Sunday, 24 May 2015

A song of shadows by John Connolly

The 13th book in the long running Charlie "bird" Parker dark crime series. The great concern about reading the latest offering from John Connolly is to ask the question...is this a step too far? is it not time that Charlie Parker was put into retirement? does the author not run the risk of simply boring the reader with a character, indeed list of characters that quite simply have no more to say or offer? However let it be said here now that "bird" is alive and tweeting! and A Song of Shadows is another remarkable achievement from an author who seems to go from strength to strength.

The central theme of this story is the unveiling and uncovering of Nazi war criminals living in the United States. Bruno Perlmans body is washed ashore in the town of Boreas, his family had been interned at a concentration camp called Lubsko. What is the connection between him and Marcus Baulman, Ruth Winter and her mother Isha? This is an exceptionally well researched novel that probes deep into both America and Germany's attitude to war criminals guilty of genocide and how they should be dealt with (or not)

We see a very subdued Charlie Parker who is recuperating in Boreas (having almost died in his previous outing) and at first his contribution to the story is incidental making the acquaintance of Amanda Winter (Ruth's daughter) on one of his early morning exercise outings along the beach. "His presence in Boreas was incongruous, given his reputation. It was like having a grenade rolling around, one you had been assured was defused but hadn't had time to check out for yourself". What is remarkable in this story is that John Connolly has kept our interest in Parker very much alive even thought he has tended to dwell more on the central issue, the unmasking of war criminals and by doing this Parker receives the readers utmost sympathy in his battle back to full health with of course the help and guidance of his personal body guards the mysterious and dangerous Louis and Angel together with a welcome appearance from The Fulcis, and a cameo role for “The Collector of Souls”

What sets Connolly’s books apart is the adding of a dark element to Parker’s persona. Parker blames himself for the murder of his wife and daughter Jennifer and you cannot help but feel that he will be relieved when it is time for him to join them. He has many visions and often daughter Jennifer appears before him, is she real or a product of his disturbed mind. In A Song of Shadows we once again meet Parker’s second daughter Sam who appears to have inherited the family trait of talking to the dead and in one memorable scene has an encounter with Jennifer…….

“The dead daughter had returned, standing at the end of Sam’s bed, her head bowed so that her hair might conceal the ruin of her face. Sam felt sorry for her, the way she felt sorry for anyone who was forced to endure a form of disability or physical disfigurement. She also understood that it had to be this way for the girl. When she crossed over to this world, she took the last form in which she had inhabited it when she was alive. Her beauty was for another place”

So where does Charlie Parker go from here, can we expect a 14th outing? In the final pages surprisingly Parker secures his own future (I will not disclose how but it comes about from an unexpected source) and that for all JC fans can only be great news. This is storytelling of the highest order, intelligent well researched and a joy to read and I highly recommend!

In Plain Sight the life and lies of Jimmy Savile

This is a very difficult book to read as I like many thought warmly of Jimmy Savile for so many years, and can you blame us? Here was a man who from such humble and hard working beginnings led an extraordinary life. From his early years as a miner (and I use that word with trepidation ) his short spell as a wrestler, his love of marathon running, his virtual creation of the British TV institute  “Top of the Pops” and his equally electrifying Jim’ll fix it, a programme that for so many years was at the heart of BBC Saturday night entertainment. Then there was his memorable road safety ads, the famous clunk-click phrase followed by his equally renowned promotion of British Rail “This is the age of the train” He was friends to the powerful and famous, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher (who fought for years to obtain his OBE) and even the late Princess Diana sought him out so eager were they to ask his advice and be seen in his company....but against this all and against the charity money he raised was a monster of a man who used his position of celebrity to sexually abuse and destroy the lives of so many.

In Plain Sight by Dan Davies is a monumental book and a compulsive colourful and chilling read. This is a book that was researched for many years and over the course of that time Davies interviewed and spoke with Savile on numerous occasions, yet he always felt that there was a dark untold side to this seemingly affable gent.....and how right he was. It is with great sadness that Savile was not exposed during his lifetime and that those who were abused had not the courage to come forward (or indeed if they did were not believed) at an earlier time. Society and our obsession with celebrity must bear so much of the responsibility and blame for we kept this vile individual on a pedestal for so long even thought the crimes that he committed were done....in plain sight.....

