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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Book Review: The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

I've not read any of Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne novels for a few years - there's no real reason for that but I followed the series for maybe the first five books, getting the books as they came out,  before I started reading other series crime novels. I wanted see how other's authors tackled the problem of carrying the same character through a series of books and I went through a lot of Rebus, the entire Jack Frost series and of course the excellent Wallander books. Since then I'd become hooked on Nordic Noir and have been reading the likes of Jo Nesbo and going through the Jowall and Wahoo's Beck books. So many book and so little time.

I'd always intended to go back to Tom Thorne but for some reason (probably because I always had my nose buried in some book or other)  I never got around to it...until now. Reading the blurb for Billingham's twelfth Tom Thorne thriller I discovered that Stuart Nicklin played a big part - Nicklin was the deranged serial killer in the second Thorne book, Scardey Cat, and it was this reason that attracted me to the novel. My memories of Scardey Cat is that it was an exceptional thriller - it's a cliché to say you couldn't stop turning the pages but in the case of Scardey Cat I remember that as being true. In the years since then and now it seems that  Nicklin's become Thorne's Moriarty and from what I learned reading The Bones Beneath he's appeared in bit parts in several of the Thorne novels I've missed. I'll have to remedy that and go read the ones I've missed because, The Bones Beneath is absolutely brilliant.

It doesn't matter if, like me, you haven't read the entire series because in terms of the story, The Bones Beneath reads just a standalone thriller, it can be read on its own without any loss of enjoyment. It's pretty much a self contained story but of course there has been a lot of character development during the earlier books, but Thorne's just as I remember him, though these days he seems to be in a loving relationship and has only just returned to his Detective Inspector role after being busted back to a uniformed officer, for something that occured in one of the previous thrillers.

The Bones Beneath gives us Billingham's answer to the locked room mystery - well sort of, since the bulk of the book takes place on a remote Welsh Island with a limited cast of character. The weather's turned nasty and there is no way off the island which Thorne shares with deranged killer, Stuart Nicklin, another killer who is anything but deranged named Jeffrey Batchelor, seveal other police officers, a few prison guards and a myraid group of people who live on the island. The reason we are here is that there was once a young offenders hostel on the island, and Stuart Nicklin had been an inmate. Now Nicklin reveals that he once killed a fellow inmate there and wants to reveal where the body is to finally bring closure to the family - echoes of the real life drama when Ian Brady cruelly refused to reveal where he had buried the body of Keith Bennet despite the anguish this caused the young boys mother. Brady of course took that secret to the grave with him.


Nicklin though wants to show where the body of his victim is buried, but he has several conditions - firstly that his fellow, Long Lartin (a Catagory A high security prison) inmate Jeffrey Batchelor comes on the trip, and that the police officer leading the search is none other than his nemesis, Tom Thorne. Of course we know Nicklin has his reasons for these conditions but when the truth comes out towards the end of the book, you think - 'Shit, why didn't I spot that?'

The book plays out far differently that the reader expects and the suspense is excellently built up until we are, here's a variation on that cliché again, turning the pages at the speed of knots - the nautical term is apropos given that the sea plays such a part in the book.

Welcome back Tom Thorne....let's not leave it so long next time.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Harry Secombe who replaced Tony Hancock is replaced by Andrew Secombe as the BBC recreate the behind the scenes drama of the Missing Hancock scripts.

I've written several times of  my love of legendary comedian, Tony Hancock - you can find Hancock related posts HERE and HERE. So I was cautious a few years back when I heard that the BBC were going to re-record some of the missing shows from their archives with a new cast - I need not have worried  - Actor, Kevin McNally does a remarkable job reinventing Hancock. So good that if you played these episodes to someone they'd never know it wasn't Hancock they were listening to. In fact the entire cast have done an amazing job - Kevin Eldon sounds exactly like Bill Kerr,  Robin Sabastian is camply spot on as Kenneth Williams and whilst, Simon Greenall may have not quite nailed Sid James' distinctive smoky voice he does at least get his trademark laugh. And of course the scripts are pure Galton and Simpson.

