Reader Dad – Book Reviews

Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews


no exit press

#WhereIsSuzy – DRAGONFISH by Vu Tran


Vu Tran (

No Exit Press (


To celebrate the release of Vu Tran’s debut literary thriller, Dragonfish, the fine folks at No Exit Press have come up with a fun way to get the community talking about the book. Everything you need is in the description below. My effort is also included. Time to let your creativity off the leash: write something and share it on Twitter using the hashtag #WhereIsSuzy.

The backstory

Robert, an Oakland cop, still can’t let go of Suzy, the enigmatic Vietnamese wife who left him two years ago. Now she’s disappeared from her new husband, Sonny, a violent Vietnamese smuggler and gambler who is blackmailing Robert into finding her for him.

As he pursues her through the sleek and seamy gambling dens of Las Vegas, shadowed by Sonny’s sadistic son, ‘Junior’, and assisted by unexpected and reluctant allies, Robert learns more about his ex-wife than he ever did during their marriage. He finds himself chasing the ghosts of her past, one that reaches back to a refugee camp in Malaysia after the fall of Saigon, and his investigation uncovers the existence of an elusive packet of her secret letters to someone she left behind long ago.

As Robert starts illuminating the dark corners of Suzy’s life, the legacy of her sins threatens to immolate them all.

The challenge

Using only the information of the synopsis above, (though Google’s help might be acceptable) write a blog post in 10 minutes as to where Suzy is. There is no right answer and no need to think about it for more than one minute, instead, we’re seeking to display the creative possibilities of where a story can go.

We’d like to get as many people involved in this as we can in order to provide as many different ideas and outcomes as possible.

Reader Dad’s Attempt

I’ll put you out of your misery at the start: Suzy is dead, buried in the wasteland at the back of Sonny’s house. How did she end up there?

After settling down with Sonny, a surprisingly gentle husband, despite his public face, and his criminal ways, Suzy receives word from a mutual friend back in Vietnam that her old correspondent – a man she loved during their time in the Malaysian refugee camp, and who helped her flee to America – has resurfaced. Thinking him long dead, Suzy contacts him in the hope of reconnecting, all the while feeling guilty about having to deceive Sonny.

Discovering that her old lover is in America, living and working in Las Vegas, she visits him, giving Sonny a flimsy excuse for her trip to Sin City. While she is gone, ‘Junior’ discovers her deception when he accidentally stumbles upon her email account on the computer in his father’s office, the email account she has been using to contact her old friend. When she returns from Las Vegas, Junior confronts her, hoping to gain leverage that will make his father pay more attention to him. When the argument becomes heated, and Suzy turns Junior’s sneakiness to her own advantage, Junior strikes, and kills her. He buries her at the back of the house, and follows Robert on his investigation, doing what he can to confuse the trail the detective is following, a trail that will ultimately lead back to Sonny’s front door.

Now it’s your turn…

Give it a go. Share your story with us on Twitter using the hashtag #WhereIsSuzy.

To see just how diverse the theories can be, check out these other bloggers who have played along:

Wendy at Little Bookness Lane

Jo at Life of

INFLUENCES: The Sum of our Experiences by JASON STARR

JasonStarr Name: JASON STARR

Author of: SAVAGE LANE (2015)

On the web:

On Twitter: @JasonStarrBooks

"Who are your influences?"

This is a question all writers get, and I think I’ve given a different answer each time I’ve been asked.

To some degree, it depends on my mood. If I’m feeling a little haughty and literary, I’ll usually think of Hemingway first, and Gertrude Stein, but I’m not sure he was an actual influence? I liked Hemingway’s simplicity, but I didn’t connect with all of his themes. The reality is I was reading a lot of Hemingway in particular when I started taking writing seriously in college, so it has seemed natural to call him an influence. For similar reasons I’ve cited Raymond Carver and John Cheever as influences. I was a fan of Carver’s style and Cheever’s characterizations, but I don’t think they really affected my actual writing. I’ve  also cited playwrights like Beckett,  Mamet, and Pinter, but I’m not sure in actuality they had an affect on my writing–especially my novel writing. I wrote plays in my twenties so naturally I was reading a lot of plays.

