Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fowler, Christoper: Bryant and May London's Glory

A series of short stories featuring the eponymous detectives is prefaced by the author's
comments on earlier detective novels and rounded off by comments on the Bryant and
May books to date with an indication of the inspirational source.   The individual
stories are all in the same vein as the full length novels with esoteric facts about London
and unsual settings and methods of killing.   People are killed in locked rooms, in
the centre of snow-covered fields with no tracks except the victim's, with some very
unusual ways of causing death involved.   Despite the unsavoury subject of murder,
the stories, like the novels, have a lightness of touch which is, in no small part, a
reflection of the pair and their interaction with each other.   The short stories are an
excellent introduction to the novels providing a feast of enjoyment.

Brekke, Jorgen: Where Evil Lies

The opening of this novel is set in 16th century Bergen to where an Italian monk
has travelled to collect a set of scalpels.   The scene changes to contemporary
Richmond, Virginia, where the curator of the EdgarAllan Poe Museum is found
dead.   He had been flayed with this being the primary cause of death.   At about
the same time in Trondheim, a retiring university librarian is discovered in the
locked inner area of the library similarly killed.   A celebrated manuscript, the
Book of John, bound in human skin, is missing and suspicion falls on a security
guard at the library.   Th case is given to Odd Singsaker, who has just returned
to work following a serious operation.   The similarity of the two cases is soon
recognised and Felicia Stone, a detective from Richmond, flies to Norway to
check if there is any link.
There are some chapters which return to the past without really adding to the
core of the present-day investigation.   There is a new librarian who is under
suspicion briefly because she had access to the inner area without her presence
really adding much except as a diversion.   Where the Norwegian detective is
flawed by memory loss, the American one has a relationship problem caused
by her having been raped on her Senior Prom night.   The two of them are,
however, attracted to each other.   The investigation proceeds, as seems to be
the case in most thrillers, in fits and starts but with a fair degree of realism.
The unusual, to British readers, settings add to the pleasure of this well-
constructed thriller.  While, for once, I worked out who the villain was before
his exposure the denouement was somewhat unexpected.
Overall, very enjoyable

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Kerr, Philip: If The Dead Rise Not

The novel is in two parts, the first and longer set in Berlin, 1934, during the build-up to the
1936 Olympics and the second in pre-Castro Cuba in 1954.   Bernie Gunther, Kerr's main
protagonist, has left the police and is now house detective at the Adlon Hotel.   In the course
of checking out a murder in the hotel, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful American
journalist, Noreen and crosses paths with a Chicago gangster who is involved with Nazis
and the building of the Olympic stadium.   The girlfriend is strongly anti-Naziand finds it
best to leave while declaring and demonstrating her love for Bernie.   The gangster, Max
Reles, threatens to kill the girl even though she has left but Bernie trades for her life at
the close of the first part.
In Cuba, Bernie has a different identity, Noreen is now married and wealthy and Max is one
of the gangsters enjoyinglife under Batista.   Bernie agrees to work for Max but he is killed
soon afterwards and Bernie is asked by Meyer Lansky to find the murderer quickly to stop
a gang war breaking out.   Bernie produces the killer who has committed suicide before
being revealed so everyone is happy.   The denouement does, however, produce the real
killer though not to the gang bosses.
The historical background appears accurate and Kerr is praised by reviewers for his close
attention to the nexessary details.   Possibly this is why the inclusion of historical figures
in both parts fits in without annoying.   Though, as ever, the book took me some time to
read, it progressed with ease and at no time did I have any problem in accepting that what
was written could well have happened, not only among the leading characters but also
among the many lesser ones whose appearance added colour to the tale.

Anthony, Piers: Pornucopia,

Best known as a writer of science fiction, this 'picaresque black comedy' presumably had some
appeal when I first read it over 12 years or more ago.   This time, even in short doses, I have
possibly managed to read less than a quarter before giving up for good.  Only completeness of
book reviewing justifies this entry.

