Review from Badelynge Michelle Paver's Dark Matter is a chillingly accomplished ghost story that takes place in the dark isolation of a snowbound base-Review from Badelynge Michelle Paver's Dark Matter is a chillingly accomplished ghost story that takes place in the dark isolation of a snowbound base-camp of a small but ambitious scientific expedition, as the long dark night of an Arctic Winter sets in. The year is 1937. Unbeknown to the youthful group, their new home already has a black history and a reputation that makes the hardened seamen and trappers of the region reluctant to even speak of it. Paver's love of the Arctic, first hand knowledge and experience of the region shine through the narrative. When A.C.Doyle wrote classic's like The Captain Of The Polestar, his experiences on Arctic Whalers' fueled the authentic tone and similarly Algernon Blackwood's tales of isolation and fear drew on his extensive trekking through the various wild places.There is an art to writing a good ghost story and one of the absolutes is in the appearance of authenticity. If the reader can't forget that the story is a fiction then the story loses its power. Paver certainly succeeds in that regard. Jack is well realised character, that I had no problem investing my interest in along with his horrific travails. The narrative is in the form of a journal by the expedition's newest member and here again Paver excels in the form, using a journal's natural economy to provide ambiguity when needed but also to ride closely the mental battle taking place as our faithful scribe Jack details the occurrences. I've read other similar types of story that have been ridiculously large tomes, supposedly the diary of a few weeks stretched out to 700 page monstrosities, as if the narrator could possibly do the work that a professional author would have to chain themselves to the desk to achieve. There is a sort of infectious anxiety that slowly builds as the days slowly advance and the ill-fated expedition goes from one set back to the next. The ambiguity I mentioned has nothing to do with questions of whether the haunting is real or imagined - take it from me - the place is Haunted as Hell, no rather I ascribe it to the visual descriptions of the more visceral episodes. The scenes are painted with as few strokes as possible, so that in true classic style the reader has room to draw on their own nightmare imagery. You could easily read Dark Matter in one sitting, though I spread it out over four. This is the sort of book you don't see too often these days, indeed you might be fooled into thinking it was written contemporaneously. Recommended. ...more
I was looking forward to reading this one because it hadn't been adapted for Kenneth Brannagh's Wallander TV series, which I've been a fan of. I suppoI was looking forward to reading this one because it hadn't been adapted for Kenneth Brannagh's Wallander TV series, which I've been a fan of. I suppose I should have wondered instead why they'd skipped it. This one starts off ok, with an intriguing mystery of suited men, dead of gunshot wounds, adrift in a dinghy. There's some interesting hangovers from Faceless Killers, not least Wallander's former confidant, the deceased detective Rydberg haunting his decision making. Mankell tries to establish two of the underused characters from the first book, Martinsson and Svedberg, and Wallander is having more health problems but before we can relax into the investigation he introduces a twist and Wallander ends up going solo for some extended cloak and daggering in Riga, Latvia. It's very much a book nailed into 1991, in that transitional period between the Baltic state's break with Russia and eventual adoption into the EU. Descriptively there's hardly anything beyond generic urban areas with brief statements of being in the countryside. Wallander voices Mankell's philosophical musings about national identity interspersed with dollops of canine symbolism. Let's face it Wallander isn't James Bond. In fact he's probably more in line with Michael Crawford's Condorman. I look forward to reading the next book in the series which hopefully will have Wallander, shouting at his subordinates, stuffing down cold pizza and struggling with his personal life in Sweden - where he belongs....more
The story begins.... hmmm, see that's the thing with this comic - I'm three words into this review and I've already lied to you. I'll try again. So badThe story begins.... hmmm, see that's the thing with this comic - I'm three words into this review and I've already lied to you. I'll try again. So bad things happen to the Locke family and the survivors move out to a creepy house on an island. Some of the issues focus on one of the kids in particular. They're all traumatised or changed in some way. I think I liked Bode the best. He's the youngest kid. The opening panel of this book shows a door. There's going to be a lot of doors in this book - it's one of the recurring archetypal symbols. So get used to the doors, and the locks, and the keys, and the reflections. Sometimes you get a comic where either the art or the script is carried by the other. That isn't the case here. Both are great. Joe Hill tells a twisty dark story with well formed characters, good pacing and plenty of mystery and suspense. And Gabriel Rodriguez is just brilliant. I love his use of perspective on this book. Forget limited focal range - there's often stuff going on in the foreground and the background and degrees in-between. I think his brain is hooked up to one of those swoopy camera boom things, trying to get the angle that is best for the shot. Take the opening panels for instance. We can see the two guys at the door are hiding knives and a gun but the panel from Nina Locke's perspective just shows two goofy guys standing half in the doorway. Nina is looking past them at their truck. Full page panel showing Nina's cottage in the background and the truck in the foreground. In the back of the truck is a blood stained tarp covering two bodies. We can see all that - Nina can't. Genius. Ok some of it is directed by Joe Hill (I've seen his original script) but Rodriguez really does a great job of turning his directions into vibrant visuals. You have to read these slow just to make sure you don't miss any of the little details. That butterfly worried me. I still haven't figured out what the hell it signifies. Tip for reading this book: Don't read it in one sitting. Like a lot of comic book series it wasn't designed to be read all at once. I'm not saying read it one issue a month like its initial publication but at least make it one issue per day. It's a good rule for any serialised comic book. Most of the people who are going to under appreciate this book are the folks who just read it all at once. Take the conclusion to the first issue. It really creeped me out. I was thinking about what had happened to Bode when he went through the doorway all night - I think I even dreamed about it. But if you're the impatient type who doesn't want to live with the characters for a while, puzzle out the mysteries and prolong the suspense, well go ahead and read it all at once - don't let me stop you....more
