"There's nothing so extraordinary about American gangsters," protested Bond. "They're not Americans. Mostly a lot of Italian bums with monogrammed shi...more"There's nothing so extraordinary about American gangsters," protested Bond. "They're not Americans. Mostly a lot of Italian bums with monogrammed shirts who spend the day eating spaghetti and meat-balls and squirting scent over themselves."
Ian Fleming's fourth James Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever, sees 007 tasked with infiltrating a diamond smuggling pipeline that runs from Africa to the United States, masterminded by a horde of mobsters that could have easily been ripped from the pages of an early 50's comic strip or dime novel. Although perhaps not on par with the previous Fleming novel, Moonraker, or the tightly plotted follow-up, From Russia With Love, the master is still better than any other writer when it comes to crafting a globe-trotting, tension filled adventure with page-turning addictiveness. Diamonds Are Forever was something of a cornerstone in Fleming's 007 series - it was the first to feature truly in-depth character development that would slowly become more prominent as the novels progressed.
James Bond himself is very different from the jaded man seen at the outset of Casino Royale or the broken man from much later down the line in You Only Live Twice. Here he is seen as a man with a lust for life - joking and smiling with his best pal Felix Leiter (who is now working as a detective for the Pinkerton Agency), treasuring his time with love interest Tiffany Case (and feeling genuine jealousy and frustration at her frosty demeanor towards him), and openly discussing his hopes and dreams for the future. Pretending to be criminal Peter Franks for the first half of the story, Bond even feels homesick for his true identity at certain points, showing that while he may still remain dedicated to his mission, he is not an unfeeling ice cold machine.
Fleming always seemed to be able to introduce at least one villainous character with some sort of deformity or grotesque feature in each of his novels. In this case it is actually a tandem, the homosexual hitmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. Despite the fact that Fleming was good friends with a few gay men, I don't believe the man ever had the slightest clue what homosexuals were really like behind closed doors (hint: just as boring as the rest of us!). I think he may have been under the impression gays must have alien brains compared to heterosexuals, but whatever the case, if you can ignore how potentially offensive Wint and Kidd are, they're a suitably creepy pair of thugs for Bond to contend with. They are perhaps the only element from the novel that remains more or less the same in the film version, minus the thumb-sucking.
Critics of Diamonds Are Forever have often commented on how the crew of villains, mostly the American heavies, never seem to measure up to some of the more serious SMERSH/SPECTRE threats seen in other Fleming books. True, Spang and his men are not out for world domination, but I would disagree with the notion that they are not a potent or serious threat for 007. Despite Bond's arrogance towards them at the beginning, they have a smart, tidy operation up and running, the profits from which have bought them most of downtown Las Vegas. And as the reader discovers later in the novel, Bond gets quite the beating once captured and cornered by these 'wise-guys'. There's no elaborate method of torture employed by these Mafia men, no psychological interrogation techniques, they simply beat the tar out of a man until he passes out. Brutish stuff, and perhaps a reflection of Fleming's thoughts on American criminals.
As for the high number of scene changes, it doesn't bother me like it seems to others. Fleming manages to capture London as it was many decades ago, and the short scenes taking place in Africa seem well researched and appropriate. What's really impressive is that for an Englishman, Fleming was able to paint fairly vivid pictures of American cities, in this case Las Vegas. Despite the fact that the place has changed considerably since the mid 1950's, some things will always remain the same, in particular the sleaze, the glitz, and the debauchery. Fleming's 'gilded mouse-trap' description of the floors of Vegas casinos is still the first thing that enters my mind whenever the subject of Las Vegas or gambling is brought up.
"And the gamblers stood and tore at the handles of the machines as if they hated what they were doing. And, once they had seen their fate in the small glass window, they didn't wait for the wheels to stop spinning but rammed in another coin and reached up a right arm that knew exactly where to go. Crank-clatter-ting. Crank-clatter-ting."
