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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

I’m your greatest fan . . .

Newsgroups: rec.arts.mystery

Poet in the gutter (Sam Turner 1)
Death minus zero (Sam Turner 2)
King of the streets (Sam Turner 3)
It’s been a little while (as in a week or two) since I read these books but I’ve been having problems putting my thoughts about them in writing. Partly because there are so many things I’d like to say about them and I don’t know where to start. Partly because I’ve started to feel that whenever I try to share my thoughts on books I’ve liked I end up writing the same things. But I really want to share my thoughts on these so here goes nothing.

Sam Turner is a man who has been through a lot. Still it hasn’t turned him into a bitter, lonely man. Sure he has his cynical moments but mostly he’s a compassionate and loving man. He reaches out to try to help those most people wouldn’t dare try to help, if they even considered doing it.

So through the books he builds up a somewhat unlikely but very likeable circle of friends, offering differing amounts of insight into the characters in the different books. This circle of friends and the way they interact offers a warm feeling to the books, a good counterweight to the coldness and cruelty that is also present in the books. You don’t have to feel that this is a world without hope but that there are havens to turn to, people to trust, love and friendship.

Because there is coldness and cruelty in these books, seemingly meaningless violence and with exaggerated force, horrible deaths. But John Baker lets you into the criminals’ minds so that you realise that they are being the only way they know how. What they’re doing makes perfect sense to them. From the outside they can seem pitiful and even funny sometimes. From the inside you see their logic. And that makes them some of the scariest characters I’ve read about.

There’s also a strong female presence in these books. Great women portraits, complex multi-facetted women, from the cold-hearted bitch with no regard for others that still manages to turn Sam on through the young woman balancing between choosing the straight and narrow or turning tricks to the warm, caring older woman that is still young at heart.

In short I think I fell in love with this series. The language is great, quite a few funny sequences in there as well, and the plots are well thought out. I couldn’t find any more Sam Turner books here in Stockholm but I have John Baker’s The Chinese Girl. Which is going to be very interesting since I’ve actually been to Hull. Not that I saw much of it, I was only there one day and it rained so much I almost drowned standing up.
Katarina Rundgren, Stockholm, Sweden.

Hi there, I just wanted to say thank you for the enjoyment the first two Sam Turner books have given me. Your characters are wonderfully human and the books are totally enthralling. I have to go as I want to start book three. Thank you, Thank you Regards Venetia Elliott, Hamilton, Australia.

Walking With Ghosts is at times dark and disturbing as it moves between Dora’s deathbed memories and the case at hand. The reader is drawn into a tale of political and personal corruption that she will never forget. She will never forget Dora either and she will never forget this wonderful story that gets five stars from me.
Review by Vesta Irene at Amazon.com

My only problem with praising John Baker’s work is the time it would take to express my thoughts properly. You should definitely try and get hold of Walking With Ghosts (Sam Turner 4). I found it easily the best in the series so far. Eveleen McAuley.

Walking with Ghosts is the fourth Sam Turner book by John Baker and the fourth I’ve read. I remain a big John Baker fan. Although this book is completely different from the other three it’s also the same. The characters from the other books are still there, but in this book we only get to see Sam Turner from the outside. Most of the time we spend in Dora’s mind. Only Dora watches herself and her life from the outside as well. I thought this was a very interesting approach, it really communicated a feeling that Dora’s soul was getting ready to leave, that she was indeed dying. The fact that I wasn’t privy to Sam’s thoughts made me feel lost for a while, and it also left me with a few questions. I felt like I had missed big parts of his life, it took me by surprise that he was married and I’m still wondering what made him fall for and even marry Dora? He’s been involved with some wonderful women in the other books but never made that kind of commitment to any of them. I admit I was especially puzzled because Dora seemed so old as well, I’ve never thought of Sam as old. Also the picture we’re getting of Dora, communicated mostly by Dora herself, isn’t exactly flattering. (No, I’m not talking about her looks.) But this is of course why I like John Baker so much, that he makes me think. Not only about the mystery he presents but also about how different people’s minds can work. I like his women portraits and how his characters are evolving through the books. Also the warmth, friendship and compassion. As for the case or mystery in this book it served more as a completion of the story of Dora’s life than anything else. An illustration of how our actions can have implications and lead to consequences we can’t even begin to imagine when we take them. Katarina Rundgren, Stockholm, Sweden.