Review from Badelynge The Big Sleep is Raymond Chandler's debut novel published in 1939 and it's a corker featuring Chandler's now iconic hard boiled pReview from Badelynge The Big Sleep is Raymond Chandler's debut novel published in 1939 and it's a corker featuring Chandler's now iconic hard boiled private detective Philip Marlowe. It's filled with memorable characters; tough guys, wise guys, grifters and chancers all playing their roles in the tangled web of a plot. Although complex I really like how much of the detail in the book actually turns out to be connected with everything else. There is no hiding the answers behind piles of irrelevant and unconnected red herrings, which seems to be the the current template for quite a lot of contemporary paint by numbers crime fiction. As more details are discovered and things start to move, stirred by the relentless Marlowe, the picture starts to come together until all eventually becomes clear. Yes I admit, I have seen both film versions many times, though mostly I kept getting flashbacks from the more lurid and inferior 1970s Robert Mitchum version rather than the superior 1940s Humphrey Bogart version. Probably because that version, although set in the wrong country, had more license to depict the more brash and striking elements from the book. And I still haven't mentioned Chandler's colourful and witty similes which are rightly famous and endlessly imitated. Chandler's writing is so much better than the pulp genre it inhabits; there is real heart and emotion here if you persevere to the last page. So if you are stuck for a new detective novel why not give one of the old masters a try. Worked for me. ...more
Review from Badelynge Remember when vampires were still scary? Perhaps you don't. I should break out my copy of Salem's Lot to remind myself that theseReview from Badelynge Remember when vampires were still scary? Perhaps you don't. I should break out my copy of Salem's Lot to remind myself that these bloodsuckers used to be more than just pale possible boyfriends in the latest teen/vamp/rom. Stephen King is one half of the writing talent on duty for this tale of mostly very bad vampires in the wild west of the late 1800s and the movie making era of the 1920s. King's introduction to the book has a lot more to say about the current state of vampire fiction and he doesn't mince words. This is also the first time King has written for comics. I know many of his stories have have been adapted for the genre but always by usually established comic book writers. This time he does it himself, which means basically writing the dialogue (no problem there) and, in place of the narrative, describing the contents and layout of the panels so the artist knows what to draw. He does a pretty good job barring a little muddiness in the way the supporting cast find their places in the opening part of the story. This book holds the origin story of our hero Skinner Sweet as told by King. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word hero as this guy was a very bad man even before he became the first American vampire. Sweet is a good creation, a vampire who revels in his new powers, whose love interest doesn't get beyond a craving for blood and candy. He's brash, violent, cunning and relentless. Alongside King's story in each issue is a later story set in Los Angeles about an aspiring young actress doing extras work for silent movies, who runs afoul of a nest of old European vampires who have an unstable truce with the powerful new vamp on the block, Skinner Sweet. This story is ably written by series creator Scott Snyder. Rafael Albuquerque does the artistic honours brilliantly in both arcs which helps the stories stand together. Under both stories is a suggestion of a subtext about America and its emerging place amongst the old world order. The book features the first 5 issues and also includes an afterword by Scott Snyder, variant covers by various artists, samples of script instructions by King and Snyder and early concept art. Altogether a nice piece of work. Book two is out soon....more
Review from Badelynge As someone who has had a lifetime fascination with ghost stories and mythology I could hardly ignore the works of Algernon BlackwReview from Badelynge As someone who has had a lifetime fascination with ghost stories and mythology I could hardly ignore the works of Algernon Blackwood. If you have ever picked up one of the multitude of anthologies that profess to contain the best ghost stories it is a good bet that one, if not more, of Blackwood's tales will be included. The Willows was first published in 1907 and is not a ghost story. It is, however, a horror story. Blackwood was a great lover of the natural world and it shows in the elegant first person prose characterizing the elements as described by the unnamed narrator of this novella. Two men are attempting to canoe the entire course of the Danube (as Blackwood himself had done) until they are forced by high flood waters to take refuge on a tiny, crumbling, willow infested island. One of the men is the aforementioned narrator and the other is an initially phlegmatic Swede. Once settled on the shrinking island the two men are disturbed by several unsettling happenings. Blackwood is a master of maintaining an eerie atmosphere; no small feat over 80 or so pages. The narrative that began with such imaginative and beautiful imagery starts to deteriorate as the story teller finds himself trying desperately to rationalise and quantify his experiences. The reader is forced to work harder as the psychological aspects of the story push to the fore. The story works on many different levels and is ambiguous enough for the reader to draw his own conclusions or speculate on the nature of reality and whether knowledge of something is something to be feared more than the unknown. ...more
Review from Badelynge The heroine, and faithful scribe, of this tale is one Bessy Buckley, or so she introduces herself. She's a young Irish girl, runnReview from Badelynge The heroine, and faithful scribe, of this tale is one Bessy Buckley, or so she introduces herself. She's a young Irish girl, running away from a mother who has ruthlessly exploited her from an early age. She arrives at a ramshackle mansion, somewhere near Edinburgh, where she is taken on as a housemaid by the mistress of the house, Arabella Reid. The 'missus' as she calls her soon has young Bessy confused and bewildered by a succession of seemingly random and mostly pointless requests. And every night she must write an account of the day's events along with her inner thoughts. Despite all this Bessy develops a fierce loyalty for her mistress and then she finds out, by the chance discovery of Arabella's in-progress book 'The Observations', what the object of her devotions is really up to and tellingly what her opinions of Bessy are. What happens next is best left for the story to tell, but it is a fascinating read that weaves Bessy's dark past, the mysterious fate of her predecessor, Arabella's paragon of all house maids, Nora, and Arabella's own secrets into a startlingly engaging narrative mystery. Bessy is a wonderful character, who colours her tale with the most vivid and sometimes lurid slang and colloquialisms. I'm often put off by such inclusions, though in this case they are pretty much essential to the style and don't distract at all. Though being a native of northern England, where many of the expressions are still in common use or fondly remembered from use by my Grandparents, I could be more immune from irritation than the average reader. Bessy is also not averse to casting ridicule on the people she recounts by exaggerating or over annotating their speech patterns and accents. The more she despises them the more extreme the exaggeration. I think it's no accident that Hector, the sex obsessed Highlander, gets the brunt of it. The Observations is an excellent début novel. I've read the latest book by Jane Harris, 'Gillespie and I', which appeared some 5 years after 'The Observations' - so if you enjoyed this book I'd recommend you look it up with all due dispatch. ...more