When I heard the first series of these recreated episodes I loved them - I now own most of them as audiobook thanks to the wonderful service that is Audible . The background on the episodes is that the BBC recorded 103 episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, recognised by many as the first sitcom, for the BBC Light Service, but 20 of these episodes were wiped. For many years the scripts for these missing episodes were thought to have been destroyed but when the scripts were re-discovered the BBC decided to recreate the episodes - there is, after all, still a massive audience for the genius of Galton and Simpson's Hancock's Half Hour.

Now just over Christmas I caught the third season, of The Missing Hancocks and it is now that they get totally surreal. Back in 1955 when the original episodes were recorded, Tony Hancock was having a dispute over the fact that the recording of his successful radio series was clashing with his lucrative theatre work. Hancock felt he was getting pressure from both sides - the BBC and his theatre producer. Hancock's response to this was to vanish - he buggered off to Rome without telling anyone. The BBC were in trouble - Hancock was a hugely successful radio series, and rather than cancel they brought in Welsh comedian, Harry Secombe, famed for among other things, his work on The Goon Show. In the end Secombe did three episodes - A Trip to France,  The Crown Jewels and The Racehorse - so successful was Secombe that the BBC had plans to change the name of the series to, Secombe's Half Hour should Tony Hancock fail to return. However, Hancock did return and the first episode of his return saw him and Bill Kerr visiting Swansea to thank Secombe for standing in.

Like father like son - Harry and Andrew Secombe
The story of Hancock vanishing is interesting - when producer, Dennis Main Wilson went to the Adelphi Theatre to give Hancock the first script for the second series of the sitcom, which was due to be recorded that weekend he was told he wasn't there, had vanished. Frantic telephone calls to Tony's wife and agent failed to reveal the whereabouts of the star. Main Wilson then went around all the bars Hancock was known to frequent but he wasn't found. Shortly afterwards Main Wilson received a surprise telephone call from Chief Superintendent Ginger Rose of Scotland Yard - the policeman had tickets to attend the recording of the shows and he wanted to know what the star of the show was doing on a plane to Rome. Main Wilson felt that the recordings would have to be cancelled but the BBC said they would go ahead with a replacement. Welsh clown, Harry Secombe was drafted in and recorded his episodes directly following recordings of Goon Show Episodes.

Now when the BBC came to record these episodes as part of The Missing Hancock series they could have simply done them with Kevin McNally playing Hancock himself, but instead they opted to re-create them as faithfully as possible and drafted in Andrew Secombe to play his father's part. In fact in the fourth of the Secombe episodes Andrew is actually playing his father rather than his father's version of the Hancock character,  as Kevin McNally's Hancock come to Swansea to thank him for his involvement.

"These programmes have long been a source of curiosity among the family, developing an almost mythic quality - indeed I had no idea that the scripts still existed until I got the call from Neil Pearson! I'm thrilled to be a part of the very talented team bringing these episodes of a much-loved series back to life. Who'd have thought taking over the family business could be such fun?" Andrew Secombe.

The episodes can be heard on the BBC website.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

D is for Deceased - An appreciation of Sue Grafton

I'm old enough to remember reading the first book in Sue Grafton's Kinsey Malone series not long after it first came out - A is for Alibi was originally published in 1982, I was seventeen at the time, and I can clearly recall picking up the brand new paperback copy in the Wishing Well, a great bookshop that once stood in Tonypandy. Thinking back I reckon that this must have been around 1984 or possibly 85.


