Follow by email

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Larry McMurtry - The Passing of a true legend

 Larry McMurtry will always have a special place in the hearts of western fans for his Lonesome Dove sequence which started in 1985 with Lonesome Dove (the source material for the excellent TV mini-series), which was followed by a sequel The Streets of Laredo (1993) and then two prequel novels Dead Man's Walk (1995) and Comanche Moon (1997). The characters of Gus and Call are now as iconic to western literature as any of the other characters who have ridden across the page and blazed over the silver screen.

Mr McMurtry died on March 25th this year at the age of 84 and left behind an envious body of work. And whilst Lonesome Dove may be his most famous work, largely thanks to the multiple Emmy winning TV version of the sequence he is responsible for many many highly regarded and wall known works - The Paul Newman movie, Hud came from one of his books, as did The Last Picture Show and he was responsible partly for the script of the movie, Brokeback Mountain. During his lifetime he scored many awards including a Pulitzer and a National Humanities Medal.

In tribute I here post my review of Streets of Laredo, chronologically the final book in the Lonesome Dove saga:

'More worrisome to him was the fact that the joints of his fingers had started to swell, when it got cold. For most of his life he had paid no attention to weather; weather was just there. He never let it interfere with his work or his movements. In time, the weather would always change, but the work wouldn't wait. Now it seemed, weather was interfering plenty. When the cold struck his wrist joints became swollen, and the joints of his fingers even more so.'

The Streets of Lardeo is the sequel to the Pulitzer Prize winning, Lonesome Dove and where it was the second book published in the series it is actually the fourth book chronologically. The author would follow this novel with   a couple  of prequel novels (Dead Man's Walk and Commanche Moon) that looked at the early days of Captain Call and Augustus McCrae. This book though is a direct sequal to that first novel and not to be confused with that TV movie, Return to Lonesome Dove which is a poor substitute to this, the real conclusion to a beautifully written, painfully realistic western tetralogy . In The Streets of Laredo, McMurtry adds the final strokes to the story of Captain Call, and gives the character a worthy if somewhat depressing send off.

The book is all about growing old - as the Wild West that needed men like Captain Call slowly fades into history then so too do men like Call. McMurtry's westerns have never been about gun blazing heroics, although there are plenty, but more about presenting in as vivid and truthful a fashion as possible the real cruelty of the period. The book opens many years after the events told in Lonesome Dove and when we meet up with Captain Call he is an aged character, someone better suited to spending his days in a rocker whittling away at pieces of wood, but Call doesn't pay much attention to his growing old and has long as he can still do what he sets his mind to he doesn't really think about the changes age brings to his once strong body.

'When she looked out the door of the rooming house and saw Captain Call coming, she had been shocked at how decrepit he looked. Pea Eye had mentioned, casually, that the Captain wasn't as spry as he had been, but the comment hadn't prepared her how the man actually looked.'

Call find himself hired by the railroad to track down the youthful bandit, Joey Garza who is making  a name for himself by striking trains across the Mexican border. Call is teamed up with Brookshire,  a man of the East who is really not suited to the harsh conditions in the West - he spends much of his time either chasing his hat which blows off in the Texas winds or pining for his bossy wife, Kate. Soon they are joined by  yound deputy, Plunkert who is no more suitable that Brookshire and also spends much of his time thinking of the young wife he felt behind in Laredo. Both of these men will lose their wives during the long journey ahead of them.

As well as Joey Garza, Call has to contend with Mox Mox, the manburner, a truly sadistic character who takes great pleasure from burning people alive - man, woman or child it matters not to the runty bandit and some of the scenes concerning the character, although largely told in flashback, are truly stomach churning. It's not all grim though - there are many great character moments. The Indian tracker, Famous Shoes offers some great comedic relief and there is a scene where a group of whores are talking about the first men in their lives that displays the author's incredible skill with character and dialogue.

In the end Captain Call is a legend and the author skilfully weaves his story around several real historical characters, Charles Goodnight, Hanging Huge Roy Bean and John Wesley Harding for instance play major roles in this wonderfully written epic of the old West.

'Call was no longer the man who had lived in the old times; he was no longer even the man who had killed Mox Mox. That man was not the cripple who lived in a granery, in a barn on the Quitaque. That man lived back somewhere in memory, across a canyone, across the Pecos; that man had been blown away, as Brookshire feared he would be, on the plains of time.'

To sum up - a wonderful book that must be read. Absoluely astounding - lyrical, elegiac and jaw dropping!

