The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Keisha makes a scratchy living running a crude scam on the families of missing people in Linwood Barclay's Never Saw It Coming (Orion, £14.99). She monitors their suffering on the TV news and, when she judges them to be desperate enough, offers them the fruits of her psychic visions. At a price, of course.
But her latest mark knows perfectly well what's happened to his missing wife. And when, by chance, some of Keisha's invented insights match reality he can't take the risk that she'll share them with the cops.
Barclay's work is always packed to bursting with an inimitable density of plot twists and this refreshingly short novel is no exception.
In thrillers, as in politics, it isn't the original crime that causes the problems - it's the panic-stricken cover-up. On a lonely country road near Brighton, two friends accidentally run over a man who's blackmailing one of them, in The Catch by Tom Bale (Preface, £12.99).
With no witnesses around, they might just get away with killing an unmourned scoundrel. Except that this particular nasty piece of work was involved in a conspiracy of his own, chasing a share in a corrupt PFI fortune.
It's a bloody and at times rather squalid tale as well as a gripping and unusual one. Bale specialises in villains who have believable motives for their actions but are none the less appalling for all that.
Meanwhile, one of crime fiction's most disturbingly likeable characters returns in Hit Me by Lawrence Block (Orion, £18.99).
Professional hitman John Keller is happily married, with a young daughter. He's living in New Orleans where he works in house renovation - a retirement of a sort and it suits him just fine.
But the recession is ruining the building trade and even interfering with Keller's obsessive stamp-collecting. So when a job in his old line comes up, he's back on the road.
What makes this series extraordinary isn't just the droll precision of the writing but the author's refusal to soften the reader's moral dilemma.
Keller isn't any kind of Robin Hood, only killing those who deserve it. He's exactly what he appears to be - a pleasant man with an unforgiveable job.
Essentially, this is absurdist literature. Block dramatises the ethical ambiguities of ordinary life by placing them in the insane world of the killer-for-hire, as when Keller frets about having to kill an innocent bystander on one job, and then realises this is silly, because the target is innocent, too.
In Lachlan Smith's Bear Is Broken (Headline, £13.99), Leo is only days into his career as a qualified lawyer when his brother is shot through the head while the two sit at lunch. Teddy is San Francisco's most successful defence lawyer and naturally loathed by the police. If anyone's going to find out who shot him, it'll have to be his little brother.
This impressively mature debut novel is a good balance of hardboiled detective story and courtroom drama.
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