The Gingerbread Houses: A Charlie Bars Thriller (The Charlie Bars Thriller Series Book 3) By Benedict J. Jones

The Gingerbread Houses is the third full length Charlie Bars thriller in this series and once again I received a digital copy compliments of Crime Waves Press in exchange for an honest review.

This round of British noir finds Charlie back at home base— the grittier side of London— once again a character in and of itself.  Mr. Jones quickly sets the scene, opening with Charlie seated in a pub—pint in one hand and book in the other.  Some time has passed since the conclusion of The Devil’s Brew and everyone is mostly healed, although Mazza is still struggling with a little PTSD from a previous violent encounter in Pennies.

Charlie and Mazza are back to work but looking for new office space. The author is not much for elaborating on regular characters or rehashing past plots but as a reader of all the Charlie Bars tales it is interesting to see how theses characters have evolved over the course of the series.

The dialog remains sharp and concise with all the usual London euphemisms.  A tale told in its usual conversational style making Charlie seem to be just your regular sort of guy…don’t be pulled into this by mistake.

Charlie is a complex character one who gains a little more depth with each subsequent outing—a man well versed in crime and violence who continues to profess a longing for a quieter life. Painting, reading, above board clients, love and family. However, circumstances always appear that drag him back down and his growing compulsion “to do the right thing” is increasingly leading him back into violence and crime.

One minute Charlie is sitting in a pub hoping for a peaceful moment with his book and his pint, the next he is approached by a former acquaintance asking for help finding information about one of Charlie’s old associates and help finding a man this potential client claims to have followed from Thailand who he believes is involved in the rape and murder of young boys.

Charlie thinks this will be an easy case and the right thing is to help get this creep off the streets, so he accepts the job. Unfortunately, or perhaps more accurately for Charlie-as per usual- not only is all not what it seems but it also turns out that his client is not the only one searching for this man.

It all becomes a complicated mess and Charlie’s choices all lead him into deeper danger and throw others into harms way as well especially after Ellie shows back up on his doorstep.

A very shady government organization who is in charge of covering up the sleazier transgressions of the higher ups is also on the trail and they are more than willing to kill to keep these secrets secret.

The dialog is sharp witty with more than a dash of humor and while dark themes abound they are not treated gratuitously there is no over the top graphic depictions of monstrous behavior or violence but make no mistake this is hard boiled noir and not for the easily squeamish. 

His accounts of violence may be short and sparse but this is by far the darkest book in the series, usually Mr. Benedict’s books feature a touch of the paranormal but here the evil is all too human.

Gingerbread Houses is the code name given to a series of locations that serve as “safe houses” for those with the money and power to indulge in sordid, inhumane and violent predilections—things that they will do anything to keep secret—a fact that is made abundantly clear to both Charlie and his client, all to soon.

I am happy to see that Ellie is back. I was also intrigued by the addition of the mysterious Hilda—a powerful semi-retired government fixer. While Mr. Jones seems to have a talent for creating fascinating powerful women on both sides of the law it also seems a waste that he often relegates these fab creations to the sidelines making them seem more plotting device than characters. They deserve much more.

My hope is that he is leaving bread crumbs (couldn’t resist the Hansel & Gretel moment) a trail to future stories.  As I said in my review of The Devil’s Brew Ellie is a fascinatingly good creation, and he teases us with even more of a hidden deeper side to Ellie here— so I continue to hope to see much more. Fair warning though—life with Charlie is not for the faint of heart.

Mr. Jones also introduces several side stories and italicized interludes that both give glimpses into the Gingerbread House past and into the violence and crime of Charlie’s own past.

This round left me with more unanswered questions than usual and a few semi plot holes.  By now I am used to “the case details” playing second fiddle to Charlie’s travails but I feel there is still some explaining left on the table. Kudos, that this is done in a way that makes me want more not less of Charlie Constantinou—so keep writing Benedict J. Jones.

If I have a quibble and it is very hard to take issue with a book and an author who continues to keep me on the edge of my seat swiping pages as fast as I can read here it is…

I felt at times the “dues ex machina” was impossible to ignore— that key characters are too conveniently awol, and IMO the behind the scene resolution is a bit tidy for the end of a Charlie Bar’s thrill ride.

 

Charlie might have had that denouement coming but one gets the sense it might be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. This was reading time well spent and I am already looking forward to the next installment.

The Devil's Brew: A Charlie Bars Thriller (The Charlie Bars Thriller Series Book 2)

I was contacted by Crime Wave Press asking if I would be interested in reading The Gingerbread Houses by Benedict J. Jones which has just been released and will make the third suspense noir thriller featuring Charlie “Bars” Constantinou.

As I like to start a series at the beginning I asked and received a digital copy of his first stand alone Charlie Bars thriller  (Pennies for Charon) which I greatly enjoyed, but if you want all of Charlie’s story I suggest starting with Skewered a collection of short stories, three of which feature Charlie Bars.

The Devil’s Brew is the second full length novel in this series and once again I received a digital copy compliments of Crime Waves Press in exchange for an honest review.

Mr. Jones continues where he left off at the end of Pennies for Charon and we find both Charlie and Mazza on the mend both physically and mentally in the aftermath of that climatic conclusion. I got just enough of Mazza during this tale to make me miss him—even though he spells trouble when he is around.

With things still a little “hot” in London Charlie skips town for a bit and holes up in a remote Northumbrian cottage in the heart of the English countryside. He hopes to get some down time, come to terms with some recent dark choices and deadly results, and hopes to get back to painting and the quiet life.

