Sunday, February 5, 2012

Smoke, by Nigel Bird and The Point, by Gerard Brennan

Bit of a problematic blogpost, this one, but I'm going to do it anyway. I happened to read these two novellas, both nominated for the Spinetingler Award, one right after the other, and found the parallels striking enough  that I thought I'd do them together, rather than separately. Unfortunately, in the time that's elapsed between now and then, Smoke seems to have been withdrawn from circulation for the moment, due, I'm guessing, to some larger troubles at the press it was published by. That's a can of worms that I don't really want to get into here, but I'm going to assume that Smoke will be made available again soon by one means or another.

I read Smoke in ebook form, while The Point I read as a physical book. I think I enjoyed reading in the old school form marginally more, but with novellas, it isn't a terribly large issue either way, and I actually think novellas are highly suited to the ebook format.

Smoke begins with a simple enough school incident. Our hero, Jimmy, gets pantsed by the school bullies and as he of course decides to take his revenge, events soon spiral out of control. I was a little slow on the uptake here, but Smoke actually continues on from a  fine short story I read in the Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 8 called "An Arm and  a Leg", and I wish I'd reread that one before reading this story. If republished, I think including both in one volume might work rather well.

The community is Tranent, a working class British community where let's just say a lot of illicit activity is going on. I don't know that you'd call it tight knit, but it's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody else's business, including what's hidden under Nan's bed. There are a lot of skillfully interwoven story arcs to this brief tale, and everyone is pretty much after everyone else's loot, or even life.

Gerard Brennan's The Point focuses on another working class community, this one a  rough Belfast neighborhood. When brothers Paul and Brian find themselves needing to lay low, though, they head for Warrenpoint, a  seaside resort town that they remember as idyllic from their otherwise not so idyllic childhoods. There they meet Rachel, a girl with some troubles of her own. The encounter of the three of them, not to mention the various thugs that they inevitably get involved with, leads them to their own madcap festival of mayhem. I liked the brief titled chapters of this one, which helped keep things moving right along.

I still find myself a bit surprised to be reading crime fiction that centers on so much violence, boozing, drugs and sex. Not to mention dog fights. These are "guy books" in a big way, so I think it's fair to say straight off that they might not be for you, if I have any idea of who the typical readers of this blog are. Which, actually, I don't. If you're looking for fast paced gritty thrillers with more than  a bit of edge, these are just up your alley. I admire the talent and craftsmanship of both writers and will continue to read more.

While you wait for Smoke to be reborn, why don't you check out Nigel's short pieces on Smashwords? Oh, and did I mention that he is in the probably all too often mentioned here Grimm Tales as well? In fact, he won first prize in the original story contest for "Sing a Song of Sixpence".   

And once you've read The Point, which won the  2012 Spinetingler novella award, you can then go on to Mr. Brennan's Wee Rockets, which I have ahead of me as well.


  1. Yep, they're both gems. Smoke will be out and about soonest, I'm sure.

  2. I certainly hope so, Paul. And you've already proved me wrong as to what my real demographic is here...

  3. Thanks for this, Seana! Really delighted the book worked for you.



  4. The events of last week were very draining, so this piece is a powerful medicine indeed, a tonic for my ailments, most definitely.

    Just to say that Smoke will be re-released at some point soon and that I couldn't have wished for a better home. Also to mention that 'An Arm And A Leg' is to be included after Smoke as an inverted prequel.

    Nice to see Paul here, who suffered a similar fate and I know he's going to be the bigger and stronger for it.

    And about The Point, it's a fantastic read that's wonderfully crafted. A worthy Spinetingler winner, without doubt.

    Grimm Tales - it's great, so I'm seconding that recommendation.

    Thanks so much for lifting this guy's spirits.


  5. I don't think I quite got across the quirky humor of your book, gb. I'm looking forward to the Wee Rockets read most definitely.

    Nigel, I am quite relieved that Smoke won't be out there in limbo for too long. And it's great that the short story will be with it. Let me know when the book is "live" and I'll put a mention here.