Really enjoyed Shooting in the Dark, seeing” the blind character cope (ride a bike for heaven’s sake) was fascinating. Barbara Peters, Poisoned Pen.

John Baker – British PI series. A recent discovery for me – I went out and bought the rest of the books in the series when half way through book one, and have just read number two. The humour comes from the characters, who are warm, funny and utterly believable. You laugh with them rather than at them. John Baker can take you from a grin to a grimace in the space of a sentence – his good guys may be people whose company you would enjoy, but his bad guys are utterly creepy. Seriously thrilling plots with a lot of humour to lighten them. Donna Moore on DOROTHYL.

This series for me is … it’s hard to describe. From the moment I met Sam Turner, I knew I was going to like him. And not just like him in a ‘this guy is pretty cool’ kind of way, but I care for him probably more than any other male protag I read about. There’s something about Sam that is soooo – real. I like Patrick Kenzie and I like Harry Bosch but neither of them seems as real to me as Sam Turner. I love that about this series. Aimee from Nebraska, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

On an author binge at the moment. British crime writer called John Baker. I’ve just started on his first sequence of books featuring York-based (tea at Betty’s!) fledgling private investigator Sam Turner, having raced through the later Stone Lewis novels (all two of ’em so far – The Chinese Girl (2000) and White skin man (2004)).

These latter are more ambitious, striving for social and psychological significance in a grittier Hull, but they don’t clunk too much and still retain a comic strand with a good sub-plot and supporting cast of his aunt and her man; the odd sentence approaches poetry. Meanwhile, the promisingly titled Poet in the Gutter (1995) is great self-deprecating fun. Baker drops Dylan quotes into the dialogue with barely a nod and wink and without missing a beat. I’m already looking forward to reading more. Dave Quale, Dreamwater.

Poet In The Gutter. Dear John Baker What can I say that hasn’t been said to you before? Why did I not find you years ago? I have never had so much pleasure in a crime novel since Chandler and Rex Stout and that was so many years ago I’ve lost count. Poet in the Gutter caught me from the moment I read the first few words.

Great creation and a fascinating and gut-tightening slew of ideas that all came out believably in the end. Thanks for writing, don’t stop, I’m off to get the next book as soon as Monday arrives. Don Campbell, Yeadon.

Poet In The Gutter by John Baker (St. Martins Press in the US) Great detective series. This is the first one in it. Sam Turner, kind of a lost soul who finds himself becoming a PI. The books are set in York, in the UK. (As is the author !) Sam has an eclectic set of friends who end up working with him. He has no grand ideas of saving the world. Just his piece of it. I immediately liked Sam and his friends. They read as very realistic folks. Great series. For more on John Baker, go read my interview with him. He’s a cool guy. And a damn fine writer. Jon Jordan.

I read Poet in the Gutter and was amazed. John Baker has created a wonderful PI in Sam Turner. The book is well thought out, and the characters breath with every turn of a page. Sam becomes a PI almost by accident, and takes to it with gusto.Along the way he manages to put together a group of people to help him out and before he knows it, he has his own agency going. His first case, tailing a wife to see if she is cheating, soon escalates, as his client is murdered. The plot follows nicely with some twists and turns. And Baker’s feel for the characters is only surpassed by his feel for the city it takes place in, York. I highly recommend this series! An American reviewer on Amazon.co.uk.

Poet in the Gutter – I didn’t want to put this book down. It was a book that I wanted to keep on reading way past my bus stop. I could have ended up quite happily reading away in the bus station for the night after the driver had parked up and gone home for his dinner. It’s exciting, thrilling, quite often scary and brutal. But it’s also touching and funny. The main strength for me was the characters. John Baker creates a set of characters who are flawed, loveable, believable – characters you could easily spend time with and feel comfortable with. Each of the main characters has a really distinctive voice and you get to know the way they think. This is where the humour comes from – the characters themselves rather than the situations they find themselves in. But they’re not eccentric characters that you laugh AT. They’re real people who you can laugh WITH. I also loved the writing. It’s witty, down to earth, descriptive and every word counts. It’s enthralling and evocative, sometimes almost poetic – but not flowery and overblown.