In other moods I’ve gone right to my favorite crime writers as my major influences and give shout outs to Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, Patricia Highsmith, and Elmore Leonard. I was certainly reading a lot of crime fiction when I started writing crime fiction, but were these writers actual influencing my writing? Would my writing be different if I hadn’t read Leonard? Probably, but in other moods, I think Beckett had the biggest affect on me.

Sometimes when I’m answering the influences question, I feel like I’m giving lists of some of my favorite writers in various genres, rather than listing influences. So maybe the true answer to the influences question is that there is no answer. Maybe our real influences are a sum of our experiences, the novels we’ve read, and movies and TV shows we’ve seen, and it’s impossible to pinpoint the actual influencers. Maybe this is why my answer to this question has been so fluid–because it should be.

SAVAGE LANE by Jason Starr

Savage-Lane-cover SAVAGE LANE

Jason Starr (

No Exit Press (


Mark and Deb Berman’s marriage has hit a rough patch: she believes he’s having an affair with their next door neighbour, Karen. That may not be the case, but it doesn’t stop Mark constructing a rich fantasy life for Karen and himself, and the fact that everyone else in town believes the same thing as Deb doesn’t make things any easier. But Deb has a secret of her own, one that will prove fatal for her, and will put Karen at the mercy not only of her delusional husband, but of someone much more dangerous.

Welcome to Savage Lane, an exclusive address in the rich New York town of Westchester. This is were Mark and Deb Berman live with their children, and where Karen Daily has settled following her recent divorce with her own two kids. From the outset, we can feel the tension as a palpable force, as it quickly becomes obvious that things are far from good between Mark and Deb, and that next-door neighbour Karen is at the centre of their troubles.

While the plot sounds like something from Dynasty, Starr blindsides us almost immediately by showing us what’s going on in Mark’s head: there is an obsessive quality to his thoughts about Karen, and their relationship – nothing more, in her eyes, than simple friendship – takes on a much deeper meaning, as he misinterprets their closeness – text messages, pet names – for something much more than it is. It’s an unsettling look into the mind-set of the true obsessive, and leaves the reader feeling more than a little uncomfortable as we find ourselves following him down this dark path. His obvious desire for Karen, and his reactions to the inevitable joking that this will bring from friends and colleagues lead people to believe that something is actually going on between them, and all the talk only serves to prove to Mark that there is more here than friendship.

Mark’s wife, Deb, can’t help but hear these rumours, and when she sees Mark holding Karen’s hand, it’s easy for her to make the leap from rumour to fact. What makes Deb so interesting is that, despite attempting to take the moral high ground, she doesn’t have a leg to stand on: Deb is having an affair of her own – a real affair – with a young man who may be more dangerous than her obsessive husband. When she attempts to break the affair off, things take a sudden dark turn, and her boyfriend’s attention, too, is soon focussed on Karen.

There is something very over-the-top about almost every aspect of Savage Lane, from the writing style to the myriad affairs and relationships that pepper the story, which at times stretch our credibility to the limit. But what Starr achieves in the midst of all this, is a brilliant examination of the obsessive mind at work. From very early in the novel, the reader is aware of the fact that there is something lacking in Mark Berman’s makeup, something important that should make him “human”; it’s a portrait that leaves us cold and unsettled, that reminds us that evil is most often found in the most mundane of places, a portrait that will make us re-evaluate everyone we know.

Savage Lane is not without its problems. For me, the biggest of these is the fact that Starr is not content with giving us one obsessive. While the introduction of Owen Harrison allows him to show the difference between the man who is obsessive in thought only, and the man who has taken the dangerous step across the line into violence and murder, it’s a stretch to believe that they might exist in the same small town, and be involved with the same two women. It’s a fairly major plot point, and asks a little too much of the reader given the story’s otherwise solid grounding in reality.