Since then there have been another 24 books, the series ended with Y is for Yesterday, which was published earlier this year. Fans of the series, which has become known as the alphabet mysteries, know that the final book in the series, Z is for Zero was due to be published sometime later this year - this was already set in stone before the recent news that author, Sue Grafton had passed away at the age of 77 from cancer. However Grafton's estate have stated that the author became ill after completing Y is for Yesterday and couldn't start work on Z is for Zero. They have ruled out the use of ghostwriters to finish the final book in the series, so it seems that the alphabet will end with Y. In a strange way it's almost fitting since many of the cases in Grafton's books remained open after the final page, so the alphabet series will, by all accounts, never be closed.

Grafton's private eye novels were trailblazing in that they were the first to truly represent a female protagonist in the hard boiled crime setting - with Kinsey Millhone she showed that a female heroine could carry a series just as well as the more traditional male dicks. Back when Grafton started out the hardboiled mysery genre was pretty bleak for females - female characters were either femme fatales or the corpse, but Grafton and other writers (Sara Paretsky introduced her gal gumshoe, V.I. Warshawski that same year.) changed the face of the genre and entertained scores of readers along the way.

'She is my alter-ego,' Grafton told the Seattle Times of her series character, Kinsey Millhone. 'I’m an introvert, so doing half of what Kinsey does is beyond my poor capabilities. But it’s fun to get to live her life without penalty!”

Over the years Grafton has won just about every award crime fiction can offer, and has picked up a legion of readers. There is no doubt that her series featuring the tough, Kinsey Millhone will continue to pick up readers for years and years to come. The author has left a significant legacy behind her. Published in 28 countries and 26 languages-including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. She's was an international bestseller with a readership in the millions. She will be remembered  for her distinctive style, her realism, her deft hand with character, her acute social observances,
and an incredible gift for storytelling.



Grafton was a giant in the crime fiction field and she will be greatly missed - RIP.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Godless spoilerless review- a fine western a'streaming now

That kid who played Paul McCartney in the Lennon bio-pic, Nowhere Boy plays a Billy the Kid type role as Whitey Winn, that guy who played dumber alongside Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber gives us the most memorable and complex western bad guy in recent years with his finely honed performance as Frank Griffin, that woman from Downtown Abbey gives us a much more grounded character than the aristocratic lady which shot her to fame, and that handsome guy who is not George Clooney from Money Monster is the good bad guy, Roy Good. Curious casting maybe, (in fact with the exception of Jeff Daniels the lead actors are all Brits)  but Godless from streaming service, Netflix is the finest small screen western since Lonesome Dove. I kid you not, it is that good - expect it to be rewarded highly when award season comes around.

 Written and directed by Scott Frank the production shows a fondness for Leone type tracking shots, Ford'ian cinematography, Tarantino'esque violence and most importantly storytelling of the finest kind. The script was originally intended as a movie but Netflix were on a spending spree and asked Frank to flush out the story for a limited TV mini-series and we should be thankful for this - split over seven episodes, all of them longer than a hour and some of them a mini movie in themselves, gives a larger canvas to work with. And not a second of this time is wasted with each and every character flushed out. Of course we have all the stock western characters - the good time girls, the crusading newspaperman, the noble sheriff. They're all present and correct but the world in which they operate seems very real indeed.

When I first saw the trailer I feared it was another of those all too common shows with correctness as the driving force - the trailer seemed to suggest it was a western about a town populated solely by women and their fight to survive in the harsh environment, and whilst the  town of La Belle is important to the story, Godless is really driven by the promise of an inevitable showdown between Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and Roy Good (Jack O' Connell).  Of course the all female town is an interesting twist to the standard western story and the origin of this town is explained logically within the story - La Belle is a mining town, a small town in which each of the residents has a stake in the mine and a disaster one day takes out virtually the entire male population. This makes the town interesting to a swindling mining corporation and this is just one of the story threads running through the rich tapestry that is Godless.