Overall, DAF is a slightly underrated James Bond novel featuring a more subdued plot, a very different approach to the villains, one of the better leading ladies to grace the series, and a nice glimpse into the deep kinship shared between Bond and Leiter. If you've never read it, give it a shot, and if you've previously dismissed the book, give it a second look. It deserves revisiting.(less)
Kevin Murphy has much more gravitas than I. As I write this, it's been about four years or so since I've gone to a movie theater. I can't stand the pl...moreKevin Murphy has much more gravitas than I. As I write this, it's been about four years or so since I've gone to a movie theater. I can't stand the places. They're full of screaming kids, morons raving into their cell phones, dirty restrooms, teenage staff who really don't give a damn if said restrooms are dirty or not, and the type of people who really do not need any more junk food in them stuffing their faces with Whoppers and Junior Mints and the most deplorable foodstuff known to man: popcorn. Oh, and here's the other very important reason why I can't go to the theater anymore: all the movies are terrible these days! Not that I wish to portray myself as a film snob, but between Scary Movie Part 19, the latest teenybopper flick, and anything starring lowest common denominator 'comedians' like Seth Rogen or that fuckwit Dane Cook, I think I'd rather stay home, watch a DVD of something decent, and not feel livid and humiliated over wasting twelve bucks and losing two hours of my life on a complete abortion of celluloid.
Why did I start ranting like this anyway? Oh yeah, Kevin Murphy's book. See, the reason I say Kevin has a much hardier constitution than I is because he decided to go and see a movie every single day of the year and then wrote a book about his experiences. And keep in mind this was back in 2001, the year that gave us Saving Silverman and Pearl Harbor for crying out loud! Much of Kevin's iron will comes from having to suffer through endless waves of shitty movies as a cast member and writer on Mystery Science Theater 3000 for many, many years, although I must stress that you don't need to be a MSTie to understand or enjoy this book (though you should probably be some sort of movie fan, I suppose).
Kevin braves the vile multiplexes on a regular basis, although he does take the time out to explore and experiment with all the other types of filmgoing options available. He spends a week on cross-country domestic flights watching the in-flight movie, for instance. He heads out to small independent theaters showing art house movies. He goes to the Cannes Film Festival and, despite having credentials, almost gets busted by security. He travels to Quebec and sits in a theater made of ice. He watches movies in parks, off the sides of buildings, at ancient drive-ins, and so on and so on. Any place where you can see a film around the world, Kevin went there and brought back a humorous story or two (and yes, he does go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show at one point).
Sensing the idea could get stale pretty quickly, Kevin decided to spice this experiment up by creating themed weeks in advance. For instance, the week of Valentine's Day he takes seven different dates to the theater to see a 'date movie'. Nearing Halloween, he takes in a horror movie every day (and bemoans the terrible state of modern horror films, something I'm in complete agreement with). Some weeks Murph just does something totally random: buying a ticket for one movie at the multiplex and going into another instead. Who's ever gonna know? The next week Kevin decides to take things a step further, returning to his teenage years and blatantly sneaking into movies for a week. He doesn't encourage anyone to do this, of course, but he's more than willing to share the different methods you can use (painfully easy sometimes, my parents taught me the old 'buy a ticket and watch three movies on it' routine... no wonder I turned out such an unscrupulous a-hole).
However, I can't help but feel that if someone wanted to attempt a project like this today, they would just start a blog to cover the experience. This wasn't an issue for me when I first read A Year at the Movies back in 2002 of course, but upon re-reading it recently it struck me how 'blog-like' the writing was. That's not to say that all bloggers are poor writers or at some kind of lower standard (well... some of them are), but many of Murphy's essays have that free-wheeling, rambling style to them that you see featured on many a blog, even the good ones.
I suppose that's a nice way of saying Kevin could have used an editor. Although Kevin Murphy's storytelling is very warm and genuine, the experiment does indeed wear thin after awhile, despite the theme weeks and the varying worldwide venues he writes about. There's only so much bitching about how deplorable Hollywood has become in recent times you can do before it sounds like you're repeating yourself, which is exactly what happens about halfway through A Year at the Movies. Basically, Kevin is fed up with the summer blockbuster machine, the overhyped yearly spate of Oscar-bait releases, and most interestingly, he saves much of his ire for dumbed down children's movies after taking his young niece to some films and seeing her sour reaction to them. I agree with many of the author's sentiments, but I don't see the need for 360 pages of it, especially since I'm already one of the converted.
