Category Archives: All Due Respect

Review: Welcome To HolyHell by Math Bird – Paul D. Brazill

welcome to holy hell

It’s 1976, and Britain is in the grip of an unbearable heatwave when Bowen leaves London to return to his home town in northeast Wales. As events spiral out of Bowen’s control, his old partner Nash follows his trail. Meanwhile, young Jay finds a briefcase stuffed with cash.

Math Bird’s Welcome To HolyHell is just fantastic. It has the sharp plotting of peak Elmore Leonard combined with the brooding lyrical atmosphere of James Lee Burke. The characters are all marvelously well-drawn and the sense of time and place is spot on. Welcome To HolyHell is a great slice of hardboiled crime fiction that is also moving and funny. A very strong contender for the best crime novel of 2018, I think.

Conflict by Chris Rhatigan

Rhatigan-photo-200x300One Thing Every Reader Wants to See

A manuscript arrives in the All Due Respect inbox. It sits there for some time.

Might be a day, might be a week, might be an hour.

At some point, usually in the morning with a thermos of coffee, I open the manuscript.

There’s one thing I’m looking for from the first sentence.

I’m looking for conflict.

You may have heard this a hundred times, but there’s a reason for that: It’s easy to forget about conflict. You might focus on any number of other things—the details of setting or how to make your protagonist more likable.

But I can tell you that editors are always looking for conflict. So are literary agents, publishers, and just average readers.

You may have a 300-page manuscript with a dynamite ending, but if you don’t establish conflict in the first 20 pages, your manuscript is unlikely to make the cut.

Open any book on the shelves of your local bookstore and you’re likely to see conflict in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. Take this opening sentence from Lee Child’s The Hard Way:

“Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, no china, and before it arrived at his table he saw a man’s life change forever.”

The reader knows from the first moment what this book will be about. The implied question—who is this man whose life has changed forever and how will Reacher become involved?—pushes the reader forward.

adrThe conflict in the first few pages need not be the core of your novel’s plot. For example, one of the first novels our press published was Uncle Dust by Rob Pierce. The novel begins with Dust, a bank robber, discovering he is missing two hundred dollars. Dust goes on a mission to find the money, roughly interrogating his girlfriend and her kid.

The protagonist wants something and other characters are in his way. It doesn’t matter that it’s a small amount; he will not stand losing the money. This is a small conflict setting up a larger conflict that also tells the reader a bit about Dust’s character.

It’s possible an editor or agent will continue reading past page 20 if you have an engaging voice or a fascinating character.

It’s much more likely they will continue reading because you’ve established conflict.

Chris Rhatigan is a freelance editor and co-publisher of All Due Respect Books.

Fiction: Bang to Rights by Tess Makovesky

gravy train“Of course, you’re not one of us, are you?  I mean, not really.”

Jacks stared at the scrawny girl who was supposedly helping her.  Late teens, ratty hair, the scars of acne still visible on her narrow face.  A baby in a world of adults.  A baby who was sneering at her again.

She clenched her teeth.  Fiddly work, this, and if she got it wrong she could blow them all to kingdom come.  She didn’t need the distraction of babies being rude.  “I don’t see why not.  I’m as involved as any of the rest of you.  More.  You wouldn’t have explosives without me.”

“Yeah, but.  It’s not the same.  You don’t feel the same way we do.  You don’t love animals the way we do.”

“I like animals.”  It was true; she’d had a rabbit as a kid, and adopted a stray dog for a while in Afghanistan.  Mangy mutt with matted fur, but it had followed her about and she’d been attached to it, until it got caught up in a roadside bomb.  She still hadn’t forgive herself for that.  Another reason why she was here.  The suffering that man put his fellow creatures through.  She probably had more idea of that than most of these silly kids.  Besides, the way Merry said ‘love’ sounded worryingly wrong.  There was a law against that sort of love.  Not that she was going to point that out.  Too much hassle.  Just when she needed every last shred of concentration.  She snipped the wires.  Wrapped the bare ends together.  Poked them into the plastic packed inside the ball.  “Pass me that flap.”

Merry’s pout said it all.  A thin arm shoved the flap across the table top, jarring precious components, spilling tools on the floor.

“Careful!  Do you want this going off?  There wouldn’t be much left of you.”

The pout became a scowl.  “There wouldn’t be much left of you either if it comes to that.”

“True.  And then who’d you get to make your gear?”

Merry waved a hand as if that was just detail.  Quite funny, really, if you thought about it.  She had so little idea.  So little understanding of the work, or the danger, this involved.  She thought all the excitement was in placing the bombs, not making them.  She needed to learn a thing or two.

Images of red rain hovered in Jacks’ mind.  Serve the silly cow right.  One little nudge and BOOM.  No more Merry.  No more superior, patronising little bitch.  Trouble was, there’d be no more Jacks either, as Merry had already pointed out.  She needed another, less fatal, way.  That copper who’d contacted her the other month.  Put the feelers out, trying to get her to turn “Queen’s evidence” on the rest of the group.  She still didn’t know how he’d tracked her down, although she hadn’t been that careful since she got back.  Other things on her mind.  Usually involving too much violence; nightmares, cold sweats.  She’d kicked herself when he approached her in the pub.  Should have taken more precautions, hidden herself away.  Too late now.  And she’d told him to fuck off, anyway.  But the idea had stayed, nibbling at the edges of her mind.  Help him?  Or help these kids?  They seemed to need her more – her special skills, her experience.  But they weren’t exactly overflowing with gratitude.