Review from Badelynge. Excellent selection of 35 ghost stories from the Victorian age, chronologically compiled here dating from 1852-1908. The storiesReview from Badelynge. Excellent selection of 35 ghost stories from the Victorian age, chronologically compiled here dating from 1852-1908. The stories included have been selected as much for aspects of innovation or for the part they played in influencing stylistic developments within the genre than their actual quality. Though there are some great ghost stories here and barring three or four stories are generally of very good quality. Along with the stories are a comprehensive list of all ghost story collections published during the half century of years following 1840, full source details for the 35 stories and an introduction by editor Michael Cox. Highlights for me include: The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell. It's probably the best written ghost story here with superb characterisation, lush prose and as a ghost story endlessly imitated even today. An Account Of Some Strange Disturbances In Aungier Street by J.S.Le Fanu. One of his best and the veteran of countless anthologies. The Open Door by Charlotte Riddell. Not particularly scary but a well written example of its type and introducing a rare detective element. The Captain of the Pole-star by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Eery arctic tale coloured by Doyle's own experience of life on a steam-whaler. The Kit-bag by Algernon Blackwood. Only Blackwood could imbue such an innocent inanimate object with such a deep sense of malevolent dread. The only ones I'd have left out would be: An Eddy On The Floor by Bernard Capes which although suitably macabre is also a shade too long compared to the other entries and probably the least accessible due to its convoluted syntax. Miss Jeromette And The Clergyman - a very weak effort by Wilkie Collins. The Tomb of Sarah by F.G.Loring - Nice story but very much a vampire tale. Reading these in order shows how the genre developed. It's a genre that in the Victorian era was very much designed to be read aloud at the fireside after dinner and ever associated with mid winter and Christmas. It goes through phases of doomed love triangles, vengeful victims, tragic victims of accident defeating mortality to see their loved ones a final time, portentous warnings, cursed objects and places, spiritualism, tragic reenactments etc. There will probably never be a definitive collection of ghost stories. The editor could easily have selected 35 alternate stories and still pleased this reader as much. I wouldn't have it any other way....more
Review from Badelynge I've never been the quickest of readers but this vibrantly written novel, weighing in at 500 plus pages, so engrossed me I devourReview from Badelynge I've never been the quickest of readers but this vibrantly written novel, weighing in at 500 plus pages, so engrossed me I devoured it in just 4 days. It seemed so innocent at first, beguiling me with its engagingly described cast of characters. In 1933 Miss Harriet Baxter sits in her Bloomsbury apartment, tending to her caged finches and writing her memoir of the times she spent with Ned Gillespie over 4 decades earlier, an up and coming young artist, her dear friend, she dubs him, her soul mate even. At once we are informed that her friend Gillespie and his young family are ill-fated, that the tale will end in tragedy, a tragedy so deep that the young man will destroy his life's work and take his own life. The first half of the book follows Harriet, then a thirty something spinster, as she relocates from London to Glasgow after the death of her Aunt, a woman who had brought her up after the death of her mother. In 1888 Glasgow hosts the first International Exhibition and Harriet decides to rent rooms nearby to take in the spectacle. A chance encounter, amusingly recounted through Harriet's memoir, brings her into the orbit of the Gillespie family, her timely extraction of half a set of dentures from the back of an old lady's throat, who turns out to be Ned's mother, is the first step on the road to what lies ahead. Over several months Harriet becomes almost part of the household, finding opportunity after opportunity to ingratiate herself among them. Just as we start to get comfortable with the happy set up, Harriet reminds us that there are dark times ahead - a trial even, though what crime is looming and who is to stand accused is left unsaid. Although leisurely, the narrative at no stage bored me. Despite its length I was always either entertained or intrigued. I was fascinated by the complicated family dynamic, the Victorian detail, the depiction of Glasgow and its characters both fictional and historical, and of course, Harriet's colourful and often acerbic observations. It's fairly apparent that Harriet at times does resort to being manipulative, she's prone to bias and there's something quite off-kilter in some of her references to her stepfather and Ned, her so-called soul mate, but I still found myself liking her. The second half of the novel deals with the break down of the Gillespie family and the trial. I hold my hands up and admit I was completely wrong footed by how things progressed. I'll not say any more as I'd be risking straying into spoiler space. Suffice it to say that the conclusion doesn't disappoint. I would heartily recommend this book as a great summer read, perfect for that sunny afternoon in the garden, though I must warn you that you may not notice the sun on your face, or the pleasant bird song in the trees, or the bees in the Buddleia - not if you sink as deep into Harriet Baxter's world as I did. This review was from an Advance Reading Copy. ...more
Props to Marvel for gathering up all 12 issues of Akira Yoshida's Thor:Son of Asgard in one volume. Yeah I know they also put out some two volume editProps to Marvel for gathering up all 12 issues of Akira Yoshida's Thor:Son of Asgard in one volume. Yeah I know they also put out some two volume editions but at least we got the choice of getting the combined collection. Basically these stories retell some of the big stories and ideas from the classic Lee/Kirby Tales of Asgard that featured the teenage Thor but with all the archaic language stripped out, though Yoshida still can't resist a few utterances of "I say thee nay!!!" - If I was writing Thor I don't think I'd be able to resist either. The first 6 part arc is your basic 3 teens on a quest to recover a bunch of mystic McGuffins. Sif and Balder accompany Thor on the quest followed closely by Loki and eventually running foul of the witch Karniila (Balder beware). The second arc focuses more on Sif and her romance with Thor, introduces The Enchantress Amora and Brunnhilda (Valkyrie) and draws heavily on Lee/Kirby plot lines. The final arc is a pretty blow-by-blow updating of the classic Death Comes to Thor Lee/Kirby story with Thor finally taking up Mjolnir to rescue Sif from Frost Giants and death herself. Greg Tocchini's art is pretty good, aided massively by the lush colouring. It's all quite light but fun....more
