The stories in Alec Cizak’s Crooked Roads are brilliant, brutal and poignant.
There is the classic small town noir of ‘State Road 33′ and ‘My Kind Of Town’, hard-boiled revenge in ‘A Matter Of Time’, the delirium driven ‘Methamphetamine and a Shotgun’ and the downright nasty ‘Little People.’, And more.
Crooked Roads is an unflinching look at life on the edge.
However. this doesn’t stop him from investigation the murders of of two young women and ruffling the feathers of a particularly nasty London gangster.
Dominic Milne’s Act Of Contrition is a blinder. The pacing is tight, the cast of characters is rich, the plotting is labyrinthine, the dialogue is sharp.
Brutal and breathless, Act Of Contrition is the first in what looks to be a cracking new crime fiction series.
I loved it.
Veste’s second novel is very impressive indeed. Mature and tightly written, The Dying Place is a truly humanist piece of crime fiction. Veste smoothly moves from the POVs of the victims, perpetrators and cops, creating a gripping, chilling and very moving piece of work.
I am more than somewhat chuffed that my short story collection, THE LAST LAUGH AND OTHER SHOTS OF NOIR will be published by ALL DUE RESPECT books next year.
Cue blood- splattered shoot-outs, sharp twists and a great protagonist.
B.R. Stateham’s Smitty is a classic hard-boiled pulp/ noir creation and A Killing Kiss is great old-school fun.
Another gem from Number 13 Press.
PDB: What’s going on now?
Right now I’m suffering that mixture of dread and delight that comes when you publish anything, and which seems so much more severe when that something is a collection of stories you’ve worked on for a number of years.
SNAKE FARM, is a book into which I’ve invested a lot of imaginative capital and energy for a long damn time. It’s a post-modern tribute to the outlaw life, an examination of violence and, above all, a collection of gritty stories. The book begins with tales set in the old American west, at the very dawn of that idea of the desperado as hero, and continues through tales of war and crime and heartache to a penultimate tale set in a post-apocalyptic world, before heading right back to the Wild West.
PDB: How did you research this book?
The title (as well as being pinched from a kickass Ray Wylie Hubbard song) comes from those places where they keep these poisonous critters and use their venom to create an anti-venom, a cure, and I liked the idea of the book as a metaphorical snake farm. The historical stories were researched pretty hard to provide some kind of accuracy, but the vast majority occur in the here and now and take place in areas I know pretty well, either in the UK or Spain.
PDB: Which of your publications are you most proud of?
Somebody once asked Picasso which of his paintings was his favourite and he replied, “The next one.” I’d have to echo that sentiment.
PDB: What’s your favourite film/ book/ song/ television programme?
At the moment, I’m pretty into JUSTIFIED. I’m re-watching all 6 seasons, beginning to end. (Thank you SKY TV!) The books I’m digging right now are EVERYTHING RAVAGED, EVERYTHING BURNED by Wells Tower and THE ANIMALS by Christian Kiefer. I’m also looking forward to Aidan Thorn’s upcoming second collection. That guy can write.
PDB: Is location important to your writing?
I personally think the answer to the kind of cultural vanilla gloop that comes with globalisation and social media hegemony is with the particular and the local, and I try to make my writing a true representation of the places I know well, excepting the historical stories, and I research those with no small industry.
PDB: How often do you check your Amazon rankings?
Hardly ever, and that’s the truth. A history of miserable “Author’s profile” pics means I never google my name either. That way madness lies.
PDB: What’s next?
I’m editing a 50K Novella called GUTTER WOLVES, which is a gangster thriller set on the Costa del crime and I’ve just finished a screenplay called JERICHO ROSE about a Gulf War vet/recluse who finds a kidnapped girl. I’m also writing a new novel, a noir called WINTER FIRES. That’s still in the 1st draft though.
Bio: Gareth Spark writes dark fiction from and about the moors and rust belts of the North East where grudges are savoured, shotguns are cheap and people get by in the economic meltdown any way they can.
Keith Nixon’s The Corpse Role is a smart and engrossing crime thriller that moves backwards and forward in time and from character to character with ease.
A gripping plot, a cracking cast and a brilliant denouement. A belter.
I can tell you exactly when I first visited the country: mid April 1998. My memory is buttressed by the fact that Pol Pot died while I was there, on the 15th, although I only learned of this after I had returned to my home in Hong Kong.
Siem Reap, out where the ruins of Angkor lie, remained Khmer Rouge territory when the dregs of that murderous cult were pushed out by the Vietnamese in the 1980s. They retreated to the west of the country where they maintained a private army and control over local resources, such as timber and gemstone mines. But their most effective defense against the Vietnamese-backed regime (led by a former Khmer Rouge lieutenant, Hun Sen) was a thick carpet of landmines laid by Pol Pot and his decrepit retinue.
Angkor reemerged as a tourist destination in the early 1990s, as UN-backed elections brought a measure of stability and foreign cash to the land. By the time of my first visit, the main temple areas were already being administered by the central government, and the road that connected town to the airport boasted the first gaudy hotels for mass tourism.
