Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Yoshida, Shuichi: Villain

A young woman is murdered on a remote mountain road.   this act is use by the writer to display a number of related stories about the woman, her family and friends, their lovers and their relatives.
A review quoted on the cover says the author has been compared with Stieg Larsson and that the
novel covers all levels of Japanese society.   I think neither remark is correct.   What makes Larsson
so good is the strength with which Lisbeth Salander is portrayed throughout the trilogy whereas none
of the characters in 'Villain' have anywhere near that impact.   The book also limits itself to working
class characters with only one exception, the man suspected of being the killer.   The main male is
a labourer in his uncle's building firm, the dead woman is a part-time whore and the main female a
saleswoman in a department store.   The other characters are either related to the main characters or
have some interaction with them.   Within each long chapter there are a number of shorter changes
of viewpoint to provide links between characters though a few of them remain unclear.   Overall,
this variation does help provide a rather more rounded picture without really providing any great
depth of characterisation.   I did not find it 'a superlative crime novel with intriguing twists' (Sunday
Times' as the killer's identity becomes obvious wuite early on nor did I think it was 'a gripping
psychological thriller' (Financial Times).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fowler, Christopher: Nyctophobia

A first person narrative of a woman whose life has been damaged by psychological problems with
particular reference to fear of the dark.   She meets and falls in love with an older Spanish wine
executive whose charm and sophistication are such that they marry.   They find a rather strange
mansion inland from Marbella which both of them like so he buys it as the family home   With the
house they inherit a housekeeper, the third generation of her family to have the position, and a
gardener/handyman.   They settle in with his daughter and life appears fine until the narrator starts
having visions.   The line between reality and the actual becomes blurred in what develops into a
literally haunted house story.   Obviously, this is far removed from the Bryant and May books for
which Fowler is best known and it reads differently to his earlier horror stories.   This is a more
subtle approach while still being a chilling tale.    Perhaps because my reading was more than a
little interrupted (I started the book before but finished it after the two previously reviewed novel), I
found it well-written but not as involving as I at first thought it would be.

Frightfest 2016

This year's Frightfest was moved to Shepherd's Bush as the Vue Leicester Square is being refurbished.   This was one of the reasons we did not buy a Festival Pass or even a Day Pass
but only three single tickets since the journey time there and back was almost doubled.   Our
choices from the programme turned out to be anything but the best.   In reverse order of quality
the final film was 'The Director's Cut' which was described as 'The cleverest, funniest, sharpest
most Meta horror ever'.   Penn Jillette and Missy Pyle starred in this abortion which was neither
clever, funny or sharp.   The amateurish direction by Adam Ritkin was matched by the appalling
acting from which none emerge with any credit.    If the film was meant to be a satire, it failed
as there was no sharpness and no target unless it was the ever-growing number of 'reality shows'
on TV.   A complete waste of our time and energy with the only plus being the light meal we had
at Search's at St Pancras on the way home!   The middle film both in time and quality was 'The
Master Cleanse' to which we were attracted by the cast - Angelica Houston, Oliver Platt and Anna
Friel with Johnny Galecki who is in 'The Big Bang Theory' a TV serial.   The plot is that the latter
two and others are selected to go on a spiritual retreat run by Platt and Houston in order to bring
vitality back into their lives.   Needless to say, things do not work out as they should but the slow
development fails to create any tension and I would think that none of the leads will want to be
reminded of their part in this film - Houston and Platt in particular mailed in their performances.
The first film seen 'They Call Me Jeeg Robot' was far and away the best of the three and may well
have been the best film of the whole weekend.   A small time crook, Claudio Sanataria, is being
chased as the film opens but escapes by hiding in a contaminated River Tiber.   This gives him
superpowers, not at first obvious, as he continues his life of petty crime while becoming involved with the daughter, Ilenia Pastorali, of a fellow crook who is killed in a drug deal gone sour.   The
girl is several slices short of a loaf of bread (possibly ongoing trauma after her mother's death) and
she relates everything to a Japanese TV anime 'Jeeg Robot' which has her mentally transforming
those around her into characters from the series.   The hero's aim is to deal with the psychotic crook
responsible for the drug deal failure with the latter also acquiring superpowers in the same way.   He
intends to cause chaos in Rome by exploding a bomb at a major soccer match but is thwarted by our
hero who ends the film standing guard over the Eternal City.   Oh, if only the other two had been
half as good as this one.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Camilleri, Andrea: Angelica's Smile

Montalbano finds himself investigating a series of burglaries involving the elite of Vigata.   There
are a number of details in common which make it obvious that all the burglaries are the work of
a single team.   During the course of his investigation he becomes involved with Angelica, a younger
beauty who effectively seduces him.   One thing that I did find annoying in the book is the way in
which Catarella's inability to get facts and names correct is shown.   This is something one is well
award of in the TV adaptations but it seems overdone here - 'Chief, promise ya won't get upset if I tell
yiz I dunno wha'ss a grieve party?' in response to Montalbano's 'The aggrieved party'.  I assume the
Italian TV has Catarella using a coarse accent than the others but the mispronunciation of names is
surely sufficient to convey his character.   This did detract from my enjoyment of the book which
was otherwise up to the usual standard.