First published in 1872, Carmilla is a hugely influential vampire story told by a young girl called Laura, starved of the company of children her ownFirst published in 1872, Carmilla is a hugely influential vampire story told by a young girl called Laura, starved of the company of children her own age. After a coach crash not far from her castle home in Styria, her family agree to look after another young girl called Carmilla for a period of some months. Laura recognises the girl at once from a disturbing dream from years earlier. And Carmilla admits to having the same dream. In the nearby village the deaths begin. The enduring literary emblem of the vampire was born when Bram Stoker gave the world Dracula in the last years of the 19th Century, birthed by a century obsessed by the Gothic imagery associated with the darker shadows of folklore and mythology. From the scatological excesses of penny dreadfuls like Varney the Vampyre, the crafted prose of Le Fanu's Carmilla and the like, the groundwork was already laid. Without one or the other of these two mismatched parents Stoker's Dracula would never have entered its creator's brain. But unlike Varney and other Victorian age vampires Carmilla survived to influence horror films and fiction beyond Stoker's famous Count. The 1960s and 1970s was awash with lurid adaptations of the Karnstein saga. If you have any interest at all in the history and development of vampire fiction or you just like well written Gothic fiction you should definitely give this a look. It's a short read and Le Fanu's prose is lighter and more accessible than some of his other works. I think it is one of his finest works....more
Review from Badelynge The Seance by John Harwood is set in the 1880s and is the story of Constance Langton. She becomes involved in spiritualism in anReview from Badelynge The Seance by John Harwood is set in the 1880s and is the story of Constance Langton. She becomes involved in spiritualism in an effort to lift her mother from the crippling grief of losing a child. Constance, due to the lack of regard and love from her parents has always had the nagging feeling that there is some mystery about her heritage, believing herself to be a foundling. Through diaries and journals and the aid of a world weary solicitor called Mr Montague she discovers a frightening legacy linking her to a crumbling deserted manor, Wraxford Hall, with a dark and murderous history. It's a brilliantly written homage to the Victorian mysteries and ghost stories of such classic authors as Wilkie Collins, Dickens, A.C. Doyle and M.R. James etc. It's full of styles, motifs, little references, names etc that will be familiar to fans of this area of literature. My personal favourite segments are those featuring the testimony of John Montague; with such a name it shouldn't surprise anybody to discover the style during these segments is an almost perfect homage to the ghost stories of Montague Rhodes James. It's a style I've seen attempted many times (I've tried it myself), but Harwood nails it flawlessly, bringing to mind stories like Count Magnus, The Mezzotint, Lost Hearts and others. If the book had been able to maintain its creepy, portentous atmosphere throughout I'd have given it 5 stars but the last third, as it attempts to resolve the various strands of mystery, does become a little more pedestrian in style. It's still one of the best book I've read this year so far. ...more
Review from Badelynge. Gerrard Freeman is a young Librarian living in Australia with his secretive mother. As a child he found a mysterious photographReview from Badelynge. Gerrard Freeman is a young Librarian living in Australia with his secretive mother. As a child he found a mysterious photograph and a strange ghost story written by his great-grandmother Viola Hatherley. The discovery causes his mother to abandon any mention of her former life in England, a life until that point lit up by sunlit tales of an idyllic country house named Staplefield. Gerrard believes there is a dark secret to be discovered which he shares with his only confidant and object of near obsessive devotion, pen friend Alice Jessell - a woman he has never met. Discovering more stories by Viola, Gerrard soon becomes aware of strange similarities and portentous detail.
John Harwood's The Ghost Writer is a complex puzzle of a story within a story with an unclear distinction between truth and fiction. It's very hard to keep the two separate and at times I tended to let Gerrard try to figure things out for me, which probably wasn't the wisest of actions on my part. Some aspects are much more clearly false to the reader than they are to our questing librarian which makes you rather want to give the poor guy a slap. Harwood switches styles pretty effortlessly between Gerrard's uncomplicated though bewildered narrative and the evocation of a hybrid chimera of Sheridan Le Fanu, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James to breath style into Viola's macabre stories. The only real gripe I'd have is the rather abrupt ending, though in defense of Harwood there is very little left unresolved. The lack of any real concluding end-note had me holding up the blank end-pages and considering the possibility of hidden passages in lemon juice....more
Review from Badelynge David Bittacy and his wife have been happily married for decades. Mr Bittacy has another love though. He loves nature. More speciReview from Badelynge David Bittacy and his wife have been happily married for decades. Mr Bittacy has another love though. He loves nature. More specifically he loves trees. So when he discovers an artist who paints portraits of trees in a way that captures their individuality... their personality even, he decides to invite the artist to stay at his home. The two men are kindred spirits, both believing that trees have souls... that God is in the trees. Over a long night gazing at the trees that encroach his garden, with the deep wood close by, the two men venture to put into words a philosophical understanding of nature that frightens and disturbs Mrs Bittacy. Their words cause her to catch a glimpse of wild, potent, sentient impressions of the life that is a forest. It jars her deep religious convictions to the core. Algernon Blackwood is brilliantly adept at this sort of psychological dance, playing the known world and its belief systems off against the limits of human knowledge and understanding. Blackwood's beautifully rich descriptions of nature, and his deft maintenance of disquiet are excellent. There are few writers, short of Mary Shelley in full Godwinian flow, who could keep that disquiet going while exploring a philosophical idea for over 70 pages and still retain the interest of the reader....more