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Rain Dancers Greg F Gifune

Will and Betty have arrived at her late father Earle’s house to arrange for the property to be cleared and the contents sorted prior to its imminent sale. As they set about the sad task and as Betty reacquaints herself with her childhood there is a knock at the door......”After a slight hesitation, I opened the door. “Come in.”...”Much obliged.” He stepped inside, bringing a gust of wind and a spray of rain with him. “Great Gosh Almighty, nasty night out there, isn’t it?”...”Quite a rain,” I said. He made sure the storm door closed and latched behind him. “Apologize for showing up announced like this,” he said, “but when I heard Earl had passed I felt it only right to stop in and pay you and your lovely bride my respects.”

Thus the reader is introduced to the deeply disturbed, overtly friendly and thoroughly evil “good ole southern boy” Bob Laurent. Greg F Gifune has done a wonderful job of introducing a seemingly harmless, friendly stranger and yet from the moment we meet him his evil intent is apparent. “The inexplicable fear I’d initially felt had subsided, but in its wake was an equally baffling sense of unease.” It is this growing fear and the knowledge that something terrible is about to befall Will and Betty that makes The Rain Dancers such an unforgettable experience. I read with such a sense of foreboding and fear as I waited for the fate of Will and Betty to be decided...

The reason for Laurent’s visit and the unravelling of Betty Colby’s past come together in an explosive and brilliant conclusion making this one of the best short novellas I have ever read. Greg F Gifune is a writer of such emotive and descriptive power and this short story as a showcase for his undoubted writing talent.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Tormentor by William Meikle

This is a first class example of just how to write an intelligent and gripping horror novel. A good horror story, and in particular a good haunted house horror story, needs certain vital ingredients, firstly an isolated and inviting haunted house, and secondly a troubled even tormented central character. William Meikle does a wonderful job of exploring his native homeland (Scotlands's loss is Canada's gain) and in Jim Greenwood he has chosen the perfect victim to showcase his dark writing talent.

Jim’s partner Beth died swiftly and horribly of cancer and he has taken the decisive step to move into a house by a sea loch on the Isle of Skye...”without her London seemed pointless-a mound full of termites running around doing things that benefited other termites and pretending it mattered a jot.” I find it difficult to believe that William Meikle is no longer a resident of this fair isle as his sense of time and space and his descriptive prowess is breathtaking as he expertly brings alive the isolation of this dark and beautiful windswept island.....”From this vantage point the view was completely wild-no roads or pylons visible, no other houses, just the loch, with wavelets slightly churning in a stiff breeze, the purple hills hanging in a haze across the water and white clouds scudding north across the sky.”

Jim befriends a young estate agent Alan Bean and enjoys his company in the drinking dens of nearby Dunvegan whilst settling into his rustic one-bed roomed home. As befits the setting for this wonderful tale all is not well and soon Jim begins to receive strange messages and notice odd occurrences as he slowly learns what befell the previous owner Annie Menzies.

Meikle’s mixing of the dark, the horror, the setting, the folklore set around Dunvegan Castle and the historical loss of a young drummer boy, many centuries ago, all adds to the atmosphere. The reader becomes confused as to whether what is happening to Jim Greenwood is real or part of the madness surrounding him and possibly controlling him as he lives life without his beloved Beth.

 Alex Wark the local minister was a character in particular I found enticing and a great way for the author to express and compare the presence of good and evil...
“How you can still believe in God when there are so many things wrong in the world and it is obvious that he doesn’t care? He looked up and smiled. “The Bible says that God is love. And part of his loving nature is that he allows people to have free will. As a result, we have evil, pain and suffering, due to the choices we and others make.”
A truly brilliant, intelligent, dark tale of a damaged man attempting to find peace and happiness in the wild and haunted setting of the isle of skye. Highly recommended.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Joyland by Stephen King

 I have always admired Stephen King as a powerful and emotive writer and over the last 40 years he has written what I can only describe as literary masterpieces. There are two books in particular which are prominent in my mind at portraying the author’s style from fantasy to horror namely “The Green Mile” and “The Shining”.

Joyland is equal to if not better than the aforementioned and in my opinion ranks as one of the greatest examples of the “coming of age” story ever written.....it is that good! It is true to say that I as a reader have a certain respect and fondness for “Devin Jones” as his experience in Joyland mirrors my own youthful dalliances as both an amusement park worker and a camp councillor in America during the mid 1970’s. The writing is so powerful that at times I lost all knowledge of time and place so engrossed was I in the mystical storytelling ability of Mr King.