Tracy, P.J.: Two Evils

The authors' usual detectives Gino and Magozzi find themselves dealing with a series of killings in
the Somali area of Minneapolis.   At the same time, Grace McBride, on a yacht owned by her ex-FBI
agent friend, has killed two intruders who had come to kill them.   The two strands inevitably come
together.   In the Minneapolis killings, an ex-soldier dying of cancer is found shot with two local
crooks and this sends the two detectives to the north of the state to interview the man's friends with
whom he had been staying.   They, too, are ex-Army, one of them now the Police Chief on a Native
Reservation.   The denouement takes place in the latter's area.   While up to the standards of the
earlier novels of this mother and daughter pair, the underlying concept is a little hard to take even
in the current climate.   This, however, did not distract from the overall enjoyment of the book.

Vargas, Fred: Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand

Featuring Commissaire Adamsberg, the story covers many years with murders dating back to 1943.
The murders have all been 'solved' with suspects being obvious.   One was Adamsberg's own brother
who escaped because of the false alibi Adamsberg provided.   He is convinced the real killer was a
highly respected Judge Fulgence but he could not prove it.   A new murder arouses Adamsberg's
interest as the method replicates that of the earlier killings but he learns that Fulgence has died and
been buried some time previously.   Adamsberg and his team go to Canada to learn new techniques
from the Canadian police.   While there, he has a brief affair with a young woman who is then found
murdered after the French detectives have returned to Paris.   Adams berg agrees to return to Canada
with a colleague who is actually meant to watch him.   Needless to say, after some adventures the
truth comes out.   The complex plot is very well handled and the various events are plausible even
when seemingly far-fetched.   The book definitely consolidates the deservedly high reputation that
Vargas enjoys.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cadigan, Pat (Editor): The Ultimate Cyberpunk


A series of stories covering the development of this strand of science fiction from Alfred Bester and
Philip Dick to William Gibson, generally looked on as the founder of cyberpunk, and later writers.
The collection was published in 2002 so it has taken me a long time to read it.   By and large, I do not
see much difference between the tales here and other sf books apart from the solid technically based
ones where the scientific advances held centre stage.   The individual stories vary in length and also
readability as far as I am concerned.   If I had to pick one only I would select "Green Days in Brunei'
by Bruce Sterling.

Shimada, Soji: Tokyo Zodiac Murder

A rather strange murder mystery which is told mainly in retrospect.   A celebrated artist who lived with seven women, his wife and daughters, is found murdered in a locked room.   None of the women
are in evidence but there is, amongst his writings, a declaration of intent to kill them according to a
mystic astrological pattern   Their bodies are found in the locations indicated over an extended period
as some are more deeply buried than others.   All this is historical with there being two mysteries which have led to a considerable literature - the first is the locked-room mystery and the second is
the murders of the women as the artist was already dead before they were killed.    The locked room
mystery is relatively easy to explain but solving the other murders takes time.  The narrator has an
astrologer friend who eventually works out what really happened.   This interplay between the
two is one of the standard approaches - Holmes and Watson et al. - and it works effectively here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Higashino, Keigo; Malice

A best-selling novelist is found dead in his locked study inside his locked house the day before he and
his wife were due to leave Tokyo for Vancouver.   The wife has a solid alibi as does Nonoguchi, the
dead man's best friend, who had visited him the evening before.   The detective investigating the case,
Kyochiro Kaga, knows Nonoguchi from the time when both were teachers.   He finds the latter's
statement does not quite fit and finds evidence linking him with the murder.   Nonoguchi confesses
and writes an extended statement in which he claims to have been the originator of the dead man's
success as he was blackmailed into writing the novels on which this success rests.   The blackmail is
the result of his being caught trying to murder Hidaka, the dead man, years earlier so that he could
continue an affair with Hidaka's wife.   She has been dead for a few years.the widow being from a
second marriage.   The opening chapters alternate between Nonoguchi's story and confession and
Saga's investigation, the latter continuing after the confession because he does not accept the
murderer's motivation as stated.   The story flows easily despite the changing viewpoints until the
closing chapters when the true situation is elegantly revealed.   I picked this novel up with two more
by the same author at a considerable discount even though they are recently printed.   On the basis
of this book, a very worthwhile purchase.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stress, Charles: Glasshouse

