Monday, 31 October 2022

BOOK REVIEW - THE RITUAL BY ADAM NEVILL

 


There was a time, more years ago than I care to mention, when I read nothing but horror novels. I knew who the King was and I devoured page after page of his rambling prose, I was in love with the works of James Herbert, fascinated and often sickened by the splatter-punks. I would squeeze in a short story from the Pan Books between novels and I explored the likes of Koontz, Barker, Laymon, Lumley and others.

 I became personal friends with several dark scribes and even had one horror author (Steve Harris) come visit and stay several days while we drank whisky and talked genre history - a journey that took us from Stoker and Poe via Jackson, Lovecraft and down that dark winding road  to Stephen King and of course there was  a little Guy N. Smith thrown in for good measure.  Eclectic blood soaked days, indeed.

That was then though but these days apart from the odd Stephen King, and he's long broadened out from basic horror, I've not really explored the genre. So I'm not sure how I stumbled across The Ritual by Adam Nevill but I did, and all I can say is WOW! This is a brilliant read that showed me that not only was the genre alive and well but it remains as much fun as its always been.


It was the plot of the book - several city slicker friends out of their depths in the Scandinavian wilderness - which appealed because I am a great fan of nordic noir, and that particular sub-genre often skirts around the borderline of what we would call horror fiction.Of course the fact that the author's gained much praise from critics, even being called the British Stephen King also intrigued me.

After a few pages I was hooked and picked up the book at every opportunity - it starts off by exploring the fractured relationships between the four lifelong friends, before they take a wrong turning and become lost in an ancient forest where they are stalked by some sort of creature that may be as old as time itself. Throw in Viking legends, a death metal combo. the old Gods and a group of hillbillies that seem to have been spawned from a mating between Deliverance and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Oh, and let's not forget that pitiful old woman who just may be the creepiest character in the entire book.

The author does an excellent job of creating atmosphere and the tension is handled so well that the pages just fly by, as the reader becomes engrossed in the well constructed and expertly handled story. Things do get gruesome in places but there is a lot of black humour that is positioned in such a way as to allow the reader to go with the more ridiculous sections of the narrative.

To sum up then this is a powerhouse of a horror novel - often terrific and never silly. That's quite an accomplishment.



Sunday, 23 October 2022

Those Radio Days.......

 BBC Radio Four was born in September 1967, the 30th to be precise, and was just one of a number of stations the BBC launched that day - of course the biggest noise was made about the launch of Radio One, billed as Onederful One where the new gear pop/rock music has a home. But alongside the launch of Radio One and Two, we had Radio Four (Radio Three was already broadcasting, you see) and this channel is arguably the best radio station in the world. It's schedule is made up of news, drama, comedy, current affairs, history, magazine programs and even soap operas. It truly is a rarity in broadcasting and provides some of the best drama and comedy being produced today. It may be the BBC TV channels that get all the attention but it is on the radio where the real deal is to be found.


Back when Radio Four was launched it was a different world - MP3's were something of the far future and no one had heard of a compact disc. If you were lucky you may have managed to get hold of one of those new fangled cassette recorders, but there were no iPods, no streaming and certainly no listen on demand. Back then you would have likely listened with one of those massive RADIOGRAMS.

 TV's were black and white, and usually large rectangular things on a stand and painted in lurid colours like red, yellow and orange - a coloured TV rather than colour TV.


"The radio station that is still the single best reason for living in Britain." Stephen Fry
I've always been a fan of Radio Four and it's still my favorite station. I remember getting one of those pocket size transistor radios for my birthday when I was about twelve. In those days we called them trannies but that was before the modern world sexualised that particular word.  And it was then that I discovered the station - cuddled in under my blankets I held the radio to my ear, so as not to disturb my brothers or parents and it was then that I listened to my first radio play - it was an episode of Fear on Four hosted by The Man in Black and although I can't remember the full details of the episode I do remember the sheer power with which the story held me. I was terrified . A few sound effects, a voice spoken into a microphone and the imagination of the listener provides the images. It's a powerful medium and often superior to film and television.