Tower, Wells: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

The title is that of the final short story of nine by the author who, according to one critic, has
'sentences so good you want to cut them out and pin them to the wall'!!!   I have taken some
months to get through the stories, all of which are well written but none of which had me more
than mildly interested or impressed.   Since my reading these days is more than a little piecemeal,
as the times between reviews will show, possibly I have missed something.   however, I did not
find the collection any more inspiring than the works of most of the authors I have reviewed up to

Monday, June 19, 2017

Fowler, Christopher: Bryant and May The Bleeding Heart

Again, I am reviewing some time after the reading of this, the most recent Bryant and May novel
I have read.   The Peculiar Crimes Unit is now under the control of the City of London Police but
no more secure than it has been for many years.   This tale has two teenagers see a dead man arise
from his grave though the male teenager is killed shortly afterwards.   Graves are desecrated and
the case develops into an investigation of a local funeral director who provides the common link
between the graves.   Parallel to this, Bryant is also trying to find out why the ravens have left
the Tower.   With the usual plethora of local London knowledge providing the backdrop to the
investigations, the final solution does rely as much on instinct as it does on regular police work.
The end leaves Bryant and May looking at the Thames from the middle of Waterloo Bridge with
Bryant wrapping up the loose ends.   I did not find this quite as good as some of the recent
books in the series though it is still better than most of its kind.

Vargas, Fred: The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

I finished this excellent novel some time ago but have only just decided to review it.   The book
features Commissaire Adamsberg who is visited by a frightened woman who will speak to no-one
but him.   She tells him of a vision her daughter has had which, according to local legend, is a
forecast of death.   Shortly afterwards, a cruel, vicious man disappears and Adamsberg agrees
to investigate though rural Normandy is well outside his jurisdiction.   In the course of his
investigation, he meets and is befriended by an elderly lady who turns out to be the wife-to-be
of the local landed nobility.   She, too is attacked but does survive, thanks to Adamsberg's
solicitous behaviour.   He also meets and lusts after the daughter whose vision seems to be at
the heart of things as well as meeting her rather odd set of brothers.   As with all Vargas's books,
there are many twists and turns, a fair deal of esoteric information which just about relates to
the case, an almost irrelevant sub-plot, and, finally, a suitably exciting denouement.   It would
seem that Fred Vargas has few peers, if any, as she yet again produces a nonpareil novel.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lansdale, Joe R: The Thicket

A teenage boy is travelling with his younger sister and his grandfather to the latter's home after his
parents have died in a smallpox outbreak.   A ferry crossing has his grandfather shot by bandits,
his sister abducted and he nearly drowned.   He meets up with a midget and the son of a slave who
have a large hog with them.   He promises them his inheritance if they will help him get his sister
back even though he accepts she will have been raped and possibly even killed by her captors who
are a well-known bunch of evildoers.   The book follows the tracking down of the bad guys with a
fair amount of sidetracking including a lot of philosophising.   Jack, the young lad, loses his virginity
in a whorehouse while looking for one of the villains: the latter is caught, tortured and handed over
to the local sheriff.   The whore with Jack talks him into helping her escape the whorehouse which he
does and she joins up with him as does the sheriff when the villain escapes.   Lengthy but relatively
easy to read and wryly amusing at times, it seemed more diffuse than I recall other Lansdale books
having been but he does win a lot of awards whatever his style may be

Connolly John: The Lovers

Charlie Parker is a private eye who, in this book, is working in a country bar in Maine following
events detailed in earlier books.   He is haunted by what happened to his father who was a New York
policeman who killed himself having inexplicably shot two teenagers.   This book tells of Parker's
search for the truth behind the events.   In what I felt was an overlong telling, he becomes involved
in supernatural events as well as uncovering unsavoury details of the past involving his father's
colleagues.   It all sort of hung together but was not that easy a read and I may not read the other
books I have by the same author.

London Korean Film Festival 3 to 17 November 2016.

Having enjoyed some of the films in previous year's festivals, I was looking forward to this year's
offerings though making a selection was not easy.
The Last Princess seen on 9 November is based on the true story of the last princess of Korea who
was sent as a child to Japan which had just annexed Korea.   Although she is promised a return
visit to see her family she is effectively held captive and eventually married to a Japanese prince.
Meeting a childhood friend with whom she falls in love she tries, with the help of him and his
friends, to escape but the Korean general who took her to Japan and has become all but Japanese
thwarts their plans.   Even when World War II ends, her return is refused and she grows old in
exile until she is finally allowed to return to Seoul to be greeted by her former servants and friends.
A solid, well-acted film with a strong emotional end.
A Fish seen on 11 November in 'homemade' 3D has a troubled professor looking for his wife.   He
hires a psychotic private detective who traces her to an island where she is training to be a shaman.
A number of disconnected episodes follow in what is decidedly one of the odder films I have seen
for a long time.
Alone came the next day and was also directed by Park Hong-min whose 3D film we had seen the
previous day.   Set in the labyrinthine back streets of one of the older districts of Seoul, the lead is
a photographer who sees a murder take place across the rooftops but he is spotted and chased to
escape eventually winding up naked in an alleyway.   The rest of the film has him wandering around
while trying to piece together what has happened to him.   He meets the same people, including a
young boy who may or may not be himself, more than once is what is well-photographed but rather
a disappointing film.

