Harry Charters’ Chronicles by Graham Smith
His investigations include a rigged poker game, a missing teenager and tales of domestic strife. He also gets himself into the middle of gangland power struggles and comes head to head with a crime family who run an entire town.
Harry Charters is not the kinda guy who calls the cops. Instead he dispenses his own brutal justice as he rights wrongs and settles balances.
Will he come out on top or will the bottle get the better of him?
Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner, he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last eleven years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland. An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer for the well-respected review site Crimesquad.com for over two years.
As well as reviewing Graham has also interviewed such stellar names as David Baldacci, Jeffrey Deaver, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Matt Hilton, current CWA Chair Peter James, Mark Billingham and many others.
When not working, his time is spent reading, writing and playing games with his son. He enjoys socialising and spending time with friends and family. Graham also runs the Crime and Publishment site and yearly weekend workshops.
Graham’s been a big supporter of this blog so I felt it only fair (and overdue) that I repay him by reviewing one of his short story collections. I do plan to review the others in 2014. I chose, for no other reason than it had the character’s name in the title, I went with Harry Charters Chronicles.
In the acknowledgements I spotted some names I recognised (interviewees on this blog and those I’ve met in real life): Matt Hilton, Sheila Quigley and Alan Guthrie, thanks to a http://www.crimeandpublishment.co.uk course I went on last March (and am booked in to go on again next year).
Like my chick lit novel, Graham’s dedication goes to a family member; mine to my father, Graham’s to his grandfather who shares the book’s title name.
I love intriguing titles and the first one, Detecting Malicious Murder, had me gripped. The language used in this story (and I learned, the rest of them) easily portrays the times; including ‘broad’ (woman), speakeasy (type of bar) and bottle of rye (whisky). I have a page of writing tips on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writing-101 and this includes accent, which I advise to use vary sparingly but when writing is set in a certain era, it should feel authentic, and this certainly does.
Another clever title was the second story, All A Broad, and there’s a great show where Harry has a hangover but rather than tell us he does, Graham shows us with the help of a musical reference. When we meet the ‘guest’ of this story, she says “I need your help.” which Harry then goes on to say is ‘Four words. Thirteen characters’ which it is but that in itself shows us that they’re powerful words and as he says, ‘Her poise indicated they’d cost her more than the second it had taken to say them.’ In a Facebook exchange – with me – prior to this review, Graham called Harry “grumpy” and he is but it gives him ‘life’. Often characters are two dimensional and it doesn’t take much (like the four words example) to bring them to life.
Next up was ‘Dealt a Better Hand’ which covers a week in one of the P.I.’s cases. It was a pleasant surprise to see my surname (common as it is) as a character! This story is about a gambler and involves a boxing match; neither of which I know much about but it didn’t matter. Readers will rarely have much knowledge of a book’s topic but as long as it feels authentic then we will gladly believe it and read on. A reference to kidneys had me laughing and that’s what I like about this collection; it’s grit but humour in (sort of) equal doses. I liked the ending and I’d missed mention of the ‘product’ in question at the beginning of the story so it came as a surprise until I reread the beginning.
The next title, ‘The Story of Perfume’ immediately reminded me of Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume, The Story of Murder’, I wondered if that was a coincidence so I read on with this in mind.
I’ve written short story collections, mostly standalones but some connected stories, and the beginning of a series of novels and it’s always tough to decide how much to tell a reader so that it doesn’t bore someone who’s read the previous story/ies but explains enough to a new reader. In this case, it’s just three words; ‘A rube called’ as describing the main ‘guest’ in the previous story. For a reader who’s reading the stories in turn, they would know who Spratsky is and therefore be familiar with him but for those who read out of turn (I know some do and I have done but tend not to these days, especially when reviewing) it’s a useful piece of information.
In ‘The Smell of Perfume’ (Noon), I loved Graham’s phraseology for ambushing Jack Daniels. We get to ‘meet’ a second member of Harry’s family (an assumption on my part as it’s not explained who Janie is so I wonder if it will be later explained) as well as a man from Harry’s army past. I’d actually critiqued this story on http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/short-story-for-critique-011-the-smell-of-perfume-by-graham-smith but have a hopeless memory (writer / tutor Steve Bowkett once told me off for saying that but it’s true!) so it felt like I was reading the story for the first time… or first and a half anyway. I’d forgotten the brilliant ‘Her figure was the finest hourglass ever created and it was bang on time.’ The ending isn’t what you might expect and despite having read this story before, it hadn’t lost its impact.
‘Coach Tours’ was next and as per most of the previous stories was split into sub-sections, with a James Patterson-like chapter length. The first indication of the collection’s timing came in this story with mention of ‘Hoover’s new agency’ so I’m guessing (reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Edgar_Hoover) that it’s early / mid 1930s. Of the ‘Journey’ part of this story, I loved the detail of Harry’s companion for the trip: ‘She was only five six but she was built like a railroad worker and in possession of a face which could inspire a gargoyle sculptor.’ This was probably my favourite story so far because it was one of the cleverest. I’m no Agatha Christie but I often guess story endings / twists (unless it’s written by Agatha Christie!) and hadn’t a clue with this one.
Another brilliant phrase followed in ‘A Head Made of Stone’: ‘If her voice had been any huskier, someone would have tied her to a sledge and set off for the North Pole.’ I love nicknames and here we have ‘Shiner’ and ‘Band Aid’. Superb. This was another excellent story which had me clicking (the Kindle equivalent of turning) the page.
Next up was ‘Using Protection Wisely’ which, I was sure, wasn’t about what first sprang to mind, until I read the first paragraph… 🙂 This was probably the story with the biggest dilemma and I was intrigued who Harry would solve it. It was solved, as the saying goes, in an old-fashioned professional way and a neat ending to the collection.
After the Author’s Note, there’s a bonus short story from Graham’s collection ‘Eleven The Hardest Way’ which I also have and shall be reviewing in the first half of 2014 so rather than read that now, I saved it for then.
Is there a downside? I would have liked more punctuation, especially commas before names in speech and where the reader would pause, but then that slows down the pace which you don’t want so much in a gritty read. There were a few typos (there often are in traditionally-published pieces), which I emailed Graham so hopefully anyone buying a later version won’t spot these. It’s only because of these that I give the book 4* (out of 5).
Harry Charters Chronicles is available (for a mere 77p / c.99c via) from http://www.amazon.com/Harry-Charters-Chronicles-Graham-Smith-ebook/dp/B007712QB6 and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harry-Charters-Chronicles-Graham-Smith-ebook/dp/B007712QB6.
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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