Of course these days we also have the  station Radio Four Extra which is almost entirely made up of drama and comedy. It is a channel where you can catch vintage gems like episodes of The Man in Black or Hancock, and even  catch up on modern day classics such as the excellent Agatha Raisin series with Penelope Keith in the title role.

Anyone wanting to discover the history of this wonderful (not onederful) radio station should check out And Now On Radio Four by Simon Elmes which is published by  Arrow Books and available as a standard book as well as an audio book read by the author.

So go on and do yourself a favour  - retune that dial or ask Alexa to play the station. Tune into Radio Four - in no time at all you'll be hooked.

 It's er...fourtastic!

Terror level HIGH

 In a special promotion the eBook version of The Reluctant Terrorist is free to download from Amazon for the next three days.

That's an explosively good deal!


Go, get it.


From the pen of G. M. Dobbs, creator of the Granny Smith series.

Set deep within the picturesque Welsh valleys lies the quiet village of Gilfach. Nothing ever happened in the village until - the peacefulness is shattered by a confusion of killer clowns and a full-scale terrorist hunt.

John Smith is an everyday sort of man with everyday concerns. He spends his time working at the local supermarket, walking his dog and arguing with his domineering wife, Rose. However, John Smith, thanks to a bizarre series of events, most of which were beyond his control, finds himself with the tag of Britain’s most wanted.
John Smith is the reluctant terrorist.


It's an eccentric dimwitted character book. Sort of like a set in Wales version of a Florida set Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Bill Fitzhugh novels. It ends up not being a bad novel at all. ****

Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor


 Tonight I sat down and watched the Doctor Who special entitled The Power of the Doctor - I've not really watched the show in years, but I was enticed to watch this feature length special because I'd heard it was a regeneration episode in which the new Doctor would be revealed. 

I've long given up regularly watching the show  but I have tuned in now and then - mainly those regeneration episodes, but to be honest the show is not really for me. Not any more.

 Perhaps I've grown too old and cranky but the incoherent plotting of the episodes I have watched didn't really help and where the show once thrilled me it's gotten to the point where the only feelings it arouses is confusion.  WTF is going on?

WTF is going on perfectly sums up my feeling after viewing this feature length special. We had Daleks and Cybermen and the Master dancing to Boney M's Rasputin, while the Doctor dashed about mumbling manic  techno-babble and gobbledygook to explain the plot to us idiots peering at the screen in disbelief. What have they done to the beloved show that was Doctor Who?

There were some nice bits though - some old companions showed up, as did several previous incarnations of the Doctor and the ending (that regeneration scene) was a genuine shock when the 13th Doctor regenerated  into David Tennant - yep, he's back for another stab at the character. I know from various media news reports that the show has been in trouble for some time and maybe bringing Tennant back to the show is just what's needed to encourage viewers back to a show that been coasting on recent ratings of around three million. That Russel T. Davies is also returning as show runner is also good news for fans of the show.

I likely tune in for the first of the new Tennant episodes when they air next year, but to be honest this feature length story was nonsensical and suffered from too many erratic jumps and plot contrivances.

 In a weekend where the show aired a feature length special with previous companions and Doctors reprising their roles it turned out that the most entertaining Who material broadcast was Tyler West and Dianne Buswell doing a tango to the theme tune on Strictly Come Dancing. That fact speaks volumes about where the show is today.

No doubt, rabid Who fans ( and there are many) will rave about this episodes but to this casual viewer it was something of a let down.

Monday, 5 September 2022

SNOW ANGELS NORDIC TV REVIEW

 


Given the heavy rain and blistering winds yesterday,  I was forced indoors and found myself at a loss. I'd largely spent the last two weeks of my annual leave going on day trips or working in the garden (it's been one of the driest and warmest Augusts on record). I read  for a hour or so, but then during early afternoon I fixed myself a drink, a nice dram of Wild Turkey 101, and started to browse the internet - not looking for anything in particular, just travelling the cyber highways. I eventually came upon a retrospective article on the Danish/Swedish crime drama, The Bridge (HERE) and that remined me of how much I enjoy the well acted, tightly scripted dramas that come under the umbrella term, Nordic Noir.

