Jack Was Here by Christopher Bardsley

watercolour-1833061_1920Jack was herre


This is a brilliant crime novel, and Christopher Bardsley is an author to watch for in the future.

Hugh Fitzgerald is an almost-broken man—served in the Australian army in Afghanistan, wounded and deployed home, his pension is generous enough to allow him to try and drink his way through his PTSD. He’s angry, he has terrible nightmares, and his wife has left him. He’s tough and gritty, though, and always was. When his brother seeks him out to help an old friend find their lost son in Bangkok, all expenses paid plus, Hugh takes on the job, though he’s kind of a wreck, and he knows it. His blatant honesty about himself is the charm here, no subtly, and he has a dark wit. The writing is superb and the plot tight though marred with a few too many typos (I’m looking at you, Thistle). I frankly couldn’t put this down. Hugh’s inner demons soon come crawling out in the excesses of Bangkok, and we learn more about his time in the service and his inner wounds as he hunts for young Jack Kerr. The secondary characters are well drawn, and Hugh’s insights and instinct for evil serve him well. The setting, from Bangkok to the border between Thailand and Cambodia, is so well written I could feel the awful humidity, almost smell the urban and human decay. I am very much looking forward to more from this author.

Sunday Book Review: A Sea of Straw by Julia Sutton

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Title:  Sea of Straw

Author: Julia Sutton

Publisher: Cheyne Walk

Release Date:  2016

Genre: Literary, Historical, Romance

Setting: Portugal, UK

 Julia Sutton’s debut novel is a gem. The author, also an artist, paints a word portrait with gorgeous yet earthy language, evoking a time and place long past, but still within reach.

 While on holiday in Portugal, a chance encounter with a stranger leads the unhappily married Jody into an affair with the enigmatic painter Ze.  The first half of the novel is Jody’s point of view.  The lovers are recently parted as the story opens, yet Jody had hoped for one last glimpse of Ze before she leaves. She knows he’s afraid, but she’s not sure what of except in the shadow of the civil war with Spain, the secret police are watching everyone.

She returns home to a life that is too tight, too constricted to contain her now.  Her unpleasant husband and their families and friends are watching her carefully, too, a smaller reflection of Ze’s life. She struggles to re-acclimate herself to dark, cold Lancashire after long sun-drenched days with Ze.

Jody’s narrative moves forward in time from the start, broken up by her memories of Ze, his friends and family, and his love of culture and of her.  The stifling morality of the time, before women’s lib got to Lancashire, reveals itself in the behavior of her family ands some of her friends. Jody re-examines her life and what the future will be like if she doesn’t get back to her real life with Ze.

The second half of the novel is Ze’s narrative.  Both lovers conspire to return to the other on the opposite side of the Atlantic, a nearly impossible feat. While Jody is trapped by society’s idea of whom she should be, Ze begins the harrowing and dangerous process of freeing himself to be with her.

 A Sea of Straw is a literary love story filled with adventure in the shadow of fascist Europe.  Unexpected twists and turns keep me turning the pages, as did the author’s portraits of Portugal and Lisbon. I highly recommend this novel.

On a personal note, I love Lisbon and have ambled about the Alfama and wandered through the castle on the hill while a musician played John Dowland on his lute.


Sunday Book Review–or not….

How can I not have finished a single book this week? I’m halfway through…everything. Maybe I’m overtired and a little overwrought about work issues and my brain just won’t settle. I’m enjoying everything, especially Julia Sutton’s Sea of Straw. I think I’ll finish that one first, anyway, so look for the review next Sunday 😀



Book Review: The Ghosts of Galway by Ken Bruen

Mysterious Press

Release Date: November 17, 2017

I have to admit, I fell for the cover, but it’s the synopsis that pulled me in (from NetGalley):

Description:  “Bruen is a singular voice in crime fiction with his ear for lilting Irish prose and his taste for the kind of gallows humor heard only at the foot of the gallows” (New York Times Book Review). In The Ghosts of Galway, he brings those elegiac talents to bear on a case involving a famously blasphemous red book and Bruen’s equally profane antihero Jack Taylor. As well-versed in politics, pop culture, and crime fiction as he is ill-fated in life, Jack Taylor is recovering from a mistaken medical diagnosis and a failed suicide attempt. In need of money, and with former cop on his resume, Jack has been hired as a night-shift security guard. But his Ukrainian boss has Jack in mind for a bit of off-the-books work. He wants Jack to find what some claim to be the first true book of heresy,The Red Book, currently in the possession of a rogue priest who is hiding out in Galway after fleeing a position at the Vatican. Despite Jack’s distaste for priests of any stripe, the money is too good to turn down. Em, the many-faced woman who has had a vise on Jack’s heart and mind for the past two years, reappears and turns out to be entangled with the story of The Red Book, too, leading Jack down ever more mysterious and lethal pathways. It seems all sides are angling for a piece of Jack Taylor, but as The Ghosts of Galway twists toward a violent end, he is increasingly plagued by ghosts – by the disposable and disposed of in a city filled with as much darkness as the deepest corners of Jack’s own mind.”