Devin Jones has taken a summer job as a worker and ride operator at Joyland Amusement Park in South Carolina. In recent times Joyland was the location and scene for the disappearance and murder of a young lady called Linda Gray. Devin will spend the summer and beyond learning the business and defining his character as he makes the sometimes painful but also memorable journey from youth to adult. He will form long lasting friendships with the amusement park staff in particular his landlady Mrs Shoplaw, Erin and Tom, the tragic and crippled Mike and his mum the mysterious Annie Ross, Devin’s first love.

In King’s hands the layers of the story and the characters unfold as we sweep forward between the past and the present. The crime element remains secondary to the main theme which is in essence a study of human relations and a longing back to a time of excitement and innocence. This is not to say that the hunt for the murderer is forgotten, rather this theme is kept discretely alive as the threads of the story are expertly brought together.

What sets Stephen King apart from fellow authors is his understanding of the human condition and his inherent ability to bring this alive throughout the pages of his writing...

“When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure. By the time you’re sixty, take if from me, you’re fucking lost.”

“Fifty yards ahead of us, a doe had come out of the woods. She stepped delicately over one rusty GS&WM track and onto the railbed, where the weeds and goldenrod were so high they brushed against her sides. She paused there, looking at us calmly, ears cocked forward. What I remember about that moment was the silence. No bird sang, no plane went droning overhead. If my mother had been with us, she’d have had her camera and would have been taking pictures like mad. Thinking of that made me miss her in a way I hadn’t in years.”

“It doesn’t have to be the last good time. But sooner or later the last good time would come around. It does for all of us.”

I find it astounding that a book of such beauty and deep emotive thoughts can possibly be targeted with negative reviews....”Shallow supernatural elements. No real suspense or horror or twists-it’s amazing I managed to finish it”.....one such reviewer states. The point of this story is we are not dealing with blood thirsty flesh eating zombies! if you want that look elsewhere...rather the crime, the horror, the suspense is all present but expertly packaged in an enthralling coming of age story...”Mike’s thing was clearer. Simpler. Purer. It wasn’t like seeing the ghost of Linda Gray, but it was akin to that, okay? It was touching another world.

The conclusion of Joyland is nothing short of astounding and expertly brings all the pieces of the story into a satisfactory whole.....I implore you to read this is a major work of such importance from a modern literary genius.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Thirst by Guy N Smith

This book was part of a number I picked up when helping my daughter no 2 decorate her new flat. Having not read anything by Guy N Smith before (living in the UK...not having read anything by Guy N Smith...where have I been!) I was eager to jump right into this fine example of late 70/80s horror. I was a great fan of Herbert and King during this period and indeed I remember reading The Rats on a beach in Greece in the 70s when I was young free and single...and of course beautiful!! The first thing that strikes the avid horror reader about books of that period is the art work and the cover....quite often the books were rubbish but the covers were fantastic and helped undoubtedly sell the material. Thirst has a fantastic cover (1980 edition) with a reservoir in the distance...where all the weed killer was deposited (see later) fronted by a screaming woman whose face is adorned with various sores and abnormalities. In the distance the sun is setting creating a red and cruel sky.....come on admit it...you want to read it!!

Mel Timberley is transporting a dangerous volatile tanker full of weed killer and unfortunately his mind is elsewhere. I just loved the opening paragraph it really drew me in...”The tanker lumbered through the night, its erratic passage reflecting the mood of its driver – angry; punishing the engine on stretches of straight road, torturing brakes and tyres on the bends” So with Mel reflecting on his troubles he is not concentrating on his driving and the responsibility of such a dangerous cargo....the inevitable happens and the toxic week killer ends its journey unfortunately in a reservoir that is the main water feed for the good people of Birmingham.

As with all good horror we meet an interesting cross section of the population and enjoy the spectacle of how they cope when drinking the offending water supply. At 200+ pages the story is short ( I always feel this is a great attribute in horror novels of this type as there is only so many ways an unsuspecting populace can meet its demise) Characters are introduced to the reader only to quickly disappear as they come into contact with the deadly water supply.