Despite its flaws, Savage Lane is a well-rounded and thought-provoking psychological thriller. Dark and unsettling, its strengths lie in the author’s ability to imagine the worst and present it as acceptable in the mind of his protagonist. A tale of love, lust and obsession, it draws the reader in and manages to convey, using alternating viewpoints, both the mundaneness of suburban life, and the evils that lurk within the minds of seemingly respectable people. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for the duration of the novel, you’ll find it to be an enjoyable and engaging read by an author with a surprising – and not always in the most pleasant sense of the word – insight into the human condition.



James Grady (

No Exit Press (


This month sees the release of the hotly anticipated sequel to Six Days of the Condor. It has taken forty years, but James Grady has finally revisited his most famous creation in Last Days of the Condor. To celebrate, No Exit Press are running a blog tour for the next two weeks, and I’m extremely happy to have been invited to take part.


The man once known as Condor is living and working once more in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Recently released from a secret CIA insane asylum, and checked on a regular basis by case officers, the man whose name was once Ronald Malcolm is attempting to adjust to the “normal” life of an American man in his sixties. When one of his case officers is crucified over his fireplace, and Condor is framed for the murder, he finds himself once again on the run, a fugitive from the law, and from the combined weight of the USA’s intelligence services. But this time he is not alone: Faye Dozier, the murdered man’s partner, believes in Condor’s innocence and embarks on a secret mission to bring him in alive so that he can once again clear his name.

It is over forty years – both in real time and in James Grady’s fictional Washington, D.C. – since we first met the man whose codename was Condor. Now in his sixties, Condor has a long and dark history of working for the CIA, a history that has been suppressed, in his own mind, to the point that he barely remembers those six days in the early seventies – or much else about his career for that matter – following a stint in a secret CIA insane asylum in Maine. It’s an interesting starting point – when we first meet Condor, we know more about him than he does himself, despite the forty year gap since we last met him. Through Faye, Grady provides us with brief glimpses at Condor’s more recent past, and we begin to slowly understand how he got from nerdy bookworm to one of the Agency’s most valuable and dangerous assets.

There are many parallels with Condor’s earlier outing, but Grady manages to avoid many of the clichés that might have turned Last Days of the Condor from straight sequel into a kind of Die Hard 2 (“How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”) or Lethal Weapon (“I’m too old for this shit!”). This time around, Condor-Vin-Malcolm is much more experienced in tradecraft so his disappearance is much more a planned event than the blind luck that marked much of his first adventure. He also has a benefactor who is both inside and outside the organisations that are hunting him: Sami, a man who is in the city running a training exercise, has a past with both Condor and Faye, and plays a similar role to the unnamed old man from the first novel. There are ulterior motives at work here, and they are slowly revealed to the reader as the novel approaches its climax.

Last Days of the Condor also provides a stark contrast to its 1974 predecessor, and shows how much the world has changed in the interim. Condor’s modern-day flight is made much more difficult – and his hunters’ job conversely much easier – by the technology that we now take for granted: smartphones and GPS, ubiquitous security cameras and a much more real-time news cycle and everything that social media brings to the table. Condor may be on the run for a similar reason, but the experience – for both Condor himself, and for the reader – is vastly different from what we’ve seen before, and what we might have expected.

Grady’s Six Days of the Condor has an interesting history – Grady has been the subject of KGB investigation, and that organisation used his novel as the basis for at least some of their organisational structure. It is, in short, always going to be a tough act to follow, but Grady manages it with some style in this return visit to Condor. Once again, his focus is on the current state of the art, and the possibilities that stem from it. What if? is the question that drives his narrative, and the results show that he has lost none of the edge in the past forty years that made Six Days of the Condor one of the finest espionage novels ever written.