Like the other books in the series, Streets of Laredo was made into a TV mini-series, this time with James Garner in the role of Captain Call.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Hit the Beach by Len Levinson - BOOK REVIEW

 Originally published in 1983 under the name of John Mackie, Hit the Beach is now available for the Kindle under the author's own name of Len Levinson. The book comes from a period when slim (usually around 200 pages) paperback originals filled bookshops up and down the country. They were good times and I miss those days- these paperback originals came in all genres - westerns, war, thriller, crime. horror, SF and even if you were feeling daring, erotic. The books had no pretentions and all aimed to provide the reader with one thing - a bloody good story, well told. They were violent, often gratuitously so and there was a lot of rubbish among the good stuff and many of the authors from the period are still loved and read even today.

That's one of the great strengths of eBooks in that it allows long out of print titles to remain in electronic print to be rediscovered by old fans, and also to draw in readers too young to have been around when bookstores, newsagents and even the odd service stations stocked these quick, no nonsense reads. It seems that these days publishers demand novels come out the size of house-bricks, whether the story warrants the length or not. It's not the page count that matters you know, but rather the story itself.

As an old girlfriend once told me, size isn't everything!

The Rat Bastards series, 16 books in all, was new to me  - Back when these novels were current I tended to read almost exclusively in the western genre, but I've heard good things about this series and so I tentatively grabbed a copy from the Kindle store. I'm glad I did and I've already started the second in the series.

The first book, Hit The Beach introduces the mismatched team of American soldiers as they arrive at Guadalcanal, and find themselves pitched into a harrowing ordeal of combat with a massive army of Japanese, or japs as the book would have it. It's gory and extremely violent, but the author has created several memorable, well drawn characters, who carry the larger than life action forward so that when the reader is within the fiction it never seems too far fetched but comes across as brutally real.

It's an episodic structure with no real plot as such, but amongst the fireworks the author manages to build on the main characters and bring them to life for the reader - none of them are in the square jawed heroic mould, they all have their flaws (boy, do they have their flaws) and they are all the better for it. The episodic structure also works really well in bringing the mayhem of warfare to the page and you can really feel the ordeal these men go through.

An excellent read and well worth seeking out.

Available as eBook and Audiobook.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Exit by Belinda Bauer BOOK REVIEW

Belinda Bauer is marketed as a crime writer, and yet she is only a crime writer in the sense that Stephen King is a horror writer, for like Mr King Belinda transcends a genre which is unable to contain her. Her previous book, the Booker Longlisted, Snap was one of the darkest and yet most heartwarming books I've read for many years and I raved about it to anyone who would listen. Her new book is much lighter in tone than the aforementioned masterwork, though it does concern a murder most foul. Trouble is it's the funniest murder any reader is likely to come across in all crime literature.

The cleverly constructed, ever so twisty plot concerns an organisation known as the Exiters - a group of kindly people who sit with terminally ill patients who have decided that suicide is the only way out of a life that has become nothing but misery and extreme pain. The exiters don't provide assisstance in the act of sucide but merely offer support when it is most needed - these people know how to stay on the right side of the law.

The book opens with 75 year old Felix, an experianced exiter and a young girl called Amanda (all good eyebrows and no experience) turning up at an address to aid in the suicide of an elderly man who is being tortured by cancer. However all is not as it seems and Felix and Amanda are horrified to discover that they have killed the wrong man. Felix being the noble sort decides to take the blame himself and keep Amanda out of it, but first he has to decide when to hand himself into the police but not, of course until he'd walked his dog.


What follows is an often hilarious thriller that keeps the pages turning as one unlikely event follow another until the final, didn't see that coming denouncement. In places the plot reminded me of Tom Sharpe, in others Agatha Christie but at the end of the day the book comes from an original voice and one of the most widly creative in all of the crime genre.


Tuesday, 26 January 2021

The Next Victim by Helen H. Durrant: Book Review

 This book, the first to feature DCI Rachel King, hits the ground running by given us the killer's point of view quite early in the narrative while opening up the world  the characters inhabit around the tightly constructed plot. Of course the nucleus of the story is the life of Detective Rachel King, late Thirties, divorced (fictional lead detectives usually are), two teenage children and an hectic work and home life balance. Add to this the fact that Rachel is still very much in love with (even if she doesn't want to admit it to herself) an old flame who just happens to be a notorious gangster, and you have a heady mix indeed.

This last element added a lot to the character of Rachel and promises much for later books in the series. It really is an intriguing aspect to the premise and when Rachel and Mr gangster team up towards the end of the book this offers an original twist on that old chestnut; the ill-matched pair. It's more Hart to Corleone than Hart to Hart. Although joking aside, this part of the plot works really well, is handled with panache and seems perfectly natural to the story that the author tells. In fact, it left me eager to get into the second book in the series and find where this relationship will go next.