Despite these few gripes, A Year at the Movies is an intriguing piece of light reading. You'll gut it out just to see if the guy will go crazy before his year is up, and some of the absurd stories are guaranteed to give you at least a couple of really good belly laughs. I shall close my review with what is perhaps my favorite of Murphy's tales: It's especially amusing (if you're a nerd like me) to read about Kevin listening in on a conversation between two young, unshaven geeks as they stand in line to see The Fellowship of the Ring for probably the fifth time, loudly arguing about Tom Bombadil being left out of the film. Kevin, having read Tolkien as a pot smoking college student way back when, tries to chip in with his own two cents about the character. Unfortunately, Kevin misremembered some time-placement facts about The Lord of the Rings, believing the hobbits received their daggers from Tom before their encounter with the Barrow-wights. The geeks coldly inform Kevin of his terrible, terrible faux-pas and return to their own private conversation, albeit in much more hushed tones.(less)
Although the 'airport novel' has been branded a pejorative term by the more high-brow of literary circles, I see nothing wrong with enjoying a good po...moreAlthough the 'airport novel' has been branded a pejorative term by the more high-brow of literary circles, I see nothing wrong with enjoying a good potboiling yarn every now and then, and The Janson Directive fits that mold perfectly. Conspiracy theories not unlike those suggested in Ludlum's books have circled this novel for some time now. Having left the work unfinished at the time of his death, We still don't know how much Ludlum actually wrote himself, how much the ghostwriter St. Martin's Press hired plugged into the story, and who that ghostwriter actually is. While it would be interesting to know for sure, I suppose it should be an afterthought, because The Janson Directive maintains the same Ludlum flow throughout, the pages overwhelming with the staples of his sensationalist spy thrillers. That said, if you're looking for the gritty, unglamorous side of espionage as seen in a Le Carré novel, you should stay well away from this book.
Retired covert operations agent Paul Janson is somehow cooed back into the spy game one last time to rescue super-diplomat and world peace champion, Peter Novak... but the mission goes south and Janson is set up to be the ultimate patsy and has to go on the run. That's it. That's all the synopsis you really need. If you're a fan of spy fiction you might be chomping at the bit already, but I will also tell you that there's plenty of gripping chase scenes, gunfights, infiltration missions, an ungodly amount of plot twists and turns, dubious and shady characters, a ridiculous amount of technical details regarding hardware and geography, and yeah, there might be a sex scene or two at some point. I must say, if you decide to pick up the paperback version of this book at some point, I implore you not to read the back cover blurb, because it makes reading the first quarter of the novel almost moot, AND it gives away the identity of a character not introduced until just after the halfway point in the story. I realize the back cover blurb of a book is meant to entice would-be readers into purchasing, doubly true in the case of an airport novel, but surely the writer of this blurb could have come up with a less spoilerific synopsis.
The main talking point of The Janson Directive is the leading man, Paul Janson. A cool as ice demeanor coupled with a wry sense of humor - I see George Clooney taking the part if a screenplay is ever written. In 'present time' Janson is just past fifty, so Ludlum has a fully fleshed out backstory for the character that is slowly revealed to the reader throughout the course of the novel (via some well-placed flashback sequences). Some pieces of his backstory are typical angsty spy fare: he's a widower, he's been tortured by the enemy more times than he'd care to remember, he has the utmost respect and admiration for his mentors, etc - but then again, there are portions of his story that you wouldn't expect from a reluctant killing machine. A full education at an elite university, for instance, makes him much more the academic than Bond or Bourne ever was. He's also a perfect gentlemen when it comes to the opposite sex, which makes a change from the usual misogynistic adventure hero trying to outdo Captain Kirk by bedding every woman in sight.