Review from Badelynge This third outing of Alan Bradley's irrepressible Flavia De Luce gets the series back up to top form. Flavia saves the life of anReview from Badelynge This third outing of Alan Bradley's irrepressible Flavia De Luce gets the series back up to top form. Flavia saves the life of an old Gypsy fortune-teller who has been beaten and left for dead. Ok our young heroine had almost managed to burn her to a crisp the previous evening but the less said about such details the better. Flavia sets out to track down the assailant, trampling over several crime scenes in the process, bamboozling the local constabulary and driving her family to new levels of embarrassment. Flavia can't resist the siren call of an unsolved serious misdemeanor, so when a body is found hung on an ornamental fountain in the grounds of Buckshaw Flavia is ecstatic. Never mind justice - think of the opportunities to prove her cleverness to that lovely man Inspector Hewitt. Perhaps he'll even invite her to tea. The second book stepped over the line a few times with the added absurdities of the world of the puppet show. The fun, tongue in cheek adventures of Flavia combined with the exaggerated staginess of puppeteering didn't quite complement each other. This one is much more to my liking. We also get the introduction of a new character called Porcelain Lee who is a great inclusion, mainly because of her ability to bamboozle the bamboozler. She also gets a wonderful scene homaging perhaps Du Maurier's Rebecca, as she appears on the staircase dressed as Flavia's late mother Harriet. It's the ability to bring off that sort of a poignant vibe counterpointing the cheeky adventures of our precocious investigator that sets these books aside from a lot of its competitors. Bravo to Mr Bradley. And please sir, can we have some more....more
Review from Badelynge "Cromwell, what does he really believe?" It's a question that Anne Boleyn ponders in the book and I suppose it is the question theReview from Badelynge "Cromwell, what does he really believe?" It's a question that Anne Boleyn ponders in the book and I suppose it is the question the reader is also posed with. The book is very well researched by the author Hilary Mantel. There is a huge cast of characters involved here, threading their strands into the tangled weave of politics, intrigue and ambition that surrounds the court of King Henry VIII during his courtship and marriage to Anne Boleyn. At the end of it all I didn't feel I knew Thomas Cromwell any better than I did before. There is no doubt that he was a most remarkable and deeply complex man. History is a very slippery thing to write about but compared to trying to get to the heart of an individual, to get inside his mind with any accuracy, it is almost impossible. It's not that easy to achieve face to face, never mind separated by half a millennium through the dusty filter of historian opinions. The present tense, third person delivery, from the point of view of Cromwell was sometimes a bit of a clunky style for the author to use so rigidly. I lost his stand point on numerous occasions, mostly confusing him for Wolsey. Some conversations were quite hard to follow. Others stand out, crackling with personality and atmosphere e.g. Cromwell's meeting with the King's daughter Mary. The King is pretty much as I would have expected as is Anne Boleyn. I didn't feel we got to grips with Thomas More fully but perhaps this is because we are seeing him from Cromwell's perspective. All in all, a well written, thoroughly researched book, sometimes let down by its style and the scope of its ambition. ...more
From my review at Badelynge This collection of fifteen famous ghost stories edited by Dorothy Scarborough was first published in 1921. Only about halfFrom my review at Badelynge This collection of fifteen famous ghost stories edited by Dorothy Scarborough was first published in 1921. Only about half of the stories have survived the past century with any notoriety intact. Scarborough's selection process was quite wide and loose with the term ghost. Most of the stories are drawn from American publications of the time, the Harper brothers gaining the biggest slice of the publishing credits. Gems for me are:
* The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, more a novella than a short story but one of the great horror stories of the 20th Century. * The Beast With Five Fingers by W.F. Harvey - A very creepy story about a possessed severed hand. This story spawned two feature films. * The Woman at Seven Brothers by Wilbur Daniel Steele - Very atmospheric ghost story set on a remote lighthouse. I admit I have a love of lighthouses and relish any story well told from its windy staircases, lamp-rooms and common rooms. This story is a little traditional but still well told. * Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe - Poe shows off his sumptuous use of the English language, penning on the layers of creepiness with aplomb. Some of Poe's stories are worth reading just for the use of language alone: e.g. 'blacker than the raven wings of midnight'. Brilliant.
The rest of the stories range from quite good to quite trite. None of them are particularly bad but some seem to have been added to raise the story count. There are also a few oddities worth a read like Myla Jo Closser's At the Gate. The image of all the faithful dogs waiting patiently at the gates of Heaven for their owners to arrive is quite moving. None of the dogs will go through without their owners....more
Review from Badelynge. The Snatch is a very early Bill Pronzini novel from 1971 and the very first of his long running Nameless Detective series. And iReview from Badelynge. The Snatch is a very early Bill Pronzini novel from 1971 and the very first of his long running Nameless Detective series. And it's a very decent beginning. Pronzini may have been just starting out on his longer form career but he'd already gone some way to developing his skills through his short stories, this book being a reworking of one such. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian seeming set up to the plot, what looks like a routine kidnapping and ransom soon manages to throw a few curve balls. It's all cleanly written and constructed, playing to its pulp noir influences, the most commendable aspect being the character development of our unconventional hero. He's a very engaging character, a devotee to the pulps himself which engenders a neat homage within homage dynamic that blurs the boundaries between Pronzini himself and his nameless protagonist. Within the first few pages, Nameless has already compared someone to Doc Savage and greater props to the author for allowing an image of Lester Leith, Erle Stanley Gardener's crafty pulp creation, to jolt Nameless from a blue funk onto a hotter trail. Nameless's obsession with the pulps is a major aspect of the series, in this first book it highlights the cracks in his already crumbling and damaged relationship with his current girlfriend. Her judgement being," I want a man. Not a stubborn and self-deluding adolescent trying to live the life of a fictional hero." This isn't just fan fiction though, Pronzini just happens to be a very fine storyteller, mastering the art of hard-boiled dialogue and first person stream of consciousness that wouldn't sit uncomfortably next to the 30's pulp maestros both he and Nameless idolises....more
This second book in Ed McBain's police procedural series shines more light on some of the other cops of the 87th Precinct while Steve Carella enjoys hThis second book in Ed McBain's police procedural series shines more light on some of the other cops of the 87th Precinct while Steve Carella enjoys his Honeymoon with Teddy. A mugger with a curious MO and a penchant for violence is terrorising the women of Isola. Although Hal Willis is running the case, with help from Roger Havilland and Eileen Burke, the story tends to focus more on Bert Kling, a beat cop recovering from getting shot in the first book. An old friend asks him to talk some sense into a young girl who is acting strangely. This one isn't quite as hooked on detailing the minutia of policing methods as in some of the other books but rather works on characterisation. And if McBain is still a little too thorough in murdering his metaphors sometimes there's still plenty of good dialogue to entertain. ...more
