Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Noir #Thriller BLACK IRISH BLUES by @andrewcotto #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Black Irish Blues by Andrew Cotto

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This is my first experience reading this author’s work, although when I checked his biography I realised that he had not only been writing for quite a while, but this is not the first novel he publishes with Caesar Stiles as the main character, although the first one was published in 2012, and it’s only available in paperback. It makes perfect sense when we read the story, as there are references to what has happened before, but it is not necessary to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one.

The description of the book provides a good overview of the plot, especially as I want to avoid any spoilers. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the genre of this short novel, and although it might sound like an impossible combination (and I suspect the author wouldn’t agree), if there was something like a “noir-cozy” or a “hard-boiled-cozy” this would be it. Let me explain what I  mean, because I know the two concepts seem impossible to reconcile. What I mean by cozy is that the novel has not only a pretty peculiar protagonist (who left his home in quite traumatic circumstances and has been wandering the roads of America ever-since), but many of the other characters that make an appearance are also unique (a fantastically charming “good” baddie, an intriguing father, a bodyguard with plenty of style, a driver-cum-guide with plenty of hidden talents, a rich businessman with an alternative view of life…); there is also a strong focus on a small town and its inhabitants, peculiarities, and power structures and games; and a lot of attention is paid to Caesar’s cooking, with lengthy descriptions of some of his favourite dishes and how to cook them. Cozy mysteries tend to combine the actual mystery with some sort of side attraction or plot-line (cooking and baking are quite popular, but there might also be magic, paranormal elements, acting, song contests or a multitude of other subjects). The crimes investigated in that genre can be serious (murders are quite common), but the investigation itself is not discussed in too much detail; it is hardly on the level of a police procedural novel, and the level of violence tends to be either very minor, bizarre or cartoonish rather than realistic, or not discussed in detail. This novel, like many American novels, depicts a small-town that is far from the white-picket fence oasis urban dwellers imagine. It has a dark side, and there are plenty of non-cozy subjects that make an appearance (prostitution, corruption, prejudice, hints of racism, organised crime, bullying and child abuse…), but although I can’t go into detail, let’s say that the nature of the mystery/crime and the ending of the novel are a bit surprising considering some of the  less-than-savoury themes discussed. 

The style is definitely noir/hard-boiled, with dialogue that is stylised, hard-hitting, witty, and eminently quotable; there is gloomy foreshadowing, there is threatened and actual violence inflicted (although rather than gore and over the top ,it felt fairly restrained in its description, perhaps because the story is narrated in the first person by Caesar and, as he reminds us a few times, he’s got used to enduring violence due to his previous experiences and can take a beating), I’ve already mentioned some of the topics typical of the genre, and as the story is set in the early 90s, we have plenty of characters misbehaving (smoking, drinking alcohol, flaunting their money and being conspicuously materialistic)  but not much swearing; we have an old Sicilian curse; a character from the wrong side of the tracks with criminal connections who has lost most of his family by the time we meet him. There are plenty of rich descriptions that bring to life the place and the characters, and the book —which is rather short (a bit long for a novella, but pretty short for a novel)— covers lot of ground in very few pages. There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered, surprises of all kinds that keep popping up, and friends and enemies are not always easy to tell apart.

I liked the central character and plenty of the other characters that make an appearance, although some we don’t get to know very well, and there are a few truly despicable ones. The fact that Caesar tells the story and is quite a contemplative person, who has a lot of stories in his past and plenty of memories to reflect upon helps us connect easily with him and with the characters he likes, even if some of them are ambiguous and not what they seem to be. He is trying his hardest to make things right and to put an end to the family’s curse; he is eager to reconnect with his past, to leave a worthy legacy and to help others; and although he is not whiter than white (in fact, we learn that he’s done some pretty questionable things), he does have a sense of what is right and wrong and of morality that most readers will probably feel comfortable with.