This is the 13th novel in the Jack Taylor series from the prolific, award-winning Ken Bruen. I love Noir and crime fiction and ripped through this in a very short time. The first person point of view prose of the rambling, sometimes shambling, Jack Taylor is riveting. The author tips his hat to other crime writers, quoting snips from their novels where appropriate, but I especially loved that the title is homage to James Lee Burke’s “In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead.” James Lee Burke is one of my top favorite authors—though I only read the Robicheaux stories—I never really fell into the Montana or Texas novels. Big plus, Electric Mist is my favorite of his novels.

Apparently, Jack has had a long and harrowing fall from having once been a Garda, and he’s left a lot of violence and hatred in his wake, but new trouble always seems to find him. Also, the story takes place in 2016 where the deaths of music icons Bowie, Prince, and Cohen have an affect on Jack’s inner landscape, as does Trump creeping up America’s skirts…something ugly has crept into Galway dragging with it a fallen priest, a psycho ex, and a long list of innocents.

I’ve never read Ken Bruen before, and I love his short and lilting, yet brutal, style, the near stream-of-consciousness of Jack’s thoughts as he races from pun to pun only he seems to get. He must have a good rep, though, as everyone wants to hire him to get the job done.

My one complaint: Contractions don’t get used enough and the language sometimes feels a little stilted, which takes away, in my opinion, from the casual style.

So, I’m going to go back to the beginning of this series and start reading. You should to, if you like noir and crime fiction 🙂

Standalone Sunday Book Review: I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsey McCabe

Cover design:  Alison Forner

Publishing date: 01/2014

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about “distaff” soldiers during the Civil War and so when this book crossed my path, I jumped for it.

In the afterword, the author speaks about the inspiration for Rosetta, the girl soldier who follows her husband into the Union army. Many women followed husbands and family members into the fighting, despite strict Victorian gender politics, and the author borrowed some of their experiences to create the character and the narrative.  This lent the story a deeply authentic feel, as she also re-created the original Sarah Rosetta Wakeman’s voice from her extant letters (see An Uncommon Soldier by Lauren Cook Burgess). For all that, the prose has a literary feel to it, evocative of the time and place.

The battle scenes are harrowing but over quickly. My own reading and researching into the Civil War have only just begun, but I’ve been to Antietam and have a vivid imagination. I appreciated the depth of the author’s research, well woven into the narrative.

Immersion into the character and her joys and misery worked well in the first person. I don’t usually care for the first person point of view, but the author knows how to handle this technique well, so we don’t feel like we’re on the character’s ego trip (I-I-I). The prose and narrative had the feel of a journal, and the author’s skill kept me close to the character of Rosetta.

The feelings I had as I read, beyond admiration for the author and for distaff soldiers, was of a nearly excruciating dread and anticipation. I think this mirrored the experience of the characters as they learned how to be soldiers, broken up by Rosetta’s domestic issues with her husband Jeremiah. There is a low thrum of tension here as they try to learn how to survive the military life, stay alive, and yet keep the feelings between them, the antidote to their fears about going to war, sweet and real.

There was also a much appreciated character of a gay soldier, a natural inclusion in a story about “uncommon soldiers.” Unacknowledged is more like.

The women who served and were found out, or later revealed themselves as female soldiers (as when some tried to get their pensions) weren’t always treated as heroes, but as loose women, etc.  Some peoples minds only go one way, and that’s too true for the American cousins of the English Victorians. (See also Dr. Mary Walker Wiki ).

The other, real Rosetta didn’t live to see the end of the war, contracting typhoid after the battle of Red River when she was with the Army of the Potomac. I’m glad the author gave her Rosetta a different ending.

I highly recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction.

Want to find more reviews of standalones? Bookslayer originated this meme, and this is where you can find more book reviews.