The blurb -

A young man’s body is found burnt and tortured by a Manchester canal.

Detective Rachel King investigates. But she has a secret, the love of her life is a well-known villain. He has recently come back on the scene. But what does he really want?

A brutal serial killer with a taste for good-looking young blonde men.

A student who believes she has a lost brother. But even her own father doesn’t believe her. 

Helen H. Durrant

The Next Victim is one of those books that grips the reader very early on and I found myself rooting for the main character and becoming invested in her messier than messy private life, while she tried to juggle a heavy work load and stop a serial killer. All of the characters ring true and the pacing of the story is faultless with events happening naturally in the narrative and carrying the reader hurtling towards the final denouncement with that twist, that to be honest I'd figured out by the last quarter of the story but nevertheless kept me enthralled.

An excellent book.

Available in eBook, print and audio versions.

Monday, 25 January 2021

2021 - The Colour Kindle

 Rumours are rife on technical websites that Amazon are to finally release a colour eInk version of the Kindle for 2021, and this now looks to be a sure thing. 

The current range of Kindle devices are more that three years old. 

Amazon didn't release any new Kindles last year due to the fact that their hardware is made by Foxcon in China and given the Covid situation the factory has been running at only 30% capacity.

 Several times during 2020 Amazon's Kindle range were completely sold out, before stock was replenished so the market is obviously out there.

At the moment there are a few colour eReaders due out in the first quarter of this year and these will use the second generation Kaleido colour ePaper which has great contrast and its greyscale will work fine with front lighted displays. The format will work on screens from 5.84 to 10 inches and eInk have said that they are ramping up production of colour screens both in California and China.

This serves as a threat to Amazon because any eReader that runs Android will be able to use the Amazon Kindle App, which of course will see Amazon losing out on hardware sales.

Add all this to the fact that Amazon have become a reactionary company in terms of new technologies - waiting for rivals to try out new technologies and iron out the bugs, before stepping in with their Kindle version - then it looks like the smart money is on the Kindle finally going colour.

2021 then, is certain to be the year of the colour kindle.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

King's Reach by John Sander's: Book Review


Whilst I found this book deeply interesting and very readable I was hugely disappointed in that the book was not what I expected it to be. Billed as the story of 25 years at the top of comics, I expected this to tell the story of the creative process behind some of the iconic British comics that Fleetway/IPC published during the glory days when newsagents everywhere stocked their titles.

Although titles like Battle, Action and 2000AD are mentioned it is only in passing as the narrative is more concerned with the business side of comic publishing, rather than the creative nuts and bolts. It's kind of ironic that John Sanders uses the phrase Bean-counter to describe the men in suits who were only interested in the bottom line of the comic business and yet his narrative paints him very much as a bean counter himself.

In fairness though if you are looking for an overview of the business side of British comic publishing then this book certainly delivers that, and it is quite fascinating, but it rarely mentions any of the creative geniuses who led British comics during the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's and when they are mentioned we get a surge of bitchiness towards Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson that would make a street corner gossip blush.

In all I would say that this is a good book but it's not a real examination of the comics that made up the childhood of readers of my age, but rather an examination of the business of comic publishing with Sanders often coming across as the be all and end all of the British comics industry, which of course he certainly was not.

The book comes good in the end with a frank account of the Maxwell days and the demise of one arm of British comics, but I was expecting a very different book.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Digital Book sales boom during Covid Crisis

 With the world closed down and book shops having to shut their doors, readers were moved to look to digital books in order to get their reading material. The online resource, Publish-drive recently issued a white paper that looked at the boom in digital publishing during these troubled times.

We’ve been reporting the trends and data on our blog since March 2020, where indies selling digital books via PublishDrive saw growth by at least 20%. In April 2020, we reported another 23% growth. In May 2020, sales increased by 60% in one year. In June 2020, sales increased by 66% in one year. Demand is high right now.

Genre fiction did particularly well.

In July, summer book trends were obvious. Romance genres became even more popular than before, with a 47% growth rate compared to the previous month. Other popular genres under fiction included Mystery (27%), Action & Adventure (10%), Literary (6%), Thriller (4%), and Fantasy books (13%).

Non-fiction titles maintained solid growth, especially Religion (45%), Family & Relationships (4%), Education (2%), and Music (2%). Compared to July 2019, the largest growth overall came from Fantasy (174%), Literary (29%), Music (412%), Religion (121%), Sci-Fi (60%), Self-Help (68%), Social Science (135%), Thriller (115%), Family & Relationships (235%), Business (58%), Health & Fitness (82%), and History (67%).