The relationships between Frank Griffin and Roy Good is presented in flashbacks alongside the main thrust of the story, and it's all the better for it. After the first episode we view Frank Griffin as a man without a soul, pure evil itself but a couple of episodes in and we see he is much more than a pantomime villain,. In fact in his own mind he's not evil at all, and although he does much during the run of the show that would put the devil to shame, he does a lot of good also. It's a wonderful performance by Jeff Daniels. Likewise Roy Good (Jack O'Connell) who has a father/son, Love/hate relationship with Griffin gives a pitch perfect performance.


'Ain't nothing scarier than a man with a gun. Ain't nothing more helpless than a man without one.' Frank Griffin.

Other notable characters are Whitey Winn, the fast shooting deputy whose lanky frame and amiable manner brings to mind a young James Stewart, the lesbian Mary Agnus played by the always wonderful,  Merritt Weaver who steals every scene she's in and a passel of well rounded townsfolk, gunmen and plain old ordinary old west citizens.

All in all this is an excellent show and all 7 episodes are available to stream over on Netflix right now. I'm a western lover and I rate this show as better than the recent Hell on Wheels, hell to my mind it even bests the wonderful Deadwood. Godless then is a true classic of the genre with a soundtrack that equals those old Morricone scores. And that final operatic shoot out - well without spoilers all I can say is that it is an absolute masterclass in action film - virtually the entire town are involved and the women folk of La Belle prove that they are every bit as deadly as the hardened men who would do them harm.

'I seen my death. This ain't it.' Frank Griffin.

In the final summery - FUCKING BRILLIANT






Monday, 25 December 2017

THE WESTERN 2017 ANNUAL ROUNDUP

When I first started The Tainted Archive, way back in 2009 it was to write about my love of the western genre and also to promote my first western novel, The Tarnished Star. Over the years the blog has changed and become something that encompasses all of pop culture. My writing's branched out also - as well as the westerns, which I still write, I've been publishing non-fiction historical work through Pen and Sword Books and next year will see the publication of my first crime fiction hardcover. However the Western is still foremost on my mind, it remains the genre which I love the best - earlier this year in fact saw the publication of my eighth novel for the Black Horse Western imprint with Massacre at Red Rock. And I intend to get to work on a new western novel early in 2018.

The western's been pronounced dead, interred, buried and burned more times that Donald Trump's upset the Twitterites. Strange then that a genre that's been on it's last legs for decades is still alive and kicking. The back end of 2017 saw Netflix launch a western mini-series in Godless that just may be the best TV oater since Lonesome Dove. Godless is an absolute triumph that rewards binge viewing; tightly written, brilliantly acted  and excellently executed. This is one show that western fans will not want to miss. There have also been more rumours from HBO that the long awaited Deadwood TV-Movie is finally off the ground and moving towards production, but we've had this news before so it's a case of waiting....and waiting...and waiting.......


There have been scores of low budget western movies this past year, most of them straight to DVD but some of them enjoying limited theatrical releases. OK, many of them have been forgettable but there have been some nuggets of pure gold in amongst the pyrite. On particular movie I would urge the reader to view is Tombstone Rashomon directed by Brit Alex Cox.

The movie was crowdfunded and shows not one but five differing versions of the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral, each from the perspective of the different lead players. It's an interesting movie that could have benefited from a larger budget, but even in its lower than low budget state it remains a fine viewing experience. Another low budget and more traditional western I would point fans towards is The Ballad of Lefty Brown, a straight forward revenge western that shows a real love for the genre.

With a much larger budget and a big name cast, Hostiles (which I've not seen yet since it doesn't get a UK release until Jan 2018) looks hugely promising - already it's gathered good reviews and the trailer promises an intelligent western movie.





The western's continued to put in a strong showing in the literary world - Robert Hale's Black Horse Western imprint, now owned by Crowood Press, continues to put out hardcover westerns on a monthly basis, most of these books also become available digitally and as large print paperbacks. And speaking of eBooks the excellent Piccadilly Publishing continue to release classic and original westerns. And of course over in the US there are several major publishers that continue to put out western novels. I must mention Craig Johnson's modern day oater, the Longmire series which, enjoys strong sales and is helping to bring mystery readers towards out beloved genre. In fact given all the classic westerns coming out in eBook, not to mention the stuff coming out from small and self publishers then there has never been an easier time to get your hands on a western fix.