Set well into the future when interstellar travel is a matter of teleporting, this is a thriller of sorts with
the lead actor initially trying to find out who is trying to kill him.   He agrees to join an experimental
social programme only to wake up as a woman married to someone who eventually turns out to be the woman he loves (don't ask).   The novel is heavier going than other novels I have read by this
author but, fortunately, not all the time.   Several chapters move along concisely and the book did
keep me interested though I found the later chapters something of an add-on, almost as if they had
been transposed from a different tale - or that there were some missing chapters somewhere.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Boileau, Pierre & Narcejac, Thomas: Vertigo (D'entre les morts)

First published in 1954 apparently with Hitchcock in mind, this thriller is the 'book of the film' if you
ignore the differences.   The collaboration between the two had Boileau producing the elaborate plots
and Narcejac the character details.   In this case, the story is set at the outbreak of World War 2 in
Paris and surroundings and continued after the end of the war in Paris and Marseilles whereas the film is set after World War 2 completely with a somewhat shorter gap between the two parts, the film
action taking place in San Francisco and south of that city.   While the story is basically the same, there are differences - in the film, the hero has an ongoing friendship with a woman designer/painter
who is not in the novel, there is no coroner's scene and the ending is different.   Our authors set up the plot concisely with the hero engaged by a former college friend to watch his wife who exhibits some
odd habits.   He follows her discreetly until she falls or jumps into the Seine for him to rescue her and
become her friend and confidant.   So far, location apart, book and film are the same but the film does
have him demonstrating his love while the book has him announce it but no more.  Madeleine, the
wife, seems possessed by the spirit of an ancestor who killed herself and she, too, does this by falling
from a church tower.   Here book and film differ - in both, the hero flees the scene but this is the end of it in the book whilst in the film he is berated by the coroner for his behaviour.   After some time in
the film with no idea of how much, he sees a look-alike in the street whilst the book has him see the
look-alike in a newsreel.   He finds or follows her and becomes her lover (book/film differences are
irrelevant) but is still trying to put the past behind him.   In the book, ill health has led to their moving
south to Marseilles where she confesses to him that she was Madelaine helping his former friend to
murder his wife, the latter's being the body that was discovered at the foot of the tower.   Following this he strangles her and the book ends.   In the film we see the murder before the end with the hero
who has by now transformed her appearance to that of Madelaine, working out what may have happened when seeing her put on the same necklace the original had worn.   He takes her back to the
tower and forces her up to the top where they are suddenly disturbed by a nun whose appearance leads her to fall to her death.   The book is much tauter and satisfying than the film which is spoilt
by the reveal before the end of what did happen.   While the film is considered by many to be Hitchcock's masterpiece, it is decidedly flawed - far too many shots of one car following another
around San Francisco, the give-away of what happened before the end in particular.   The novel does
hold up well despite its age and I am encouraged to find a second reprint, this time of a Henri Clout
film adaptation, to see how this compares.   Full marks to the authors but not to the film-maker.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Lansdale, Joe R: Lost Echoes

Harry Wilkes has visions following a childhood illness.   They are formed when he is in places that
have seen murder performed.   While in college, he has perfected the routes he takes to avoid seeing
any of these but is then taken up by the local rich man's gorgeous daughter.   This rather unnecessary
episode comes to an end when she takes him a hideaway on the family estate where he has a vision
of a man's death while holding her - tightly enough to bruise her.   She rejects him, though her actions
were a ploy to make someone else jealous, her father has him beaten up and he starts drinking heavily
until one evening when he sees an elderly drunk beat three muggers.   The drunk befriends him and
agrees to teach him martial arts, get off the booze and, hopefully, tame the visions.   His childhood
girlfriend who had moved away has now become a member of the local police force and she asks him
to help her find out what really happened to her father, also a policemen, who apparently had killed
himself.   The outcome is that he was killed by the current police chief as he intended exposing the
latter's killings, one of which being the one Harry saw with the rich girl friend.   The episodes with
the rich girl do not really add to the story which ends up as a straightforward (more or less) thriller
with the inevitable happy ending.   Readable but not anything special.

Fowler, Christopher: Bryant and May on the Loose

The Peculiar Crimes Unit are given a week to solve the mystery of a dead body found in a freezer in a
shop freezer.   Then another is unearthed in work on a property development behind King's Cross
Station.   This book precedes the one I commented on last May and is, to my mind, a much better book.   The esoterica about London somewhat fits in better and the plot is rather more tightly put
together.   There is a sparkle in the writing which I found somewhat missing in the later book
'Bryant and May off the Rails'.   Overall, much more enjoyable.