Charlie is out of his element away from London and not really sure what to make of these bare open spaces and oddly enough this shows in the writing as well as it is done in a style more reminiscent of Skewered than it is of Pennies. But the writing suits the tone of this book perfectly as Charlie is trying to take a step back returning to his paintings and his former resolve for a straighter life.

No such luck for Charlie, however, as he soon finds himself enveloped in his nearest neighbors troubles who are also newcomers to the area.  I am pleased to report that we are again treated to a dark tale with a bit of a paranormal twist. 

This time around it comes in the form of an violent, twisted family ruled over by the patriarchal grandfather who still “worships” in the old way by sipping on a devil’s brew, and making sacrifices to the horned one. He thrives on manipulating his family and during the course of this we are treated to any number of evil repulsive family doings, which ends up making this book even darker than Pennies.

A green-eyed black cat turns up at Charlie’s front door and quickly takes up residence—a beautiful creature who is perhaps more than she seems. He even manages to sneak in a bit of painting in between hitting the pub and dealing with the locals.  We definitely see a different side to Charlie.

It is hard to find fault with a story that kept me glued to the page and finishing it after a couple reads. This outing is also a little more steamy as Charlie spends some time hitting the sheets.

I am appreciative of authors who write scenes with authenticity as we see here when Mazza helps Charlie prepare for a lengthy surveillance detail. This book is not without its wee bits of humor and that is certainly welcome relief in such a brutal story.

Mr. Jones sure does know his way around writing action scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat and this novel does not disappoint.

 I hope this is not a spoiler but I cannot resist this comment.  Be forewarned.

 Mr. Jones introduces a romantic interest for Charlie in the form of Ellie Bashir, the woman who accounts as the sole form of law enforcement in this neck of the woods. She is one bad ass lady and provided of course that she survives her time with Charlie I would definitely read more about her, she has great main character potential, and she more than merits a stand alone of her own.

 I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to get started on The Gingerbread Houses.

  Pennies for Charon: A Charlie Bars Thriller (The Charlie Bars Thriller Series Book 1) by Benedict J. Jones

I was contacted by Crime Wave Press asking if I would interested in reading The Gingerbread Houses by Benedict J. Jones which has just been released. This title will make the third suspense noir thriller featuring Charlie “Bars” Constantinou. As I like to start a series at the beginning I asked and received a digital copy of his first stand alone Charlie Bars thriller  (Pennies for Charon) compliments of Crime Waves Press in exchange for an honest review.

After finishing Pennies for Charon I dug a little deeper into Charlie’s past by reading Skewered and Other London Cruelties as he is introduced as a character in the novella Skewered and is featured in 2 of the other shorts. I left a review for this book also.

When we first meet Charlie in Skewered he was newly out from his 3rd stint in prison, struggling to ride the straight and narrow, and nurturing his fledgling art career.  At the start of Pennies for Charon we see him with a new career but back to drinking, hanging in bars, and his painting projects languish unfinished off in the corner. He is oozing more into the gray every day.

This noir tale opens with Charlie and Mazza as partners now in a somewhat shady Private Investigation firm. What starts as a simple missing person case quickly turns into something much darker. A demon obsessed serial killer who wears pink socks, Ouija boards,  and a new rich barrister client that turns out to be just as suspicious of Charlie as Charlie is of him.

Charlie is fleshed even more as we meet his family, and an old flame/ working girl Lena. The suspense and the violence build steadily throughout the story and Charlie definitely takes a darker turn. The theme also continues…with a business partner/friend like Mazza who needs enemies, although after reading Skewered I understand more of his motive.

Benedict J. Jones has tightened up his writing in Pennies for Charon with the use of swift spare prose, with just enough gritty London-isms to give character and grit. If you like your noir with a little twist of the paranormal then you are in the right hands. Mr. Jones provides a great read and his writing just continues to get better.

Time to spark a Benson and take a bite out of The Devil’s Brew.

 Skewered: And Other London Cruelties by Benedict J. Jones

 

I bought this collection of shorts after I read Pennies for Charon, the first stand alone Charlie “Bars” Constantinou  and wanted to know more.

You first meet Charlie Bars in this dark, bleak and brutal story collection. Fresh out of his 3rd stint in prison and working in his Uncle’s kebab shop he appears as the anti-hero in 3 of the tales. He is trying to make a go of the straight and narrow but quickly falls back into gray.

Charlie Bars is a gangster who is good at solving problems and finding people, the author is still wonderfully vague at filling in Charlie’s gangster past. Providing just enough detail to make him an intriguing character. We meet Mazza and witness the formation of their PI business.

He has bad luck with women, his cases often take unexpected bad turns, and with “friends” like Mazza who needs enemies.

He is Noir perfection as I never quite know whether he is basically a good guy who occasionally does some really bad things or if he is basically a bad guy who occasionally does some really good things. Just like I like it.

Skewered and the two other shorts that feature Charlie sees Benedict J. Jones fleshing this character out and this collection shows an author who is honing his craft. The writing is great here and even better in Pennies for Charon.

I went in thinking I would just read the “Charlie Bars” stories but quickly demolished the whole book. I liked the occasional paranormal twists and some of shorts featured out of the box shockers.

Now for a cup of Devil’s Brew!


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Hi! I'm Debbie. Here at Categorically Well-Read I give an extra layer to the reading life. Learn more about me, check out my current category of books, submit your own suggestion, or check out my latest post.