One character of note is Benny Wilkes living a life full of wasted opportunities under the watchful eye of a weak mother and a dominating father, Thomas Wilkes, who insists his son follow a nice safe career in banking. One day Benny decides to alter the brakes on his father’s car, leading to Thomas Wilkes demise expertly hidden under all the turmoil happening in a city under seize due to the contaminated water.

All stories must have a hero and I suppose Ron Blythe fits that model perfectly especially as he was the scientist behind the production of the week killer and therefore morally responsible. Ron has a wondering eye for the ladies and has had many affairs with younger more attractive women (well why shouldn’t he...Margaret was beautiful once but age has caught with her...a somewhat chauvinistic attitude!) The city of Brimingham is declared an emergency zone with rampaging looting gangs and inhabitants dying.....the world is crying out for a hero... step up to centre stage Ron. Ron attempts to break out of the fenced emergency zone with the beautiful Carol Evans (someone had to rescue her...why not Ron!) Ron loves Carol...Carol loves Ron...bye bye Margaret!! A bulldozer and an escaped convict, Mike Cummins, help our heroes breach the barriers and head for freedom...is all well with the world? There is a nice unexpected conclusion which leads to a satisfactory ending.

I enjoyed the first half of Thirst, meeting all the characters both good and bad and watching the carnage unfold but I felt the second half was a somewhat wasted opportunity descending into anarchy as a once proud city became the battle ground for warring gangs and wannabe soldiers. So in conclusion a fine example of horror of a certain age, not a work of great imagination but a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

In the end only darkness by Monica O'Rourke

Extreme horror is a genre that I don't often read, I am not sure if I will enjoy, I am not sure if I want to enjoy and I am nor sure if I will find the experience at all pleasant. “In the end only darkness” is a brutal read and involves themes of torture and rape where everyday death is just a normal occurrence. That said I often question why I read particular books and how I judge what is good bad or indifferent? and indeed if I am entertained by a book whatever the subject that has to be a good thing. This book is a collection of short stories, dealing with the aforementioned themes, and as such (as I often find) some of these stories I will enjoy and some I will find instantly forgettable. There were a few gems here where I could honestly say the readers might question his own morals; “Oral Mohel” is a rather unusual and novel way for a "circumcision" to be performed (the clue being in the title) It certainly held my attention and was both an enjoyable and painful experience to read."An experiment in Human Nature" is a very difficult story of torture in the extreme but Mz O'Rourke concludes the story in a most satisfactory manner. "Feeding Desire with Jack Fisher" will most certainly test the human "prejudice" and what you think of as normal behaviour will be sorely tested in this (what I considered) a fun read and prob one of the highlights of the book .......

"For Diana, being thin was about as far away as Europe and not nearly as attainable. Folds of flesh covered a frame that, after worms and maggots someday feasted on her corpse, would prove to be of medium bone structure; meaning she would never be dainty or petite no matter what here weight; nor on the flipside would she ever try out for women's rugby....Diana being bed-ridden because of her rather rotund body had little else to do all day and night other than to watch television-and eat....Diana lived in a studio and spent her life sprawled on a pullout sofa that hadn’t been in its original position in half a decade. The sheet beneath her wet and stained flesh was filthy with crumbs and feces smears that she couldn’t quite reach to wipe away. The sheets hadn’t been changed in months”....
So this very obese lady has a constant relationship with food until the day Jack Fisher arrives and Diana is then able to combine her love of food with her new found interest in sex under the helpful guidance of Mr Fisher. So this story may question what we feel is right and proper in a world consumed by the perfect shape and the perfect body. It is an uncomfortable yet enjoyable rump and kept me reading irrespective of the subject matter There is also a great sadness to this story and a very unexpected ending.....is that not what reading is about? enjoyment and escape from the ordinary?

“The rest of Larry” provides one of the lighter moments in this dark collection. Larry awakens to find that he was not so much a person but a torso...”A skeletal torso at that, most of the meat having rotted off the bones or been picked clean by scavengers. He’d been chopped in half, that much was obvious. Parts of the blade were still imbedded in a rib bone From the base of the ribcage down, he was..well, in the immortal words of Gertude Stein, There was not there, there. Nothing but flapping tissue and shredded tatters of shirt.” Larry needs answers and he finds them in the hands of his wife and lover....a great story concluded expertly
I am certainly glad I read this book as the collection had some thoughtful and great stories that certainly made in impression on what I felt was morally correct.