Sadly, there's that anti-climatic 'dead-as-they're-introduced' disease that seems to run rampant throughout the novel. There's nothing more frustrating than reading through a huge character introduction when you know damn well they're going to be dead and gone before the end of the next chapter. And unless you're used to Ludlum, Clancy, and their ilk, you might be put off by the technical details of firearms or military equipment, which can go on like a manual for pages and pages instead of actually advancing the narrative in any sensible way (in other words, if you're geeky for the inner workings of military-grade weapons, you'll eat this stuff up). Then there's the final twist at the end, which will leave some gasping in shock and some, the more jaded of readers, rolling their eyes and calling foul play.
Not quite as good as his late 70's/early 80's heyday, but if you're a Ludlum fan who missed this or simply a spy fiction devotee who can go in with the right mindset, The Janson Directive will be a fast-paced and mostly enjoyable little read for you.(less)
I remember reading this for the first time in the 5th grade. It was late spring, and the weather was gorgeous outside. Then, from out of nowhere, a st...moreI remember reading this for the first time in the 5th grade. It was late spring, and the weather was gorgeous outside. Then, from out of nowhere, a storm started brewing. The wind violently rustled the trees, the sky boomed with the sound of distant thunder... and I imagined it was one of the tropical storms described in this book.
Granted, I lived in Ohio at the time, but you can't fault a kid's imagination. It was a perfect backdrop for me whilst reading this novel.
Frankly, I feel it's somewhat disappointing that folks have reviewed this book and stated that they're embarrassed to admit they liked it in their junior high or high school days. Don't turn your back on your childhood like that! Of course, I have a theory that a number of folks on this site want to look more clever than they really are by just listing 'adult' books with very clear 'intellectual' overtones. You know... like Harry Potter. *cough*
Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes. Jurassic Park is one of the best page-turning yarns I've ever read. I've re-read it several times, and will probably do so again before too long. No, this is not Hemingway, but it's still a wonderfully evocative action-adventure and science-fiction story rolled into one. Everyone knows the plot: things goes haywire on an island park full of recreated clone dinosaurs, and the people stranded on the island have to survive. Who cares about the technobabble involving DNA and dino-embryos? You read a book like this for fun, not for hard scientific facts.(less)
"When you were young and your heart was an open book. You used to say live and let live..."
Oh, I'm sorry. It's just that I can't stop singing the them...more"When you were young and your heart was an open book. You used to say live and let live..."
Oh, I'm sorry. It's just that I can't stop singing the theme tune to Live and Let Die after finishing White Darkness. I've read one or two of David A. McIntee's novels before, and I always got the impression he was a huge Bond fan. Now, after going back to read his debut novel, I have confirmed that suspicion as truth. Snakes, zombies, voodoo, Baron Samedi, a namedrop or two of Q-branch... it's hard to shake the Live and Let Die images from your head while reading this novel, and I have a feeling that's the way the author wanted it.
White Darkness, despite it's many flaws, is quite an enjoyable adventure romp. The author lovingly mashes all of his influences together without any hesitation. This causes all kinds of confusing problems with the plot, yet it still somehow manages to retain that level of charm that the old episodes of the 'classic' series of Doctor Who had.
It's obvious that McIntee likes the television stories that were pure historicals, because that's exactly what the first portion of White Darkness is. With the warm breezes blowing and the rum freely flowing, the author does a fantastic job of immersing the reader in the setting of Haiti, 1915. However, it's not long before references to the James Bond series, Lovecraftian mythos, westerns, Hammer Horror flicks, George Romero films, and various pulp stories of the era come into play. And I understand that this is the World War I era, but the German spies in this novel definitely channel the spirit of the Indiana Jones series.