This led me to pop over to ALL4, the free streaming service, from the UK's own Channel Four and search for Walter Presents - Walter Presents is a new VOD channel, presented by Walter Iuzzolino, that is part of All 4 (formerly 4oD), Channel 4’s on-demand service. It showcases foreign-language series that would otherwise not be available in the UK and is a joint initiative between Global Series Network (GSN) and Channel 4


 After scanning the list of available shows I settled on Snow Angels. By the end of the first episode I was hooked and by early evening I had watched all  six episodes and was left flabbergasted by this quite brilliant, darker than dark thriller.



Created and written by Mette Heeno, the drama is compelling right from the first when we discover that a young mother, wakes from a tranquiliser induced sleep to find both her husband and her five week old baby missing. We are swiftly introduced to two other women who will play a part in the tangled web the drama spins with each of them enduring their own personal problems, whilst trying to keep their professional lives on track. First we have Maria, a paediatric nurse who is trying to care for her brain-damaged brother and Alice, a police officer just returning to work after her husband suffered a debilitating stroke. These three women find their lives intertwined right up to the stunningly unexpected conclusion.


There's no glitz and glamour in this well realised working class setting - we have characters doing two jobs to make ends meet and heaps of misery is piled upon each character and those around them as things spiral out of control. Special mention must go to actor, Maria Rossing who is simply superb as the quietly brooding, Maria but all of the cast are top knotch. Ardalan Esmaili for one is simply excellent as the overworked father of the missing baby, but then all of the players give great performances.


I won't go into any more detail as this risks spoiling what is a cleverly constructed and totally believable story that won't disappoint. You'll never guess the way things actually play out but when it's all over everything will make perfect sense.


Quite brilliant - UK viewers can watch  Snow Angels HERE

Viewers outside the UK should check streaming services for the show.


Sunday, 3 July 2022

Whisky Talk.......

 


Only a few years back whiskey/whisky was a drink that I often enjoyed, but didn't really appreciate in the way I do now. I'd drink it of course, some times a lot of it. I'd enjoy the taste, savour the aroma, chase the finish. I drunk perhaps two brands on a regular basis, White and MacKay and Famous Grouse and whilst I continue to enjoy both brands,  I have over the last few years gained a lot more experience with the golden liquid. I still drink scotch, (Irish, Canadian, Welsh and every other iteration of the water of life) but I am primarily a bourbon drinker with Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace being my everyday tipple of choice.

 Yep, every night I have at least one dram before bed. And why should I not! Life is short, so enjoy it while you can. And besides I am a firm believer that whisky in moderation is good for both body and mind.


It was the pandemic that turbo charged my whisky experience - with so much time on my hands I started trying other brands, reading books, browsing websites and bit by bit my knowledge and appreciation of the spirit grew. Today I know and can taste the difference between the various different kinds of whisky, and there are many. I know how to read a bottle label, I am familiar with the history and output of numerous distilleries and names like Eddie Russell, Richard Patterson, Rachel Barrie and  Tadashi Sakuma have become familiar to me.


It's more than a drink I suppose. It's a sensory journey of sight, smell and taste and whilst I still have far to go in my quest for that perfect dram, the one to rule all others, I'm eagerly anticipating each and every step.

Friday, 13 May 2022

Strange New Worlds: At last the real Star Trek is back

 


Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the latest series in the long running franchise is seriously refreshing after all the angsty, boring  star trudges of recent years. 

It's arguably closer to the original series than any other version of the show, and does away with the season long arcs that were getting tiresome in favour of episodic storytelling and genuine chemistry between the cast members.


Beam me up.....