John Baker can take you from a smile to a grimace in one sentence. I loved this book so much that I went out and bought the next three in the series before I was two thirds of the way through the book. Donna Moore, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

Poet in the Gutter – An epic journey of the heart disguised as a detective story. With snooker. Carrie Pruett, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

I just loved this book (Poet in the Gutter) – Sam pretending to be a private investigator and then becoming one in reality – it’s funny, blood-thirsty and poignant all at the same time. You would think being a splasher with definite cosy leanings – that a book where the victims are being hacked to death with a knife wouldn’t appeal – not so. The characters came alive for me – these are all people I had strong feeling for – people I would have a drink at the local pub with, something I rarely feel when reading. I liked the way Sam was different things for different people – a lover, a bastard, a friend, a saviour, a bringer to justice.

I didn’t know whether to slap Sam or take him to bed!!! I loved the complex character that he is, and how he was different things to the different characters, which proved his complexity.

I loved the side of him that picked Geordie out of the gutter – or doorstep – and gave him unquestionable trust and the chance to turn his life around.

Celia is another character that shows the caring side of Sam – maybe because she was non-threatening in an intimate relationship way – yes she flirted as did Sam to her – but it was a game that they both enjoyed – she is my hero – I want to be just like her when I grow old – which won’t be for another hundred years or so. She knew when to mother and when to flirt and never looked down on anyone.

I wanted to kick Wanda – she should have told Sam to get on his bike – she is crawling after him on his terms, women shouldn’t do this no way Jose – men can crawl to us thank you. Wanda seems a nice lady, I’m sure she can find something better. Maybe a relationship is too soon after their broken relationships – she’s looking for someone to care for her and her children, Sam is not looking for permanence – but maybe later. I mean, to demonstrate what a free sexual spirit Sam is, just look at him and Jane – even though Jane was on his list of suspects he let his trouser zip do the talking – would you trust a man like this? Not me Uh uh!!

Speaking of Jane – what a warped and manipulative piece of humanity she was – more so than Frances who had just plain lost it mentally. Jane and Frances were the only characters that didn’t feel real for me – could this be because they weren’t go to be in any future books so their characters didn’t need to be plumped out?

John – great work, great storyline, great characters and will read some more in the series as soon as I persuade the library to buy them – or I just may go out and buy them anyway.
Hoo Roo
Sally R, Australia, 4_Mystery_Addicts

Poet in the Gutter – The real fun in this book is meeting the friends and acquaintances that Sam hires as employees. My favourite scene was when Sam opened his first bagful of mail and danced around his living room. The writing is simple, verging on terse, and the style is a combination of hardboiled and humorous. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Dame Judith, 4_Mystery_Addicts

Poet in the Gutter – John Baker must be one of popular fiction’s (largely) undiscovered treasures, I’ve never seen his name on any best-seller lists nor seen any of his books in a prominent place in a book store which on the evidence of Poet in the Gutter is a crying shame.

Baker’s laid-back style sits very well amongst the current crop of the very best that American crime writing has to offer and does not possess any of the typical British stiffness whilst at the same time not compromising his Yorkshire roots.

On the whole then this is a great debut to a successful series which would probably make great TV. Simon Shields, Amazon

Poet in the Gutter. Loved the voice and the humor. The character will stick with me for a while too. Barbara Seranella, 4-Mystery Addicts

Death Minus Zero – John Baker. Another “Bl**dy He**” type book that kept me up all night reading it. Even if it hadn’t, I would have been afraid to go to sleep.