The regulars are just slightly above-average in this novel. They don't do anything insanely out of character, yet on the flipside, they don't really go through much development. The Doctor is fairly recognizable as his seventh incarnation here, and gets plenty of 'Doctor-ish' things to do (including a bit of hypnotism, a Time Lord power we rarely see used outside of The Master). Kudos to McIntee for managing to go an entire 7th Doctor novel without referring to Sylvester McCoy's accent as a 'Scottish burr'. Bernice is unfortunately stuck doing the dumb damsel in distress duty in this story, getting captured by the villains and generally getting into rather stupid and deathly situations that could've been avoided if she'd used a bit of her wits. With all the juggling of plot and style the author was attempting in White Darkness, I can see why he would want to sideline Benny for most of the book. Ace meanwhile, in only her third New Adventures novel since being brought back, is still going through some growing pains here after her character was rebooted as a tough as nails mercenary. Because of the era the novel is set in, McIntee is able to get Ace out of her silly futuristic combat suit and into an outfit which is essentially Lee Van Cleef's from For a Few Dollars More. Paired with a very likeable Haitian soldier named Petion for most of the novel, I found it quite easy to enjoy the Ace sections of White Darkness.
The main villain of the piece is Mait, an unnaturally old summoner attempting to bring his master, one of the Great Old Ones of Lovecraftian lore, into our dimension to basically eat the planet and then the universe. There are also a number of supporting baddies scattered throughout the book, including the Baron Samedi character known as Carrefour, the mass murdering General Etienne, and the best of the bunch, the absolute bastard German soldier Major Richmann. Richmann reminded me somewhat of Captain Rhodes, the character Joe Pilato played in Day of the Dead.
Speaking of those Romero movies, the zombies in White Darkness are not the typical Hollywood flesh eating variety. The front cover is a bit of a misnomer, methinks.
I don't think it's a major spoiler to anyone who hasn't read this novel to say that just about every character introduced in this novel gets killed off before the end, because it's something of a prerequisite in the Virgin New Adventures series. The climatic gun fight at the end is very reminiscent of those big battles seen at the climax of films like Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, etc. It's a cheap way to tie up some of your loose ends, I suppose, but it's still fun.
The worst part of White Darkness is the lack of editing. It's shocking how many errors were allowed to be published in this mass market paperback. If only the editor used his pen a bit more...(less)
Couldn't finish this one. It started off so well with the birth of heavy metal, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, the early years of speed...moreCouldn't finish this one. It started off so well with the birth of heavy metal, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, the early years of speed metal and black metal... but suddenly it hastily degenerated into nothing more than a Metallica love-fest for the next 125 pages. I have nothing against Metallica, but they are not the be-all end-all of heavy metal.
If anything, the author has glossed over the importance of bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Motörhead. I feel like this book could have been so much better if there was a co-author on board who grew up in the United Kingdom or some part of Europe, to at least give us a better perspective of British and European metal and it's importance in the overall metal community. Once the author gets up to the release of Kill 'Em All in '83, the rest of the world is pretty much ignored, save for the occasional reference to Mercyful Fate and a rather weak attempt to summarize German power metal.
Such a gloriously gothic tale, it's almost a shame that it had to be published with the Ravenloft logo, as many folks that would have otherwise read t...moreSuch a gloriously gothic tale, it's almost a shame that it had to be published with the Ravenloft logo, as many folks that would have otherwise read this novel will be warded off by the Dungeons & Dragons connection.
Then again, I enjoy knowing of these hidden treasures, and To Sleep With Evil, despite a 2007 reprint, is still a bit of a hidden treasure. Just who is this Andria Cardarelle aka Andria Hayday anyway? A pseudonym? I want to know so I can bug her to write more books. Her style is fantastic, it's very colorful and descriptive without being too heavy or taxing on the reader's brain. I'm not really a speed reader by any means, I usually take my time and try to enjoy a book, but I was so taken by this novel that I finished it within 24 hours.
The story is frightening, disturbing, grotesque, lewd, and fleetingly romantic - just like I'd imagine any really great gothic horror story should be. The protagonist Marguerite is young, but not entirely naive and not entirely innocent. However, the villains really take the cake in this novel. Lord Donskoy is cold, charismatic and creepy. His minions are suitably depraved and physically disgusting in their own ways. Then there's Miss Montarri, who is evil, selfish, vain and irritatingly witty.
If you already like the Ravenloft setting, this book should be at the top of your to-read list. Otherwise, if you're into the gothic horror genre and looking for something different, pick this up if you can handle a few sleepless nights afterwards.(less)