The Western Writers of America 2017 Awards:

Historical Nonfiction
Winner:
 The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, The Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History by Paul Andrew Hutton (Crown)
Finalists: American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains by Dan Flores (University Press of Kansas); The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens (Alfred A. Knopf)
Biography
Winner:
 Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary by Joe Jackson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Finalists: Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde by John Boessenecker (Thomas Dunne Books); Nobody Rich or Famous: A Family Memoir by Richard Shelton (University of Arizona Press)
Contemporary Nonfiction
Winner:
 New Deal Cowboy: Gene Autry and Public Diplomacy by Michael Duchemin (University of Oklahoma Press)
Finalists: The Fire Line: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and One of the Deadliest Days in American Firefighting by Fernanda Santos (Flatiron Books); Stories From Afield: Adventures with Wild Things in Wild Places by Bruce L. Smith (University of Nebraska Press)
Traditional Novel
Winner: 
The Mustanger and the Lady by Dusty Richards (Galway Press)
Finalists: The Contractor by James C. Work (Five Star Publishing); News of the World by Paulette Jiles (William Morrow)
Contemporary Novel
Winner:
 Off the Grid: A Joe Pickett Novel by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Finalists: Jasper Spring by James T. Hughes (Dog Ear Publishing); Hidden Star by Corinne Joy Brown (FriesenPress)
Mass-Market Paperback Novel
Winner:
 Return to Red River by Johnny D. Boggs (Pinnacle)
Finalists: Widowmaker Jones by Brett Cogburn (Pinnacle); Frontier: Powder River by S.K. Salzer (Pinnacle)
Juvenile Nonfiction
Winner:
 The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
Finalists: Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West by Chris Enss (TwoDot); Sissy Bear at the Fort by Holly Arnold Kinney (Fur Trade Press)
Juvenile Fiction
Winner:
 Trouble Returns: A Ruby & Maude Adventure by Nancy Oswald (Filter Press)
Finalists: The Green Colt: The Adventures of Wilder Good by S.J. Dahlstrom (Paul Dry Books); Saddle Up! by Donna Alice Patton and Emily Chase Smith (Chase Smith Press/Redwood Digital Publishing)
Storyteller (Illustrated Children’s Book)
Winner:
 Seasons of the Bear: A Yosemite Story by author Ginger Wadsworth and illustrator Daniel San Souci (Yosemite Conservancy)
Finalists: Voices of the Western Frontier by author Sherry Garland and illustrator Julie Dupré Buckner (Pelican); Big Buckaroo Goes to the Special Olympics by author Rachelle “Rocky” Gibbons and illustrator Jason Hutton (Tate Publishing)
Short Nonfiction
Winner: “‘Master of Ceremonies’: The World of Peter Biggs in Civil War-Era Los Angeles” by Kendra Field and Daniel Lynch (Western Historical Quarterly)
Finalists: “Cowboys & Millionaires: How Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders Bonded as Brothers Before Leaving to Fight in the Spanish-American War” by Mark Lee Gardner (True West Magazine); “Touching History: A Grandson’s Memories of Felix Marion Jones and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows” by Will Bagley (Utah Historical Quarterly)
Short Fiction
Winner:
 “Odell’s Bones” by Troy D. Smith (Cane Hollow Press)
Finalists: “Comanche Camp at Dawn” by Johnny D. Boggs (Giacobbe Fritz Fine Art/Nocona Burgess); “Umpire Colt” by Johnny D. Boggs (High Hill Press)
Poetry
Winner:
 “Ain’t A Hermit” by Floyd Beard (self-published, produced by Butch Hause)
Finalists: “Ballad of a Basque Sheepherder: Shaniko, Oregon” by Matt Schumacher (Redbat Books); “Diamonds” by Ann Sochat (TwoDot)
Song
Winner:
 “Halfway Down The Devil’s Road” by Jim Jones and Allan Chapman (East Mountain Music)
Finalists: “Tularosa Rose” by Doug Figgs and Les Buffham (Slash DC Music); “The Cattleman” by Jeff Posey (Buckskin Friend Music)
Drama Screenplay
Winner:
 Hell Or High Water by Taylor Sheridan (Film 44/OddLot Entertainment/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/CBS Films)
Finalist: Desierto by Jonas Cuaron and Mateo Garcia (Esperanto Kino/ Itaca Films/CG Cinéma/STX Entertainment)
Documentary Script
Winner:
 The Drift: An American Cattle Drive by Geoff O’Gara (The Content Lab)
First Nonfiction Book
Winner:
 The Fire Line: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and One of the Deadliest Days in American Firefighting by Fernanda Santos (Flatiron Books)
First Novel
Winner:
 Jasper Spring by James T. Hughes (Dog Ear Publishing)