Quite a more happy marriage of Shakespeare's text and Manga visuals than the titular couple enjoy. This sort of venture is excellent for intriguing yoQuite a more happy marriage of Shakespeare's text and Manga visuals than the titular couple enjoy. This sort of venture is excellent for intriguing young minds to the bard's plays. It isn't the full text mind you, but what does appear is pretty much untampered with. Although the visuals represent a Japanese cast of characters playing out a modern day Tokyo Yakuza rivalry it doesn't distract too much from the power of Shakespeare's wordplay. Manga visuals are an excellent medium for representing the emotional context of a story and Sonia Leong's pencils are cleanly rendered. Nice idea....more
Review from Badelynge. The sixth book from Susan Hill to feature the inhabitants of Lafferton. The two main characters are siblings Dr Cat Deerbon andReview from Badelynge. The sixth book from Susan Hill to feature the inhabitants of Lafferton. The two main characters are siblings Dr Cat Deerbon and top cop DCS Simon Serrailler. The plots and themes explored usually feature the family's ongoing story and topics and situations thrown up by the pair's respective professions; health or lack of it, crime in society - all sensitively addressed in Hill's brilliant prose and her thoughtful insights into human emotions. Crime fiction? Well yeah, but not really comparable to much of the genre's staples and conventions. In this one flooding in Lafferton has unearthed the bones of a young girl missing for 16 years, a mystery from the past that caused a big splash on the national consciousness. But alongside them are the bones of another young woman whose disappearance contrastingly caused not even a ripple. Serrailler is tasked with the cold case but is hampered by severe budget restrictions and he's just met the love of his life. Cat Deerbon deals with financial problems directing the local hospice, calling on the expertise of a newcomer to the town who is setting up a new care home for Alzheimer sufferers. In her general surgery she is consulted by a woman called Jocelyn with the early symptoms of Motor Neurone Disease, which leads to the thorny subject of assisted suicide. I think Hill tackles the subject as objectively as possible, though of course her characters are more swept along with the emotions of the terrible choices they face. Age, mortality, memory, lives lived and lives cut short, all played out in the setting of a Cathedral town and tied together with the lines of synchronicity within a cold case murder inquiry. I would add the advisory that this one is probably going to have more resonance with older readers or folk who have had their lives touched by terminal illness. ...more
Review from Badelynge. You wait 15 years for a new vampire laced James Asher book and then two come along almost at once with Magistrates of Hell folloReview from Badelynge. You wait 15 years for a new vampire laced James Asher book and then two come along almost at once with Magistrates of Hell following on neatly from last year's Blood Maidens. Retired spy James Asher sails to China in 1912 to investigate the discovery of a body very like the mutated vampires he encountered in St Petersberg. Accompanied by his wife and Dr Solomon Karlebach, Asher bases his investigation within the cosmopolitan confines of the Legation Quarter in Peking under the blind of a purely academic interest in philology and folklore. Keeping an even lower profile is Asher's ancient Spanish vampire ally Don Simon Ysidro. Usually these books have Ysidro treading on the territorial toes of the local nest of urban vampires but China's vampires are something different. Incredibly ancient and not altogether sane they mostly remain aloof and hard to pin down. With Ysidro hampered by their elusiveness, Asher has to rely more on his human allies, the Van Helsing like vampire hunter Karlebach and the Japanese Samurai Count Mizukami. Asher and the Count actually make quite a dynamic pairing out in the wilds among the swarming rabid rats and equally the double dealings and murder within the city and the Legation. Barbara Hambly dishes up a more b-movie action based script than usual but it remains faithful to the series tone, is well researched and maintains the levels of threat and anxiety common to Hambly books. As ever Hambly know how to entertain....more
Review from Badelynge. Imagine if Le Fanu had tried to write for a YA market and he might have produced something like The Dead of Winter. I'm sure ChrReview from Badelynge. Imagine if Le Fanu had tried to write for a YA market and he might have produced something like The Dead of Winter. I'm sure Chris Priestley would cite him as one of his primary influences, along with others like Elizabeth Gaskell. Her 'The Old Nurse's Story' springs to mind quite strongly. The book, more a novella, is artfully written, perfectly invoking the Victorian setting that uses as much Gothic imagery and motifs as it can possibly pack into the page count. Michael Vyner is a young orphan, who becomes the ward of a rich man whose life was saved by the boy's late father. Reluctantly he agrees to spend Christmas at his sprawling mansion. What is it about ghost stories and Christmas? I blame Dickens - no, I blame the Victorians. Now I have to read every ghost story with the nagging compulsion that I should have saved it for Christmas. This one is told in the first person (what other form would suffice?) by the adult version of the boy, writing an account of that fateful Christmas. The mystery is too slight though for a book of this length. The atmosphere is well maintained but there is not really enough complexity to the plot to make the conclusion anything other than expected....more
The Doctor, Sarah and Harry find themselves on a seemingly deserted space station countless years in the future. They soon discover that they are farThe Doctor, Sarah and Harry find themselves on a seemingly deserted space station countless years in the future. They soon discover that they are far from being alone. If Terrance Dicks was the workhorse of the Target Doctor Who novelisations then I'd have to say that Ian Marter was one the best actual writers. Of all the regular Target writers I found Ian's prose to be one of the best. Some of his descriptions of the Wirrn larva are absolutely alive with bubbling sizzling threat. To be honest as an eight year old I was petrified of the green bubble-wrap bits of the mutating commander Noah so I'm pretty thankful that they didn't achieve the seething monstrosity that Marter delivers. The action scenes are particularly well done. Libri's comedy tv death becomes something quite brutal and vicious. Looking back at the book now I do miss some of the funnier lines, probably mainly Robert Holmes at his witty best. Whether Marter actively took them out or more likely they were late script editions that weren't in Marter's research material, I don't know. It's easy to drop them back in from memory though, so the witty little knitter and naval jokes can live again for those that really care. Script differences aside Marter has a lot of fun with the space station Nerva's on board technology eg moving walkways and mentally activated hatchways etc. Great stuff from one of the all time classic Doctor Who seasons and come on... who doesn't adore Harry Sullivan? And all written by the man himself. Original artwork , features on script to novel, Ian Marter, Robert Holmes and a new introduction by Steven Moffat....more