Edugyan, Esi: Half Blood Blues

A rather strange story about a jazz group in the 1930s which starts with their playing in Berlin. as the
Nazis consolidate their power.   They leave Berlin and go to Hamburg, a brief interlude, where they are helped to leave the country by the father of one of them whose connections allow him to do this.
While some stay behind, the rest finish up in Paris which is then occupied by the Germans.    While in Paris they meet up with and intend to cut a record with Louis Armstrong but this does not happen.  
They make arrangements to leave but the narrator of the story deliberately hides the visa that has been obtained for the young black German trumpeter who is arrested and deported back to Germany.
This is all related in extended flashbacks while the two Americans, now elderly, are on their way to
Berlin for a tribute concert.   Once this is over, they seek out their former colleague who lives in
Poland and the narrator confesses what he did.  End of story.   Reasonably written and presumably a
cautionary tale of the effects of envy and jealousy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

10th London Korean Film Festival


'Miss Granny' is a comedy in which an opinionated elderly woman living with her son overhears
him and his wife talking of putting her in a home.   She decides to have a photo taken for her burial
but this changes her into a young woman in her twenties while keeping the knowledge and experience she has.   She goes to the seniors' day centre where she had been working and sings.
this is overheard by a TV producer on whose talent show she appears to become a success.   She does eventually revert to her proper self.   Well-performed with a number of very amusing incidents, I can understand why this was a big hit in Korea.
'Masquerade' is a historical drama.   The king who wants to bring in a land tax against the wishes of
his advisers and nobles is afraid he will be assassinated.   He has his personal advisers find a look-alike to take his place when he wants to leave the place for sex with one of his mistresses.   A double is found who needs a lot of tutoring in the way to behave with the added complication that the king
falls ill - he is being drugged by his mistress - so the double becomes a full-time substitute.   The
early scenes where the double is learning what he should and should not do lead to several very funny
moments (one girl in the cinema audience was laughing almost non-stop).  It turns out that the king
has to excrete in front of servants who are there to wipe him and to collect his stools for analysis
which seems to include not only examining and weighing but also ...tasting.   The double's reaction
to this is hilarious.    His first meal is tempting enough for him to eat it all without knowing that the kitchen staff are allowed only to cook for him and rely on the left-overs to feed themselves; so the next night he eats only one dish to their delight.   The official taster is a young girl (actually the lead from 'Miss Granny') with whom he develops an unspoken and unconsummated affection.   When the captain of his personal guard suspects he is not the real king he confronts him while with the queen but he is able to convince the captain that he is the real king.   The film does turn serious when the taster is bullied into poisoning his food though she deliberately eats it herself and dies.   With the senior ministers against him, they learn that he is an imposter and march on the palace to kill him.   The adviser who has been tutoring him is, however, able to get the real king, now recovered, back in time which leads to the arrest of the conspirators.   However, the king wants his double killed but the guard captain does not do this but tells him to flee.   With other troops also sent to kill him, the captain stops them and kills them but is himself killed.   The scene is, together with the death of the
food taster a strong contrast to the rest of the film.   The final scene is one where the imposter is on a ship setting out with his tutor watching.   Even with the change of tone towards the end which is unusual as most of this sort of film end 'happily ever after' so to speak, the film is well-paced, lavishly costumed and well-acted.
'A Swordsman in the Twilight'   was one of the historic films, being over 50 years old and, according
to the programme, a classic.   Telling the story of a traveller who kills one guard of a pair who harass
him before taking shelter in a nearby village where he takes a senior government official hostage, the
story is in interrupted flashback.   The swordsman has objected to the treatment of the queen following the king's replacement so is considered a traitor and becomes an outcast.   His elder brother
will not help him but a friend takes in his wife and child.   After some fights in which he kills most of
those sent to capture him, he surrenders because his family have been seized.   Offered his freedom if
he will shoot five arrows into a portrait of the queen (there is some shamanic reason for this), he does
so but is then shown that he has killed his wife and child who were behind the portrait.   Yet again he
escapes despite the numbers against him.   The climax comes when he has finished telling the hostage
all this to find himself surrounded, this time by troops with guns (though I thought the story was set
in the pre-Christian era though this might be a subtitle error).  He is wounded but the government
official stops what is happening and orders the final sword fight between the swordsman and the
leader of those chasing him.   He wins and is seen leaving the village alone.   Although there was an
apology for the print, there seemed to be no depth of focus used - characters were either in focus at
the front of the action or increasingly blurred behind.   Catalogued as a 10 minute film, it actually
ran around 75 minutes or so which was a blessing in disguise as the action sequences looked very
amateurish and the acting overall rather poor.