The western is even represented in new media, with several podcasts that western fans will find enoyable. So take a seat around the virtual campfire and check out Voices of the West . Another show which I enjoy is Westerns with Dad , in which father and son team, John and Scott Bernhard watch and talk about classic western movies. A recent episode that I very much enjoyed compared the John Wayne True Grit with the Cohen's remake. Another great podcast is Hellbent for Letterbox, which again focuses on western movies and is hosted by Paxton Holly and Michael May. There are also scores of podcasts that present Old Time Radio westerns but one I would urge you all to try is TimesPastWesterns - this particular podcasts cherry picks the best of old time radio for our western pleasures.


So this long dead genre seems to be very much alive and kicking, and no doubt the next classic western is just around the corner. So saddle up, there's plenty out there to enjoy.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Darkside Belinda Bauer

This book is a sort of sequel to Black Lands, which I raved about, but it was not in the same league. It's not a bad book, far from it but it seemed disjointed to me and I'd guessed who the killer was by the half way point - it starts out very well but it's nowhere near as dark as Black Lands and on times trends in cozy crime territory. And that to me was a problem when I was reading - I like cozy crime but this story seemed to want to be dark psychological thriller and cozy crime at the same time and I just didn't find it as compelling as the other books I've read by the author. There is a another book that follows on from this one, Finders Keepers and I'm starting that one immediately, but only because I know how good the author is having read two of her other titles. If Dark Side had been the first book I'd read by this author then I probably wouldn't contimue.

The next book, containing several of the characters carried over from this one, should be interesting particularly knowing what I know about them from reading this one.

















































Friday, 8 December 2017

Book Review - Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

This is the first of the Wallander books - I knew of the character, but had never read any of the books though I had seen several episodes of the TV series (the BBC version) and I'd promised myself I would check out the books one day. And so this week I picked up the paperback from my towering TBR pile and vanished between the pages.

It's a very dark book and Wallander is a brooding character. There's not much joy in this book - everyone's so miserable, and the main character seems to enjoy wallowing in misery. Mind you he doesn't have much to smile about - he lives alone, eats nothing but junk food, and loses sleep because he's always dreaming of a beautiful black woman. On top of all that he has to cope with the fact that his father is slipping into the clutches of dementia.

It takes awhile for the book to get going, but when it does the pace really picks up and for all his flaws Wallander is a compelling character. The plot sees the detective investigating a brutal double murder of an elderly couple and touches on hard hitting subjects such as racism and xenophobia. These latter points make the book as topical as a newspaper headline.

Noric Noir is the current thing, and this book, this series rather is considered to be a blueprint for the genre. I'll certainly be checking out more in the series - in fact I plan to read them in order and have already downloaded the second in the series to my Kindle. I guess when I've read more of the books I'll know how typical or atypical this book is of the genre itself. All in all I enjoyed this book and am glad I dipped my toe into the Wallander series.