your car, some are taking your dry cleaning and handing you the pickup ticket, some are managing movie theaters… you name it, ex-cons are doing the same jobs and living the same lives as anyone else. Remember, I was a college prof (still am), was in college and elected student body president, worked as a reporter for The South Bend Tribune, sold Prudential life insurance, worked as a headhunter for an executive recruiting firm—in short, did a whole bunch of jobs that, if you believed bad novels, bad movies, and bad TV wouldn’t be the case. But it is. We’re (ex-cons) are in every segment of life on the bricks and doing virtually any job you can think of.
BEN: Let's wrap up with a lighter question. What would be on the Les Edgerton sandwich?
LES: A tunafish sandwich made with the recipe of this place I used to go to in Bermuda. I’ve never tasted anything like it since. And, I don’t even like tunafish much, but this sandwich was awesome. Second choice, would be fried oysters.
Thanks for having me on, Ben. This was fun!
|Posted on April 17, 2012 at 8:00 AM||comments (0)|
Allan Watson left this fantastic review of Cleansing Eden - The Celebrity Murders on Amazon:
"One of the most enjoyable novels I've read for a while. A tightly focused tale of a moralistic, crusading serial killer using a new designer drug `Bluegrasse' to recruit and enslave a lost-cause junkie to act as his strong right arm when targeting celebrities on his hit list. Ben Sobieck draws a neat parallel between the rampaging killers and the blood-sucking media reporters who parasitically feed upon and drain the life from these self same celebrities. Does one group hold the moral high ground over the other? When the dust settles on this gem of a story it's difficult to say. Deftly written characters with sharp-as-a-tack dialogue, coupled with a real sense of pace. Don't cross the road when this book is motoring towards you. It'll knock you flat on your arse......... and then reverse back over your broken bones to finish the job. "
|Posted on April 5, 2012 at 8:35 AM||comments (0)|
Dana King, who I coincidentally reviewed earlier this week, happened to read Cleansing Eden - The Celebrity Murders at about the same time I was deep in his Worst Enemies. Great timing is not one of my fortes, so the stars must have been extra aligned this week.
Here's the thing, though. King is not a fan of serial killer novels. Despite multiple body counts, he still enjoyed Cleansing Eden.