The first book in the series, Poet In The Gutter, was funny but with a throbbing undertone of violence that makes it quite dark. Death Minus Zero doesn’t have so much a throbbing undertone of violence as an enormous great steamroller full of it which rolls right over the top of you and leaves you flat and breathless with horror. This book has one of the scariest, most realistic bad guys I’ve ever read (but sometimes he’s also funny in a warped and creepy way). To balance that, the book also has the warmest, most natural and funniest characters I’ve come across. Things happen in this book that I just did not expect. The writing is just superb. From the first page I just sink into it and let it flow all around me. Everything else is forgotten. I think John Baker will be my discovery of the year, as Joe Lansdale was last year.

This book is thrilling, scary, warm, touching, funny. It gives you the best and worst of people. In the space of a few words a grin can turn into a grimace. Just to clarify, I give this book a 5. Donna Moore, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

Death Minus Zero, 2nd in the Sam Turner series. Norman Bunce, who kills humans as easily as most people kill flies, didn’t expect to ever get out of prison again. But when the Israeli terrorists blew up the prison transport to free one of their own, he wasn’t slow to grasp the opportunity. A vague notion of getting revenge on Snow White, the woman who betrayed him, brings him to York, but he has no idea how to go about finding her until he sees the sign in the office window – “Sam Turner Investigations”. Sam agrees to search for Snow White, allowing his concerns about paying the rent his new office to overrule the little voice warning him to stay clear of this man. It’s a decision that will prove unexpectedly costly for Sam and his motley crew of helpers.

This was an intriguing and engrossing read. Baker does a good job of shifting the point of view around, mostly between Norman and Sam. The contrast between Norman’s mind, which is definitely not a place you want to spend much time in, and Sam’s, which is not exactly filled with sweetness and light but at least manages compassion and empathy, is very well done. Sam continues to develop into a fully rounded character, and the other characters, especially Geordie and Celia (two of Sam’s assistants), are very well drawn. And, although I didn’t much care for the ending (it was both inevitable and predictable), Baker does a good job of building the suspense up to the climax.

I’ve been told that this series lightens up as it goes along, but I thought this book was even a little darker than the first one, though there’s no shortage of humour. In any case, I enjoyed it and will definitely be hunting out the next one. Shauna Scott, MysInDepth.

Death Minus Zero – Speaking of good mysteries, I recently finished John Baker’s Death Minus Zero. Wonderful characters, especially Geordie, who finds everything in the world new and mysterious. Now, if I really wanted to be horribly pompous and pull out my lit crit credentials, I’d say Baker’s practicing what some Russian structuralist or other called Ostranenie, showing us the mundane world from a fresh perspective, making the ordinary strange. But I’ll spare you. Good book. Read it. Barbara Fister, DOROTHYL.

Death Minus Zero is the best portrayal of a sociopath I have ever read. Most authors rely on inner dialogue and the bad guy plotting out his “evil doings”. Norman, on the other hand, doesn’t have to justify what he is going to do because it never occurs to him ‘not’ to do it. Absolutely chilling. Julie Campbell

King of the Streets – John Baker’s style of writing lets you look deep into the hearts and souls of all the characters – good and bad. What you find there is either wonderful or horrific. Donna Moore, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

King of the Streets – Dark humour, flawed heroes, and truly nasty villains well blended into an entertaining story. Shauna Scott, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

Walking with Ghosts – John Baker – Again this is a brilliantly written book with a gripping plot. There were some wonderfully warm and funny moments. Donna Moore, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

Shooting in the Dark – I’m currently at Chapter 17. I wouldn’t have been that far in except that I wanted to be early to work today as I have so much to do so I set off early. In Glasgow we have a very tiny underground system which is lovingly known as the ‘clockwork orange’. Orange because of the colour of the trains, clockwork because it goes round in a circle. There are less than 20 stops, so as you can see, it’s a dinky little thing. I was so engrossed in the book that, instead of going 4 stops, I decided to stay on and go round the whole system because I didn’t want to stop reading. Donna Moore, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

Shooting in the Dark – Business has been pretty slack when Angeles Falco walks into the office of York PI Sam Turner and tells him she and her sister Isabel are being watched. Angeles is beautiful, confident and blind. The police and her doctor think she’s being paranoid but Sam believes there’s something to her story. When Isabel goes missing the case, and Angeles, become the main focus of Sam’s attention.

