Thursday, July 24, 2008

Paying For It (Gus Dury) by Tony Black

I've met nicer guys than Gus Dury in PI-books, but not often more lifelike ones. Ex-reporter Gus Dury went to find comfort in the bottle when he lost his job. During the novel he doesn't exactly fight with alcoholism but tries to function while being drunk. He is asked by a friend to look into the murder of this friend's son. Along the way he confronts an over the top gangster, a true femme fatale and other unsavory characters. The setting of Edinburgh is used to great effect but never overdone so no worries that it will read like a traveling guide!
A cross between early Pelecanos, Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor novels and Ian Rankin this makes for fantastic reading. What made me really enjoy the book were the pop culture references and quotes that seemed to pop up on every page, making every single page interesting to read. Guys truly comes alive in the narrative, making you sometimes root for, sometimes pity him.
We already may have Sons of Spade's Favorite Novel of 2008 here!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Q & A with Tony Black

Q: What makes Gus Dury different from other PIs?
A: Gus Dury isn't a PI as such, he's more of a down-on-his-luck hack who has fallen into the role, but he has a lot in common with the great Hardboiled heroes, he's a drinker and a brawler for a start and his personal life is hell.
With Gus being such a damaged man I had to show more of his emotional side that you normally see with PIs, hopefully explaining why he's so screwed up and spends most of his time wailing like a nut-house on meds night.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
A:I think it has to be used very carefully if it's not to be a blatant device. I gave Gus two sidekicks -- an ex-con called Mac the Knife and an old school friend called Hod. The pair kind of balance each other out and share the sidekick role between them, but I had to be careful not to have them behave like the old 'devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other' . . . all characters have to be lifelike in their own right to earn their space in a book and be effective.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
A: I liked what Spillane said about research: 'I don't research anything. If I need something, I'll invent it.'
I'd love to be that relaxed but I have to know what I'm writing about is actually accurate; it's probably a hang-up from being a hack for ten years. I don't go overboard though, too much research, like too much planning, and you're in danger of leaving the fight in the gym.

Q: What would be the soundtrack to your first novel?
A: Gus is about as far from the detective with a taste for jazz as you can get -- can't see him opting for any music that has a beret as required dress code! So it would have to be something he'd listen to, like punk.
The Sex Pistols would work, and there's a great Aussie punk outfit called Frenzal Rhomb -- Gus actually bigs them up in PAYING FOR IT, they have a song called 'Russell Crowe's Band' which takes an even bigger swipe at Crowe that South Park's 'Fighting Round the World'.

Q: What’s next for you and Gus?
A: The next one is called GUTTED and kicks off with Gus turning up a fresh corpse in Edinburgh. It's another delve into the 'genteel' city that the tourists never see. There's a vicious dog-fighting ring that seems to be tearing itself apart after the jailing of their guvnor, but as Gus finds out that's just the surface of what's really going on. A family that wants revenge for a child's death, bent coppers, and gang deals gone wrong have him fighting for his sanity and his life.

Q: How do you promote your books?
A: All the usual ways . . . but I've also hired a team of 1,000 Swedish 'body artistes' who will spell out PAYING FOR IT with their naked forms in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens on launch day, July 17.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
A: Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor is the one that always comes alive for me. I grew up in Bruen's Galway -- I actually went to the same school as the man himself -- and every time I pick up a Jack Taylor book it's like I'm back in my old home town. Bruen is an out-and-out genius and Jack is one of his greatest creations.
And Andrew Vachss's Burke series consistently blows me away. Vachss's made that whole urban family vibe his own. He's a fantastic stylist too, one of the all-time greats. The series remains so fresh that's it's incredible to think that TERMINAL was book number seventeen.
Another one I'm massively impressed by is Ray Banks's Cal Innes. I only recently came to Banks's work but I'm bloody glad I did, NO MORE HEROES is one of my books of the year. I'll be hanging out for the next from Banks, which I believe is called BEAST OF BURDEN.
I'm also a big fan of Martyn Waites's Joe Donovan series, which although not strictly a PI series, is well-worth a mention. Waites is another brilliant stylist, I love his lean prose. What I always take away from his books though is the depth he gives to his subject matter; he's a writer who cares about the issues he takes on. Nothing is faked. Look at his latest WHITE RIOT -- the man's a class act.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
A: We're already seeing Bruen's influence on a whole new generation of crime writers and I'm sure that will continue. Bruen has created such brilliant characters, with such fascinating interior lives, that he's almost reinvented the way we think of the form. When I talk to new writers now it's always Bruen they namecheck and I'm sure he'll have a knock-on effect well into the future.
Andrew Vachss is another writer who has already had a huge influence. His style, the darkness of his subject matter, the sheer economy of his storytelling is all incredible. A stand-out writer of his generation who will be read for generations to come.

Q: Michael Wiley came up with the following question: Where can I get a copy of your books?
A: In the UK at Waterstone's, Borders, Blackwells -- all the main stores. And, of course, for all of you living elsewhere, there's

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: 'Does film influence your work?'
Big time. Things like China Town, L.A. Confidential, Michael Mann's Heat, and all the Tarantino stuff like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Killing Zoe have influenced me over the years.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Now & Then (Spenser) by Robert B. Parker

Spenser is back… And he’s brought the rest of the gang with him! Chollo, Vinnie and Hawk all show up to help him out, not to mention most of the contacts in all sorts of agencies.

When he’s hired to find out if a woman is cheating on her FBI-husband she turns up dead. Of course Spenser gets involved, especially because he identifies with the husband since he’s reminded of the time his lover Susan was with another man. This personal stake makes the novel a bit more interesting and personal than most novels. Also, Spenser investigates why and if he and Susan should get married.

It’s like Parker managed to get the emotional feel of the recent Jesse Stone novels and insert them into another wisecrack- and action packed instalment of the Spenser series, giving us a satisfying read.

I’ve been a Spenser fan for about 15 years now and novels like these will make sure I can stay one.

Saturday's Child (Cal Innes) by Ray Banks

Ray Banks brings us cricketbat-wielding loser unlicensed UK-based PI Cal Innes in his first full-length novel. Cal is an ex-con who takes on a job for a notorious gangster. The job is first described as tracking down a runaway, thieving casino dealer but the case turns out to be not exactly the same as the first impression was.

In some chapters the viewpoint alters from Cal to the gangster’s son, a very unsympathetic character. While both viewpoints are in the first person it’s easy to distinguish them because of their language. In fact, the language of the gangster’s son, Mo, made reading a bit difficult sometimes because of the dialect used. Non-UK readers might have a tougher time reading those chapters.

Like many other eyes Cal drinks way too much, takes a lot of beatings and isn’t exactly good mates with the cops. Not too much originality there, but it’s a nice, dark and violent read with colourful characters. This would make a nice Guy Ritchie movie!