“How’s it going?”  Ian, their supreme leader.  Or so he liked to think.  Another jumped-up teenager, although this one was at least old enough to vote.

“Not bad.  It’d be faster if I had more help.”  Or even any help at all, since Merry was being a pain.

“Yeah, sorry about that.  The others are all out on reconnaisance.”

He said it with such a serious air.  Jacks fought back a laugh.  Much he knew about reconnaisance, or any of those other quasi-military terms he threw around.  Making it look like he knew what he was talking about.  It didn’t work on her.  You didn’t spend eight years in the army without understanding the terms.  These kids were so annoying.  She didn’t know why she bothered with them.  The money helped, of course.  Not a fortune, but it helped.  What else could she do when she’d been kicked out, and couldn’t get a job, and had no home?  Sleeping rough was hell.

Ian had wandered out again.  Merry was fiddling with her phone.

Jacks grabbed it off her and chucked it across the room.  “How many times do I have to tell you?  One spark from that and you fry the both of us.”

The pout was back.  Again.  Another mutter, which sounded suspiciously like “Go and screw yourself.”

Maybe if she kept quiet, Merry would go away.  The flap screwed neatly into place.  Now she had the rest of the wiring to worry about – the bit that went at the other end.  That wasn’t the technical term, of course, but it was how she’d had to explain it to the rest.  They weren’t engineers.  They hadn’t learned about this stuff.  Which was why they needed her at all.

“Of course, if you were really committed…” Merry was still banging on, and it was getting harder to screen it out.  Like a dripping tap, moan complain whinge.  She felt her hands tense, had to fight to relax them again, one finger at a time.  No good letting it get to her.  No good making mistakes.

Not one of us, not one of us.  The petulant words rang inside her head.  She couldn’t tell if it was Merry any more, or if she was imagining them.  Trouble was, she’d never really fitted in.  Home, school, army, she’d been a loner all her life.  And hated it.  She’d have given anything to have a friend like other women did.  A best friend, to swap tales of boyfriends and soaps, pour out her troubles, provide support when times were hard.  But somehow, she never had.  Never trusted anyone, perhaps, or they hadn’t trusted her.  That dog was the closest she’d ever come.  Now she was alone, with only these children for company.  Children who weren’t afraid to emphasise her loneliness.

“You don’t understand how important this is.  You’re not one of us.”

Quite suddenly Jacks had had enough.  The shrill, affected voice.  The spiteful words.  The nasty triumphant look.  God help her, she was going to make it stop.  Even if it was the last thing she ever did.

Inspiration flashed.  She was winding duct tape around the wires, needed to hold it down and cut off the excess.  It was fiddly enough at the best of times, but with cramping hands it was nigh on impossible.  “Here, hold this down.”  She indicated the tape.

Merry wasn’t stupid, she’d give the child that.  “What about fingerprints?  I’m not wearing gloves.”

“It’s fine.  This will be vapourised when the bomb goes off – there’ll be nothing left to lift fingerprints from.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  A reluctant finger held the tape in place.  Perfect.  Jacks snipped, careful not to nick the flesh.  Tempting though it was.  A little blood to add in to the mix.  A little DNA.  But no, even Merry might suspect.  She tidied the ends, finally let out her breath.

“There.  One down, five to go.  You can help me the same way with those.  At least that way you’ll be getting really involved.”

The thin face lit up.  “That’s true.  It’s going to be brilliant.”

“It’ll be brilliant all right.  Light up the night sky for miles around.”  She hid her smile.

 

She tugged the rucksack over her shoulders and ran.  Just a few more minutes and this would all be over at last.  There was the entrance to Kings Cross now; all she had to do was cross the road.  Dodging traffic and endless seething crowds.  People who would never know how close they’d come.

She ducked inside the station and headed for the public phones.  Dialled.  Waited.  Dug out the business card with that copper’s name.  Asked to speak to him.  There was a wait; she hoped he wasn’t away from his desk or the whole thing might fail.  She didn’t know who else to speak to; didn’t know who to trust.  Then a voice, a man’s voice, that she vaguely recognised.  She got the information at the tip of her tongue, as few words as possible so they couldn’t trace the call.  “Animal Life Forever.  There’s a bomb at Kings Cross station.  A football inside a blue holdall by the phones in the main concourse.  Two more at Euston, one at Waterloo, two at St Pancras.  Revenge for all the deaths during Foot & Mouth.  What’s that?  No, there’s no danger of them going off.  I made sure of that.”

And she rang off again.  Smiled.  Hefted the rucksack containing her few belongings.  Headed for the desk and a ticket to somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t here.  Secure in the knowledge that the police would find the bombs.  The experts would dismantle them.  And find Merry’s fingerprints on the tape inside every one.

Liverpool, she thought, and then a boat.  She was too young to have served in Northern Ireland but she’d always fancied a trip.  Belfast sounded good.  She could settle, make friends, make something of her life.  Get another dog.  She could be one of us after all.

Find out more about TESS MAKOVESKY here.