This is the fifth book in the Sam Turner series – a series I thought couldn’t get any better. How wrong I was. This is a wonderful book. The main characters are warm, engaging, funny and completely real. Having read the rest of the series, spending time with Sam, Geordie, Celia et al is like visiting old friends. The villain is shadowy, obsessive, and utterly frightening. The plot is compelling and enthralling and the mystery kept me guessing right up until the end.

Every chapter inspired a different emotion. My heart skipped from my mouth to my boots and then firmly back to where it should be, before beginning its bumpy ride all over again. Shooting In The Dark made me smile, it made me shiver, but most of all it made me glad that I’d discovered Sam Turner. The writing is both lyrical and down to earth. John Baker is the master of crafting a beautifully turned phrase while making it seem natural and effortless. I wanted to buy multiple copies of this book and hand them out in the street to complete strangers. Donna Moore, 4_Mystery_Addicts.

The Chinese Girl – Stone is a knight in tarnished armour. Scarred both on the outside and within, his humour, hope and humanity shine through and he’s a wonderful not-so-perfect hero for a not-so-perfect world. The supporting characters are also flawed and troubled – none of them are all bad or all good. As a result they jump off the page as real people.

This is a book about prejudice and appearances. Some people only see what they want to see, some people only show one side of themselves and keep the darker side hidden, others are exactly what they seem. As usual, John Baker explores his themes and fits them seamlessly into the central plot and the whole thing is told in a way which is both tender and frightening, lyrical and harsh. The writing reminds me of a really good song, where both words and music stay in your brain after only one hearing. Donna Moore, Reviewing the Evidence.

BOOKS AND BRUSSEL SPROUTS – I love John Baker’s writing. Now, there’s a man who I think writes great books – he tells an exciting tale, his writing wraps me up and draws me in, his characters are totally real to me. He makes me smile and he makes me cry. And, my goodness me, as well as all that, his books explore issues and themes – but those themes are natural, not forced. They come out of the story, they are intertwined with the plot, they’re there because the characters are facing them.

John might have had a particular theme in his mind all along, he might have said “I want to write a book about X” but, as a reader I appreciate the fact that he doesn’t try and force feed it to me like one of my Mum’s Sunday brussel sprouts. I won’t eat it, it will still be there the next morning, congealed on my plate looking like a bright green beacon of nastiness. Instead, John’s like my Dad – he hides that blatant brussel sprout in a dish of tasty, crispy Bubble and Squeak. I’ve gobbled it up and loved it before I’ve realised I’ve eaten a sprout and, shock horror, I just want more.
Donna Moore, 4-Mystery-Addicts.

White Skin Man. I was completely absorbed by the moral undercurrent of the book and when finished woke my wife to read her parts of the book. Thank you oh so much for the wonderful experience. Its too bad that literature like yours takes so long to produce, but it is well worth the wait. Aldo, California, USA.

White Skin Man. I really loved everything about this book, the characters, plot, situation and location and found it highly enlightening bringing an opinion on the politics of race that I had never considered.

As a resident of Hull it is easy to get caught up in the whole scenario of slagging off the increasing amount of asylum seekers whilst remaining mostly ignorant of their plight. I’ve never really considered myself a racist but I find myself behaving more and more like one sometimes directing many unsavoury comments toward them. In my defence it isn’t easy seeing a once proud area sink into such a dramatic decline, the frustration being exacerbated by the apparent ease with which the asylum seekers claim benefits and lead a lifestyle many of our natives cannot. I guess these feelings are just another symptom of living in a city which is going through it’s death throes.

Having read and, I hope, understood your novel I am more than willing to admit the shortcomings of such a mindset and have experienced a realisation that the angers of myself and, I’m sure, many others are misdirected. Is it really such a drain on the resources to take care of these poor folk and is this local recession their fault? Obviously it isn’t, I am no closer to any solutions but I am at least aware that there needs to be one and I thank you for bringing this to my notice as I believe was your intention, I have not experienced a great epiphany but will certainly endeavour to be more charitable in future.

I believe yours is a voice that deserves to be heard and is definitely a talent to be savoured. Simon Shields, Hull, England.