As mentioned, the writing style is quite descriptive, and the descriptions not always help directly advance the story. However, they contribute to create a picture of the places and the people we are reading about, and they also fit the narrative style of the protagonist, who is often told he should write his story, and who notes that he used to write lengthy descriptions of the places he visited and of the people he met  in his letters to his mother all throughout the many years he was away. There are scenes of action; there are contemplative moments; there are cooking interludes; and there are memories and flashbacks interspersed in the  novel, so the pace is not relentless and the storyline does not rush at breakneck speed, but it flows well, and it packs a lot of information and story into very few pages.

Without giving too many clues, I can affirm that I really enjoyed the ending, and it worked well for me. It is evident when we read the novel that the main character has a past, and recent events in his life have had a lot of impact in his current situation, but there is enough information provided for those of us who like to fill in the blanks in order to give us a good sense of the psychology and the complexity of the main character, and to make us wonder what will happen next, while at the same time offering us a full and complex story with a satisfying resolution. In sum, this is a short novel that manages to combine many genres, with a strong and likeable protagonist and some pretty memorable secondary characters, a vividly depicted setting, dark subjects aplenty, a noir writing style without extreme gore or swear words but full of unforgettable quotes, and enough cooking reference to delight gourmets, especially meat-eaters (not my case, unfortunately). A very interesting author with a unique writing style, and one I’ll make sure to keep my eyes on in the future.

Book description

Black Irish Blues is the return-to-origin story of Caesar Stiles, an erstwhile runaway who returns to his hometown with plans to buy the town’s only tavern and end his family’s Sicilian curse.

Caesar’s attempt for redemption is complicated by the spectral presence of his estranged father, reparation seekers related to his corrupt older brother, a charming crime boss and his enigmatic crew, and – most significantly – a stranger named Dinny Tuite whose disappearance under dubious circumstances immerses Caesar in a mystery that leads into the criminal underbelly of industrial New Jersey, the flawed myth of the American Dream, and his hometown’s shameful secrets.

Black Irish Blues is a poetic, gritty noir full of dynamic characters, a page-turning plot, and the further development of a unique American character.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Noir #Thriller THE LUMBERMILL by @LayaVSmith @brwpublisher

Today’s team review is from Jennifer. She blogs here

#RBRT Review Team

Jennifer has been reading The Lumbermill by Laya V. Smith

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When Augy (short for Augustinius of all things) Smalls hits Katya Tyler with his car late one night on an empty stretch of road, it catapults the out of work private eye straight into a breakneck noir of the best kind. There are dames, several of them, a hardnosed, down on his luck detective with the tenacity of a bulldog, cigarettes smoked by the dozen, dark plots that go straight to the top, and Nazis—because all good, post-war noirs need Nazis.

Smalls and Tyler are both broken in their own ways, devastated by the events of WWII and haunted by what it has done to their lives, minds, and bodies, together they’ll cut a swath of vengeance a mile wide through the rotten heart of 1954 Los Angeles.

The crimes are horrifying, the injuries are numerous and soldiered through, the dames are treacherous (and one even has a dangerous accent to boot), the gin is drunk by the bucketful, the car chases are gripping, the shootouts plentiful, and there are twists, double crosses, fisticuffs, and backstabs to beat the band.

Honestly, the only thing missing is trouble in a red dress strutting into Augy’s office late one lonely night, and likely the only reason that doesn’t happen is because we meet Augy after he’s already hit rock bottom—that is, he doesn’t have an office for her to strut into.

Instead, trouble meets him on the street.

Laya V. Smith’s debut novel is a must read for anyone with a Humphry Bogart shaped itch that needs scratching. A Humphry Bogart shaped itch with some updated gender and racial politics because, let’s be honest, some of those classics are pretty rough on that front.