Review from Badelynge The key to producing a good adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in any media is for the producers to understand that perhReview from Badelynge The key to producing a good adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in any media is for the producers to understand that perhaps the most important character in the story is not Sherlock Holmes, or Doctor Watson; it's the moor and the atmosphere it generates in all its aspects, whether it be the shadow filled night or the stark brightness of the day. Ian Edginton's adaptation of the famous story into the medium of graphic novel is very faithful to the Conan Doyle original, but without the bulk of Doctor Watson's emotive text the realization of the moor falls to the artistic talents of the artist I.N.J. Culbard. Edginton makes the most of the early scenes in London, understandably as this is the part of the story, barring the conclusion, that features Holmes the most. Culbard's style uses what on the surface look quite simple caricatures but somehow he brings them alive with expressiveness. Each character is quite distinctive.He is also very creative in the use of available light. If Edginton relishes some of the more famous lines, Culbard who has a century of imagery from all the other mediums to draw inspiration from, doesn't disappoint. "Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound." It's a very commendable and collectible effort. Edginton and Culbard work well together and readers who enjoyed their other work should have a pleasant time with this book. Also included are a teaser for A Study in Scarlet and early character and cover designs for those interested in the creative process. ...more
Sequel to the sublime Game of Thrones. The epic fantasy continues and underlines my suspicion that this series could be the finest addition to the genSequel to the sublime Game of Thrones. The epic fantasy continues and underlines my suspicion that this series could be the finest addition to the genre of the decade. The original book threw so many twists, shocks and surprises at the reader that Martin has given himself a hard act to follow. Clash of Kings still compares very well. Its huge cast of brutally realistic characters soon draw the reader back into the war and intrigue that characterizes the series. Publishers and reviewers could even dust off that oft used fantasy cliché of a 'new Tolkien', only this time it just might be true....more
'It was one of those jobs you take on when things are very lean. You want to turn it down- it's an old story, and a sordid one, and a sad one- but you'It was one of those jobs you take on when things are very lean. You want to turn it down- it's an old story, and a sordid one, and a sad one- but you know you can't afford to. The rent falls due in a few days and the savings account is all but depleted; you haven't worked in almost three weeks, and the boredom and the emptiness are beginning to take their toll. So you look into tear-filmed gray eyes, and you sigh, and you say yes...' So begins another adventure for our lonely hero; a seemingly straightforward case of a suspicious wife and a wayward husband with mysterious weekend business trips. Nameless follows the husband all the way to Monteray and then it gets complicated. To be honest, although I love nameless, the plot to this one is an outright dud and too much of a stretch even for forgiving imaginations. It's also not helped by nameless falling into line with the local police chief, a guy called Quartermain. It transforms the format from the lone wolf P.I. into a straightforward police procedural with Nameless taking on the role of defacto Detective Sergeant. There are good things still to be enjoyed from the writing. Dodgy plot aside I had a lot of fun trying to place Pronzini's little make-believe hamlet Cypress Bay but it's cleverly hidden away among a rash of equally make believe locations with interchangeable usages of the words Cypress, Grove, Ocean etc, with the occasional vague reference to a real location. And then there is the introduction of recurring character, and thoroughly fictional pulp hack, Russell Dancer. He's got a lot of interesting things to say about the publishing industry and the scenes with him alone with nameless are fascinating. Pronzini's prose is good too, dragging every last bit of loneliness from those views of the ocean and those wind shaped Cypress trees....more
Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins team up to bring us 32 Noir stories from the last century. Collins makes it clear in his intro that the term 'NoMickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins team up to bring us 32 Noir stories from the last century. Collins makes it clear in his intro that the term 'Noir' wasn't the term he or Spillane were aiming for when they set out to put this book together. Tough guy fiction, hard-boiled crime and detective stories was the preferred line, though in the end the collection defers more to reputation than any strict adherence to genre. Most of the stories were born out of the shadowy literature churned out for a voracious post-war public hungry for dangerous thrills, tough guys and femme fatales but from the opening vignette by Chester Himes it soon becomes clear that many of the stories step out of the target genre's darkness in order to let the author's shine. The result is a collection of stories by folk who carved some sort of pulp noir niche for themselves without having to strictly draw from that niche. Chandler and Hammett should headline a book like this with a story featuring Marlowe, Sam Spade or the Continental Op but neither could be included due to clearance problems. Some other notables get more of a crack at the whip than others with whole novellas being included like the ground breaking Race Williams detective from the 1920s. Many of the stories include the author's trump card detective to showcase their skills but there are also quite a few that take the literary side-step for something unexpected; Gil Brewer's The Gesture being a fine example of a short with a late perspective change that turns things completely on their head; or Fredric Brown's trick ending for Don't Look Behind You; or the balsy genealogist from Donald E. Westlake's Never Shake the Family Tree. Norbert Davis pitches in with an unlikely detective with Chill Blanes, backwoods superstition with Dorothy B. Hughes, chuckles at Lawrence block's animal cruelty psycho dealing it back. There is certainly a deal more fun being had here in a supposed Noir collection than really should be happening. The editors both contribute, with a decent Nathan Heller effort from Collins, and an entirely forgettable piece of crud from Spillane. Great to see Bill Pronzini serving up another Nameless Detective story - fine work as always. Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone story make me open to reevaluating her skills after I dismissed the female detective's debut novella. These sorts of collections are great jumping off spots into the darkness, with famous names aplenty but frustration lurks behind many of the names in the form of out of print or hard to locate series....more
The Case of the Tell Tale Hands. A rather dull and pedestrian story to begin an anthology with, Watson uncharacteristically documReview from Badelynge.