London East Asia Film Festival: 20-30 October 2016

As the dates above show, it has taken quite some time for me to review the films seen - in part
through not feeling too well after a failed operation but mainly through being distracted.
Curtain Call seen on 23 October tells of a rubbishy theatre group performing semi-pornographic
farce whose theatre is about to close.   The director decides they should end with something good
and enters them into a competition in which they will perform 'Hamlet'.   An outside is cast in
the lead role but takes little part in rehearsals which he considers beneath him.   Come the day,
the performance is something of a disaster with forgotten lines, missed entries and the leading
man walking out.   A sub-plot involves the actress playing Gertrude and her daughter with the
latter dutifully turning up to see the play together with her friends.   The ensemble cast produce
a highly enjoyable film which has a happy ending after much laughter.   I do not recall which
of us chose this but it was more than worth the effort of getting to the ICA on a Sunday morning.
Karaoke Crazies seen on 29 October is set in a karaoke club in a small town.   It has seen better
days and has few customers.   The owner and sole occupant takes on a completely unsuitable
girl assistant who is tone deaf but does help business along by giving blowjobs to customers.
They are joined by a live-wire helper who claims to be a specialist in reviving businesses.   Here
she uses her good looks and provocative clothing to entice custom by promising but not giving.
A fourth occupant is a defeated fat young man who has effectively hidden in the building before
being noticed.   The four gradually form a sort of family at a time when a serial killer is on
the loose attacking women who entertain in some way.   A rather strange film which was not
what I was expecting but it has style and a certain charm.   Again, the ending is a happy one.
The films were part of the first ever festival of this name and I will definitely look out for the
event later this year.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Carrell, J.L.: The Shakespeare Secret.

A young American academic has left her career to become a noted theatre director.   While rehearsing
at Shakespeare's Globe in London, her former mentor and professor turns up and is murdered.   The
theatre is set on fire and Kate Stanley is in danger from the mysterious assassin.   She is helped by a
theatrical knigh who was due to play Hamlet's Fatherin her new production and by a very capable
retured soldier who is the murdered woman's nephew.   The plot is very involved and the action moves to Boston, Washington D.C., Idaho, New Mexico and back to England where both Wilton House and Stratford upon Avon feature before the denouement back in the USA.   A number of other
characters feature and for much of the book it is hard to tell who are good, apart from those who are
murdered along the way, and those who are bad.   The narrative is interspersed with chapters set in
the reign of James I which enhances the mystery of who wants waht and why.   A mixture of learned
exposition, sometimes perhaps too much, and fast-moving action, this is an unusual thriller which I
found quite gripping.

Camilleri, Andrea: Hunting Season

Having enjoyed previous books by Camilleri featuring Inspector Montalbano, I saw this and bought
it without reading the blurb.   While the book is set in Vigata, the year is 1880.   A young man returns
to the town to set up a pharmacy following in the footsteps of his father whose home-grown remedies
were legendary before his murder many years ago.   He soon finds himself involved with he local
nobility including the daughter of Don Filippo, the local marchesa, whom he had seen before his
exile.   Then people start to die until the final chapter when all is explained.   Something of a romp
but fitting well into what might be the earlier history of this Sicilian town.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Carroll, Jonathan: Voice of Our Shadow

Haunted by the death of his brother, Joe Lennox moves to Vienna where he meets a charismatic
couple, Paul and India Tate.   She is an artist and he is a brilliant magician; they spend more and
more time again and Joe falls in love with India.   This love is returned and, eventually, Paul
finds out and kills himself.   However, as time passes, Paul reappears to haunt the couple in various
ways which ends with India going back to him.   The book is a mixture of the everyday life of
friends and betrayal mixed with the supernatural which is to be expected from Mr Carroll.   It is
all believable even when what happens is not really possible though one is left with the distinct
thought that it might be.   Even Joe's attempt to break with India and lead a normal life with
another woman fits as does his return to Vienna and the final scary climax.

