Review: ‘The Blood Strand’ by Chris Ould

Blood Strand_UK_cvrThe Blood Strand by Chris Ould
Titan Books (February 2016)

Chris Ould’s The Blood Strand is a solid start to a promised trilogy of novels set in the Faroes islands, a small, isolated community that’s just as complicated – and captivating – as the novel’s characters.

British police detective Jan Reyna was taken from the Faroes by his mother when he was just a child, and he’s never known why. Reyna returns when his estranged father falls ill, only to find his father has been implicated in a murder investigation. Evidence from that case points to blackmail, and the entire sordid affair begins to turn back in ever-tightening circles to include more members of Reyna’s family. Continue reading

Review: ‘You’d Better Watch Out’ by Tom Piccirilli

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it’s still expected to provide some satisfaction – otherwise, what’s the point? That’s one of the questions I found myself pondering as I read the last chilling words of Tom Piccirilli’s idea of a Christmas story, You’d Better Watch Out.

Written in engaging first-person style, Watch Out takes us along the tortured ride of a narrator whose life is following two distinct and usually incompatible paths. On one hand he’s a cold, calculating killer, a “torpedo” (hit man) for a mid-level mobster. On the other hand he’s a family man, husband to his childhood sweetheart and father to twins. The paths were chosen for him on a Christmas morning when his father, a corrupt cop with a hellacious temper, killed his mother in gruesome fashion for having an affair. Our “hero” meets his love in foster care, and grows up to work alongside the man his mother was having an affair with.

While everyone around him waits for the ticking time bomb to explode, the young man fools them all by going about his work in solemn, efficient fashion. It’s a smart move, enabling him to build a semblance of a normal life for his growing family while keeping him close to one of the men he wants to kill. The other man, his father, is enjoying a king’s life in his prison cell, but the narrator knows that his time there is limited, and that sooner or later they’ll have a chance to reunite.

Piccirilli uses a cheerless, matter-of-fact voice for the narrator, underscoring just how much of his humanity was scooped away on the morning he saw his father kill his mother. He’s kind and tender toward his wife, his wife’s family and, eventually, their children, but inside he’s hollow, going through the motions in convincing but empty fashion. It’s haunting character work, and it makes you think about the empty-eyed people we pass on the street sometimes, those who seem to be carrying on with their normal lives but may just be waiting for the right cue to rampage.

As Piccirilli continues to evolve from gothic horror writer to crime writer, I’m amazed at how his voice keeps changing while still remaining distinct. Some of the lush poetry of works like A Choir of Ill Children may be gone, but it’s been replaced with a bare knuckle style that sings in its own way, and is absolutely note perfect for the subject matter at hand. You’d Better Watch Out has echoes of some of the great crime fiction being written today, and yet it’s still recognizably his own.

I chose this novella to christen the new Kindle I got for Christmas, feeling sure it wouldn’t disappoint. I was right. And it’s exciting to note that Piccirilli has really embraced digital publishing over the last year or so, and there’s a lot of good material of his just waiting in the wings.

Horror, noir mix it up in new comic series ‘Fatale’

One of my goals for October Country in 2012 is to up the comics-related content. There’s a lot of good work being done in horror and crime comics these days, and I’d love to bring more discussion of that work to this little corner of the Internet. I can think of no better title to jump-start those discussions than Fatale, the new supernatural noir comic from writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips, which hits the stands courtesy of Image Comics today.

Brubaker and Phillips have built an impressive body of work together over the last decade or so, and the thing that sets their work apart is the way they start off with straightforward crime stories and then spin them off in new directions. Criminal is the foundation, a series of pure crime stories that demonstrate how versatile and effective comics can be in the right hands; Incognito takes those same sensibilities and mixes them into the superhero world, proving once and for all that the capes n’ tights genre has all sorts of dark, shadowy corners that are just now getting explored.

Now, with Fatale, it looks like Brubaker and Phillips are mixing a little horror into their crime. According to this interview at Newsarama, the duo has planned an epic story stretching over 12 issues and spanning several decades, from the ’30s to modern times. While they have been careful to keep many of the details under wraps, images of a tentacle-headed, sharp-toothed mobster/monster have appeared in several previews (and in the cover reprinted on this page), hinting at a Lovecraftian tilt to the story.

Whatever it turns out to be, I’m sure Fatale will not disappoint. These two have an impeccable track record together, and Image is reportedly giving them free reign to tell the kind of story they want to tell, in the way they want to tell it. You can read a lengthy preview of the first issue here.

So, how about it? Going to check out the first issue of Fatale? Are you reading Animal Man, Swamp Thing, the new Creepy comics from Dark Horse, or any other good horror or crime comics? Let us know what we should be checking out.

Ace Atkins doubles up for 2012

Ace Atkins, award-winning writer of crime fiction and former Auburn Tiger/Sports Illustrated cover guy, is set to have a big month in May 2012: he’s got not one, but two new novels coming out.

Atkins posted the news on his blog, revealing the covers and descriptions of both novels. The Lost Ones is the second in the author’s own series about Quinn Colson, the character he debuted earlier this year in The Ranger. It’s based on the harrowing true story of a baby-selling ring that was discovered in North Mississippi a few years ago. Atkins loves to write fiction grounded in fact, and the story he’s tapped into here should make for an unforgettable piece of work.

His other May 2012 book is Lullaby, the author’s first book as the new shepherd of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. Parker’s estate was instrumental in choosing Atkins to continue the Spenser books and, based on his current body of work, I doubt they are going to be disappointed.

Congrats, Ace – looking forward to the double-shot.