The Case of the Tell Tale Hands. A rather dull and pedestrian story to begin an anthology with, Watson uncharacteristically documenting the intricacies of finger printing rather than injecting any excitement or urgency into the proceedings. At the half way stage I was almost hoping for the introduction of a Pygmy or two. Holmes seems perpetually on the verge of calling all and sundry, including Watson, blithering morons. The only lighter moment in the whole affair is the alacrity that Watson displays in choosing Ilfracoombe over Tenby as a holiday destination.
The Case of the King's Evil. This one was much more to my liking. The plot, though not too murky in its complexity, is still interesting enough to hold the interest, mainly due to how Holmes handles affairs, maintaining a teasing attitude with Watson throughout, which all stems from how the case initially requested aid from the good Doctor and not the better than good detective. The case takes the pair to Norfolk to discover what happened to two brothers, lighthouse keepers both, who have gone missing after a witnessed fight. There are good descriptions throughout of the estuary, the mudflats and the treacherous tides and quicksand under foot. There is a particularly suspenseful sequence out on the mud flats, the tide rushing in, as Holmes pushes bullishly toward a solution with Watson in reluctant tow, the latter seemingly with more mind to the danger the environment poses than the other. I must admit to a fairly rabid fetish in myself for lighthouses, so combining my Holmesian obsession with such is a double whammy. Good stuff.
The Case of the Portuguese sonnets. Back to more dull ramblings among the murky doings of forgers and extortionists. Too much time is spent with the mechanics and history of forgery, which reads sometimes like a light skimming session on Wikepedia. Hired by Robert Browning's son Holmes travels to Venice, which as a location is largely ignored in favour of dusty rooms filled with poetry, documents and manuscripts from a whole host of figures from Byron to Whitman, as he immerses himself in the dubious art of the forgerer. Yes I chuckled several times at some of Holmes' stock put-downs as Watson and Lestrade so obligingly set themselves up but beyond that my main state of mind, despite being doubly armed with a hot Nespresso and a box of Jaffa Cakes, was boredom. Holmes needs an adversary to outwit or a problem to solve, lives to save or judgement to fall.
The Case of Peter the Painter. This one is jam packed full of the things that make a good Sherlock Holmes story one of the all time high marks for cosy reads. It's got a little of everything. Holmes has a visitor and he can't resist showing off his 'method' for Watson by applying it to the woman who calls. The woman in question tells a story of a sick daughter, yellow canaries and foreigners up to no-good. Holmes is on top note. Watson not so much. Unfortunately, at this point it becomes apparent that Donald Thomas' schtick has turned up wearing Doc Martens; Thomas loves to tie in the story with some historical incidence - in this case the clashes between police and Russian Anarchists notoriously remembered as 'the Houndsditch Murders' in which three policemen were gunned down dead and several more wounded and the Siege of Sydney Street in which Winston Churchill was at hand leading armed police and a detachment of Scots Guard against a heavily armed group of robber/anarchists. Watson gets heavily side-lined as the two Holmes brothers get pally with Winston but at least it gives him time to get some quality reading done in the form of Scott's Heart of Mid-Lothian. Although this is one of the better stories by Thomas I still think it had potential to be better without being diluted by the author's little history essays. 'The Siege of Sidney Street' also appeared in Barrie Roberts' 'Sherlock Holmes and the Railway Maniac', the first of nine Holmes novels which I heartily recommend.
The Case of the Zimmermann Telegram. The title is all you really need to know. If you have an interest in the Zimmermann Telegram then google some bibliography and save yourself having to read some historical commentary masquerading as a Sherlock Holmes story. Taking place during the 'His Last Bow' era, the story features Sherlock as our secret master decoder and Watson as a secret agent. Sound good? It isn't. No narrative whatsoever, just a very potted spotty history of the exploits of Room 40's codebreakers during the Great War but with Holmes as the prime mover. It occurred to me that the whole story might be another coded message which I eventually managed to decode. It reads thus: FEEL FREE TO SKIM THIS RUBBISH. Unfortunately the message revealed itself too late.
I do like a good anthology. But I do much prefer a mixed author anthology. In a mixed author anthology Donald Thomas might have been represented by the very agreeable 'The Case of the King's Evil', whereas here, in a single author anthology, his faults are highlighted by their repetition and by the inclusion of stories that are of variable quality. Many of these single author anthologies by authors attempting the Holmes pastiche have their highlights but are also of variable quality. It really underlines just what Doyle achieved to maintain such a high level of consistency throughout all 56 of his Sherlock Holmes short stories.
Seeing as how this anthology consisted of five stories I decided to award a star for each story which was worth reading....more
Review from Badelynge Susan Hill has been writing extraordinary fiction for over four decades. She is adept at characterisation and building complex eReview from Badelynge Susan Hill has been writing extraordinary fiction for over four decades. She is adept at characterisation and building complex emotional landscapes for her characters to inhabit. In 2004 she turned her hand to writing in a completely new genre; the detective novel. She plays with the genre's staple ingredients and adds her own flare for exploring human relationships to the mix, creating a thoroughly engrossing series. The latest installment The Shadows in the Street, continues to follow the primary characters, brother and sister, DCI Simon Serrailler and Dr. Cat Deerborn. Serrailler often takes a back seat in the narrative, most notably in the first book, The Various Haunts of Men. The crime or mystery is used primarily as a backdrop to explore related themes of the effects of crime, murder, loss, insanity, loneliness, paranoia and more. Hill never coddles the reader with comfort reading; there are many scenes of true heart rending sadness in all the books. It's not offered up as melodrama but rather as an attempt to show the results of tragedy that can enter any of our lives at any moment. The sixth Serrailler book, The Betrayal of Trust will be out in 2011. I recommend them all....more