Friday, November 11, 2016

London Film Festival 2016

A Journey Through French Cinema: Bertrand Tavernier
A lengthy but very interesting personal recall of Tavernier's experiences in film from his childhood film-going in the 1930s to his involvement in the Nouvelle Vague of the late 1950s and 1960s.   With
an obvious enthusiasm and delight, he recalls not only the earlier days but also his experiences with
such luminaries as Godard and Becker,   Some of the pre-war directors were unknown to me but this
documentary will encourage me to look out for them.   The closing credits indicate that there will be
a sequel bringing Tavernier's thoughts closer to the present day.
La La Land: Damien Chazelle
Emme Stone plays an aspiring actress whose first encounter with Ryan Gosling who wants to play
jazz while working in his family restaurant is a brief bad-tempered exchange in a traffic jam   The
jam provides the backdrop for a musical item reminiscent of the street scene in 'Fame' though the
programme notes claim 'West Side Story' as the inspiration.   Eventually they meet again, fall in love
with musical accompaniment.   She achieves success while he is still on the verge of it: they break
up when he goes on tour as she becomes a big star, marries and has a child.   They meet again some
years leter and there is a sweet 'what might have been sequence' before the film ends with their going
separate ways.   Very highly hyped and one of the big Festival films which I thought was pleasant
enough and quite well made but nothing special.
Mascots: Christopher Guest.
With the same approach as his other films, this is an affectionate look at the world of live mascots -
the human representations of team mascots who come together in the 8th World Mascot Association
Champio nships.   With short background introductions to many of the competitors, Guest takes them
through their performances mainly with hilarity but occasional melancholy.   Not up to his best but
a pleasant hour and a half.
Interchange: Dain Iskander
A Malaysian/Indonesian supernatural thriller takes a cursed tribe in Borneo photographed some 100
years eralier placing the working out of the curse in the present day.   A forensic photographer is asked to investigate but he becomes involved with a very attratcive neighbour who truns out to be a
descendant of the tribe.   There are two inter-changeable policemen involved but their frenetic efforts
are all but laughable.   The film finally leaves our reality behind - while lovingly photographed, it
just did not appeal all that much.
The Wailing: Na Hong Jin.
Another supernatural thriller, this time Korean.   A series of killings appear to be linked to a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods outside the town.   The local policeman investigates but
is out of his depth and he calls in a shaman to exorcise his daughter who seems to be under the spell
of the Japanese man.   The ritual is slightly comical and is anything but successful since it unleashes
the demonic forces at work.   The ending seems very confused but the overall impression was a
positive one.
Lost In Paris: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon.
While not quite up to 'La Fee', the duo again display their eccentric and physical humour in the tale of
a naive librarian (Gordon) who comes to Paris to rescue her long last aunt (Emmanuelle Riva!).   She
loses her rucksack which Dom (Abel) finds and the comedy builds delightfully on this.   Their comic
timing is brilliant and has been compared to that of Jacques Tati but this is Tati on speed!
A Woman of the World: Malcom St Clair
This 1925 silent stars Pola Negri as a European aristocrat whose fiance is unfaithful to her.   She decides to go to the USA to visit her cousin who resides in Maple Valley, Iowa.   Needless to say,
her behavious does not go down well with the locals but, this being a comedy, all is well in the end.
A restored print of a rather minor film with mild humour and what, to present day eyes, is a rather
plump leading lady.
On the Milky Road: Emir Kusturica
The director appears in all three parts of the film which starts with him collecting and delivering milk
during, presumably, the Yugoslav civil war.  He then has a passionate affair with Monica Bellucci
which does not end well before, in the final sequence, playing a priest collecting and laying out stones
in the middle of a minefield.   Elements of fantasy contrast with the brutality of war in a film which
can only be described by one word - Kusturican - such is the singularity of his story-telling.
Summing up our experience of the Festival I found it better than in some years while not outstanding
though the first and last reviews are of, for me, the stand-out films