But visitors had yet to arrive en masse in the late 1990s. The monuments were fairly busy but not overcrowded and I stayed in the home of a local family that rented a room to me for about US$5 a night. I remember that teak-scented room, with a simple mattress and a thunderingly powerful ceiling fan that rendered air conditioning unnecessary, despite it being the hottest month of the year.
It was also the Cambodian new year, and I got to participate in the local celebrations. The family crowded its ancestral spirit house with plenty of offerings: oranges, cans of Coca-Cola and cigarettes. In the evening, a moving crowd came by the house. These were farmers from the villages outside of town, come to receive gifts of money in return for playing music, singing songs and playfully spraying water. This was nothing like the aggressive water fights you get in Thailand. Instead, the night felt like what it actually was: a marking of the harvest among farmers and townspeople, a little street festival in which the handful of foreign backpackers were welcome to participate.
I paid a man $7 a day to take me around the monuments on the back of his motorbike. Angkor Wat and its bas-reliefs seemed too big and imposing to digest. I rather liked Ta Prohm – the temple overrun by the jungle – and the quiet, rambling Preah Khan, which was built at the same time, by Angkor’s first Buddhist king.
The highlight, however, was an early morning trip to Banteay Srei, which involved a 45 minute ride on the back of my man’s motorbike. I had to catch a late-morning flight that day so time was short, and my driver had agreed to a final, and very early, excursion.
We set out on a clear morning. Close to the destination we were stopped at a military checkpoint, which consisted of a couple of armed soldiers hanging out by a cluster of farmhouses raised on stilts.
Pol Pot lay 125 kilometres to the north, by the Thai border, gasping his last. Banteay Srei had only recently been opened to tourists. Even within the parkland covering the main set of Angkor temples, it was dangerous to stray off the paths lest you cross a landmine; out here, apparently, the threat was even more real. These soldiers were federales, not Khmer Rouge, and they told my driver that Banteay Srei would not open until 8am.
This was a problem. I didn’t have the luxury of waiting. My driver disappeared into a thatched building with the soldier in charge, leaving me to sit on a bench by the roadside. Soldiers sat beside me on either side. One of them touched my hiking shoes. Another touched my wristwatch.
I was relieved to see my guide return. He explained with an apologetic air that it would be advisable to contribute a little something to the squad. I asked how much. I think it was the equivalent of another $7. That seemed like a better alternative to the ideas the other soldiers appeared to be entertaining.
The upside to bribing my way into Banteay Srei was that it really was closed to visitors until 8am. I approached the sunlit entrance with increasing giddiness. It was about 7.40am. For the next 20 minutes, this place was all mine.
Banteay Srei, also known as the “Citadel of Women”, is one of Angkor’s greatest delights. After a few days of scaling great and imposing monuments, this delicate, human-sized treasure was a welcome change. The stone sculpture here is probably the best among all of the Angkor temples, and it is decorated with wonderful statuary and bas-reliefs hewn from pinkish rock.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this is also the temple that André Malraux raided in 1923: this French adventurer, the future Minister of Culture under De Gaulle, was arrested for trying to smuggle out bas-reliefs and the heads of statues. His novel La Voie royale, “The Way of the Kings”, which is sort of a “Heart of Darkness” for the French, is loosely based on that experience.
Although in the 1990s Angkor wasn’t as crowded as it is today, it had still felt full, so having 20 minutes of absolute loneliness at this gem of a site was an amazing privilege. I knew it at the time, and that knowledge made my time there bittersweet, as I was both aware of my luck and conscious that I could not bottle or preserve that moment. When 8am rolled around and the second tourist arrived, it was time for me to go.
The elixir of this experience has worked its magic on me for a long time. Cambodia is a sad, broken country, burdened by one of the worst histories in the world, and yet it weaves spells on the people who visit. I am not that familiar with the place. I’ve only been back two times, as a tourist doing nothing out of the ordinary. But I had wanted to capture a little of that mix of charm, danger and drama in my writing.
My first project was a non-fiction history, “The Story of Angkor”, which was published in 2013 by Silkworm Books. But I wasn’t quite done. My research had delivered plenty of intriguing nuggets that, with a little imagination, deserved to be exploited in fiction. In particular I had long wanted to make an adventure story out of the idea of these swords used by early kings to supernatural effect, which are mentioned in stone inscriptions.
Meanwhile it was time to write another novel. I wanted to bring back Val Benson, the ex-Tokyo bar hostess at the center of “Gaijin Cowgirl”. One strain of the sequel would involve a Japanese porn starlet who had gone missing in Los Angeles, a story that tied back, rather circuitously, to the original book. But I wanted to do something with Angkor too, so I interwove it into this emerging narrative. The opening chapter of “Cowgirl X” ends with Val receiving a mysterious, anonymous gift: the hilt of a decrepit, antique sword. The novel builds to a climax that takes her to Angkor Wat.
‘Culley didn’t consider himself a criminal. Criminality carried the eventual obligation of justice and punishment. Culley preferred the term “outlaw” when describing himself to Hoyt, his cohort in crime. He liked to think he existed outside the law the way the Amish lived outside the realm of technology.’