Grady’s writing style does take some getting used to, although it should appeal to fans of James Ellroy. Short, sharp sentence structure and rapid rotation around multiple viewpoints keep the reader on their toes, and keeps the tale interesting. It also gives Grady the chance to reveal some of the details of the missing forty years in Condor’s life while still keeping them suppressed in the central characters own memories. Once the reader gets the rhythm, though, it’s a novel that moves at a breakneck pace, always managing to remain one step ahead of even the most canny reader.

The obvious question is: do you need to read Six Days of the Condor first? The short answer is no: because Condor himself remembers little of what happened that first time around, there is no reason why the reader needs to have the back story, so Last Days works as a standalone novel. The longer answer is, as always, that it makes more sense to read the books in the correct order. Six Days of the Condor is the only book my local library refused to lend me at the tender age of fifteen: too much sexual content, they said. Maybe for the late 1980s, but it’s positively tame compared to much of what is published today. It has taken me twenty-five years to finally get around to reading it, and it is the classic that everyone claims. The back story does bring something else to the reading of Last Days, a book that is destined to become a classic in its own right, setting the adventures of Condor alongside those of George Smiley or James Bond as some of the best spy fiction you’re likely to read.

In short, Last Days of the Condor is everything that readers of Condor’s earlier adventure could have hoped for. Sharp, intelligent and surprisingly funny, it’s a book that builds tension from the first page, and keeps the reader glued to the page until the very last word. Sadly, given the super-spy’s age, it is likely to be Last Days for him; if so, it’s the best send-off any fictional character could have hoped for.



Anthony Quinn (

No Exit Press (


In the dying days of 1917, the body of young woman is washed ashore on the west coast of Ireland, near Sligo. She is in an old and decomposing coffin. Before her death, she sent a letter to London, to the poet William Butler Yeats and his Order of the Golden Dawn, foretelling her own death, and asking him to seek out her murderer should it come to pass. A noted spiritualist and supernatural investigator, Yeats charges his young apprentice, the ghost-catcher Charles Adams, with travelling to Sligo to find her ghost, and find out how she met her end. Met by suspicion and loathing, Adams finds himself in a country torn apart by political and religious sectarianism, where the English are less than welcome, and where the supernatural will be the least of his worries.

Taking a break from his Inspector Celsius Daly novels, Anthony Quinn takes the reader back to Ireland in the early part of 1918. Europe and much of the rest of the world is at war, but it seems to have little effect on this part of western Ireland – Sligo and its surrounding areas – which is dealing with its own troubles. It is almost two years since the events of the Easter Rising and many of the rich people who call this part of the country their home – ex-patriot Englishmen, for the most part – have been hounded from their manors and estates and sent on their merry way back to whence they came. This is the heart of Irish nationalism, the domain of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Inghinidhe na hÉireann, the Daughters of Erin.

It is into this politically-charged environment that Charles Adams arrives at the behest of his mentor, the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats, an Englishman with no concept of the history of this place, or the current mind-set of the people he is likely to encounter. Charged with finding the ghost of Rosemary O’Grady, it quickly becomes clear that a more natural course of investigation is likely to yield more results. Adams begins asking questions that see him viewed with suspicion by the locals, and brings him into contact with both the local constabulary, and with the Daughters of Erin, in the guise of Yeats’ old lover, Maud Gonne. Adams also finds himself plagued by Wolfe Marley, an Irishman who is employed as a spy by the British Admiralty.