The Lumbermill uses several staples of the genre, clichés would be the unkind way to phrase it, but Smith’s writing oozes enough atmosphere and charisma that it’s hard to be annoyed when something’s rotten in Chinatown, because again, all good noir thrillers need a Chinatown interlude, just like they need Nazis and dames and chain smoking.

Brilliant for longtime lovers of the genre, easy to enjoy for those just getting into it, Smith’s Lumbermill is a brick of a book, easy pick up, and hard to put down once you crack the cover.

5/5- Will read again!

Book description

Los Angeles, 1954.

Sending a pair of mass murderers to the chair got his name in the papers, but veteran fighter pilot turned detective, Augy Small, couldn’t celebrate. The culprits confessed, but the cops only ever found one body. Who had the killers died to protect?

Katya Tyler, a Russian enigma with a wad of cash in one hand and a hit list in the other, claims to have the answers. First, she wants Augy’s help to bring down a massive underground network of human traffickers.

As the case unfolds, every clue is an echo of his past. The horrors he experienced in the Pacific, shadows of scars he still carries, and rumors of a place long since destroyed. The Lumbermill is back in operation. Every day more innocents are harvested, their screams muffled in darkness. And the only way Augy can stop it is to go back into the nightmare he thought he’d escaped forever.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Of Noir #Fiction Moristoun by Kevin McAllion @Moristoun set in #Scotland

MoristounMoristoun by Kevin McAllion

4 stars

Moristoun is a noir fiction novel which is set on a Scottish island and features the subject of suicide.

Public defender Buchan is needed urgently on the mainland. Part of his work includes trying to prevent suicides. His latest case is James McSorely, a thirty-year-old who has a long list of misfortunes, and Buchan hopes that a quick intervention will turn McSorely’s life around. He offers McSorely a job as his assistant on the island of Moristoun with the added bonus of free accommodation.

Most of the inhabitants of Moristoun are stuck in their day-to-day routines. Being cut off from mainland Scotland, there is also very little to occupy them, except for football. This is a favourite topic of conversation in a pub called the Tortured Soul.

But all is not what it seems. Apart from Buchan, the only island inhabitants able to return to the mainland are McSorley and Gail, the pub landlord’s daughter. Secrets are being kept and McSorley discovers that he wants answers.

I would describe this as an intense story, and I found I needed to take breaks from it before continuing. One drawback was that some of the chapters jump back to the past with no warning, so I was not always immediately aware in which era I was reading, and this made the secondary storylines harder to pick up each time. A chapter heading to indicate the time jump would have made the reading flow better.

The suicide theme was woven through the grim setting. The author used a mix of criminal action and seedy characters, which worked well for the genre, and there were also moments of wry humour to lift the bleak future of the island’s inhabitants. A different read for me, not a genre I often choose, but it’s good to shake up reading habits from time-to-time.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Book description

McSorely has had enough. His life has spiralled out of control and nothing has gone his way. There seems to be only one option open to him, one last thing he can do to take control of his fate. All hope is lost.
But far away on the mysterious island of Moristoun, Buchan is charged with the task of dissuading McSorely from this drastic course of action. Moristoun is where people like McSorely might end up, having exchanged one kind of hopelessness for another.
A glimpse of the ‘life’ he might be heading for might change McSorely’s opinion of his own existence, but a glimpse of the entrancing Gail behind the bar in the pub and a hint about Moristoun’s true nature could render all of Buchan’s efforts to rehabilitate the despairing McSorely equally hopeless.

About the author

I was born in Dundee but now live in Glasgow with my wife Thanyalak and daughter Jennifer. I have worked as sports journalist since 1997, when I started out writing football match reports for The Sunday Mail newspaper while still a journalism student.

Since then I’ve written and edited for a wide range of publications, including the Scottish Daily Express, The Big Issue in Scotland, The Herald, The Scottish Standard and The Scottish Daily Mail. I now work full-time as a sub-editor for the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.

When not at work I relax at home with my family and survey my simian empire,, which is probably the world’s only spoof monkey park.

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