Despite the supernatural elements – or the suggestion of supernatural elements – the mystery at the heart of The Blood Dimmed Tide has a wholly natural explanation, something mundane yet very cleverly constructed to allow the user to catch glimpses of the truth as the novel progresses, while still withholding enough to surprise us in the final act. What is most interesting is how each of the two central characters – Yeats and Adams – approach the question of how and why young Rosemary O’Grady died. Yeats, obsessed with the supernatural, has become an investigator of sorts, a debunker of fake mystics and psychics in much the same way that Houdini was. For him, there is no other way to determine the cause of death than by finding and asking the dead girl’s ghost. Adams, on the other hand, takes a more grounded approach, despite his reputation as a ghost-catcher of some talent. For him, the political environment in which he finds himself when he arrives in Sligo raises more questions about the girl’s death and sends him on his inevitable collision course with the locals, and the local powers-that-be.

The Blood Dimmed Tide is a wonderful character-driven mystery that is defined in large part by place and time. Nowhere else could the story have taken place than the tumultuous west coast of Ireland in the dying days of the Great War: the environment in which Charles Adams – and, later, W.B. Yeats himself – finds himself, and the atmosphere that Quinn generates for the reader are as important to the story as the murder victim herself. Along our journey, Quinn introduces us to secret occult societies, Irish rebels, the last remnants of the British Empire in Sligo and smugglers. All this plays out as war rages in mainland Europe, and German U-boats lurk off the coastline, an ever-present threat for some, and a potential ally for others.

Quinn has done an excellent job evoking the spirit of Ireland in the years following the Easter Rising, and examines the politics of the time by placing an Englishman – and an Englishman with no clue as to what he’s letting himself in for, at that – into the middle of this powder keg of emotions and barely-restrained violence. His characters are well-drawn, his use of the first person allowing us to see inside the mind of young Charles Adams as he undertakes his mission. These sections are interspersed with third-person narratives, which give the reader some insight into the other characters we encounter. The inclusion of Yeats seems superfluous, and indeed he is a character who spends much of the time on the side lines, but it does leave this reader wondering if there are deeper themes at play here, things I might have picked up on had I read any of Yeats’ work in the past (shameful, I know!), or if he’s just a vehicle to introduce the supernatural aspect of the tale. Either way, it’s interesting to see this side of one of Ireland’s most famous sons.

The Blood Dimmed Tide is a dark and gripping tale that takes the reader to Ireland’s very own Wild West. Beautifully written, with a cleverly-constructed mystery at its core, the story blends crime fiction, politics and occultism in a way that keeps the reader interested in every aspect of the story: the political situation as much as Rosemary O’Grady’s cause of death or the insight into the various rebel factions. The book is likely to appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes, or those interested in the work on the occult carried out by Houdini around the same time period as the novel’s setting, and introduces Anthony Quinn as a fascinating new voice in the latest wave of Irish crime fiction writers, and one that I’ll be watching closely in the future.

INFLUENCES: The New Northern Ireland by ANTHONY QUINN

AQ photo from Mysterious Press Name: ANTHONY QUINN

Author of: DISAPPEARED (2012)
                 BORDER ANGELS (2013)
                 THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE (2014)

On the web:

On Twitter: @ajpquinn

To celebrate the launch of his most recent novel, The Blood Dimmed Tide, I’m very pleased to welcome Anthony Quinn to Reader Dad to talk about some of the books that have influenced his own writing. My own review of his latest novel will be available later this week.

Like every crime fiction writer I have my personal card catalogue of literary influences that I can rhyme off at the drop of a hat to anyone who is interested – Rankin, Le Carre, Deighton, Rendell, PD James, Ellroy, Leonard – and if you really want to get me droning on for hours just bring up Graham Greene and his subtle shading of good and evil, and the way he charts personal failure in the face of war and death.

To be honest, however, this mental list is an answer to a different, much more superficial question, one that might be phrased: What are your favourite books? Or who do you most try to imitate as an author? Literary influence is about much more than writing within the same genre, or borrowing style and subject matter. Sometimes the biggest influence a book can have on an emerging writer is one that can never be perceived or measured by even the most discerning of readers.

I’m talking about metaphysical or psychological influences. While some of the reasons that prompted me to start writing crime fiction were very personal, the galvanising factor was reading other writers’ works, principally that of the crime fiction vanguard emerging from Northern Ireland at the end of the Troubles, novelists like Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty and Colin Bateman. All great writers with fascinating and original voices, whose books, most of which are set in Northern Ireland, have helped kick away the inhibitions preventing Irish writers from following that old creative-writing course advice – write about what you know.

BDT jacketGrowing up during the Troubles, writing about what you knew was taboo. You had to be careful about what you said. The phrase ‘and whatever you say, say nothing’ was a mantra for survival. Even after the ceasefire, tales about the Troubles were usually ignored. Lurking somewhere at the back of people’s minds was the superstitious fear that talking about those dark days might somehow increase the chances of a return to the past.

Neville et al gave me permission to write about something I had been suppressing for years. They made it acceptable to write about the destructive spirals of violence and revenge that overshadowed my childhood, the malevolent stupidity of paramilitaries and terrorists, the blurred lines between lawmakers and lawbreakers, and the tricks of betrayal and cover-up. Most of all they showed how it was possible to write about the Troubles in a thrilling way. They also convinced me in my contrary way that the landscape of Northern Ireland, its people and their conflicts weren’t being represented fictionally in the way I thought they deserved. For these reasons, they are the most powerful influences on my writing. They gave me the licence to explore, in my opinion, deeper narratives within the Troubles.

These days I don’t so much read their books as eavesdrop on them (a loss to the reader in me). Their fiction has illuminated mine, but I’m wary of their words or ideas ever creeping onto my page.

GUEST POST: What is Crime Fiction by LEIGH RUSSELL

leigh_russell Name: LEIGH RUSSELL

Author of: COLD SACRIFICE (2013)
                 RACE TO DEATH (2014)

On the web:

On Twitter: @LeighRussell

Readers in the UK know me as an author of crime fiction, while for readers in the US I write murder mysteries. All the labels, classifications, categories and subcategories, are very confusing. Should I introduce myself as an author of murder mysteries or crime thrillers? detective novels or whodunnits? Do I write police procedurals or psychological thrillers? Like most crime novels, my books are a combination of all the subdivisions of the crime genre, all thrown into the melting pot: take one dark psyche, mix with a generous dollop of suspense, lace with mystery, throw in a detective, season with thrills, add a dash of police procedure, and leave to marinate.

RACE TO DEATH - Leigh RussellWhat interests me is the wider question that lies beyond these specific categories. Why are some books classified as crime, when so many others are not identified with the genre. The division between crime writing and literary writing is so arbitrary. This was highlighted for me during the course of this blog tour, when I was asked to describe my ten favourite books.

‘Funny that none of these are crime fiction,’ my publicist responded.

At first I agreed, but looking at my list again, I wasn’t so sure. From Hamlet, with its eight murders including fratricide, and Macbeth with at least ten murders including regicide and infanticide, right up to The Kite Runner with its murder, paedophilia and genocide, almost all of the ten books on my list revolve around, or at least include, one or more serious crimes.

‘Funny that none of these are considered crime fiction,’ I replied.

This arbitrary division between the detective novel and literature is by no means peculiar to the crime genre. Other genres, like romance and sci-fi, are similarly regarded as somehow less worthy than literary novels like Wuthering Heights – no, sorry, that’s a romance, or Frankenstein – oh no, that’s sci-fi.

So should I introduce myself as a genre author at all? Perhaps I should just say that I make a living from killing people. I might be mistaken for a hitman, or a modern day James Bond! That could work – if you ignore the fact that I’m well past my prime, have never held a real gun, and would prefer to miss a bus rather have to run for it (I can’t remember the last time I actually ran… ) Admittedly it’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but I do write fiction. So there you have it, what I do for a living. I write fiction. Or is it literature? or novels? or books?

Perhaps I should stick with telling people I write crime fiction… or murder mysteries…

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