Monday 28 November 2016

The Bridge (2011) Original Swedish/Danish series

Nordic Noir seems perfectly suited to the darker months. There would be something truly perverse to watch drama so bleak  on a cheery summer evening. Not so when the nights draw in, and the temperature plummets. Outside the wind blows, howls, moans across a landscape of moonlight and skeletal trees .

Capture that image if you can, keep it in mind for it is the perfect backdrop as we lock the doors, close the windows and draw the curtains. There has never been a better time
to  sit before the fire, a single malt in hand and binge on some of the best crime television around. This is just what I did recently when I sat and watched the ten episodes that make up season one of The Bridge. Original language and subtitles, of course.

Saga Noren, played by Sofia Helin, is an excellent creation - she seems to be equal parts Sherlock Homes and Lisbeth Salander, with a dash of Mr Spock thrown in. Her Watson is Dutch police officer, Martin Rhodes (Kim Bodnia) who provides the heart of the story as well as being a useful counterpoint to Saga's lack of emotion.

The story starts with a body left on the ├śresund Bridge which connects Sweden to Denmark. The body has been placed along the border between the two countries which means that both the Swedish and Danish police authorities have an interest in the case. Things get complicated when it is discovered that this is actually two bodies - the top half belonging to a Swedish politician while the legs are from a Danish prostitute. It soon become clear that the killer, a man who calls himself the Truth Terrorist, is making a point. That point being - we are not all equal in the eyes of the law. The prostitute was killed many months back, her body kept in deep freeze until it was needed to join the upper half of the politician on the bridge. Her disappearance was briefly investigated and then forgotten.

The killer soon contacts the press and claims he is committing these crimes to highlight some very real social problems. He has other points to make -  which will lead to ever more audacious crimes - poisoning the homeless, abducting corrupt policemen and kidnapping a group of schoolchildren. However as the mismatched cops investigate it soon become clear that the killer may be one of their own and that his motives are actually much more personal and nothing to do with noble ideas of social justice.

It's an intriguing plot that is paced well throughout the entire season and I found myself immediately hooked after the first episode - For a week I found myself watching a couple of episodes a night and I enjoyed every minute. The chemistry between the two loads is pitch perfect and provides for some great character moments. Martin is the warmer character, a man who has no problems with social interactions , whilst Saga is socially awkward and finds it difficult to form real friendships or relationships. She seems to favour casual, unemotional sex and although her lifestyle is odd it is at least well ordered. The same can't be said for Martin who struggles to remain a good father and husband and soon finds everything falling down around him.

Compelling stuff then...I've still got two more seasons to watch and I'm eager to get into the second season. After that I think I'll try the American re-make, also called the Bridge, and if that's not enough I could always enter The Tunnel - which is of course the title of the French/British remake. Somehow though I doubt if any of the others will match the brilliance of Saga Noren as played here by Sofia Helin.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

The Fall: Three Seasons and why Jamie Dornan should be the next James Bond

I've just binged on all three seasons of Allan Cubitt's darker than dark masterpiece, The Fall. Seventeen episodes, played out over three seasons, delivered one of the screen's most terrifying and believable serial killers - In comparison to killer Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan, other screen psychopaths just don't cut it. Hannibal Lecter seems a character from a fairy tale when put alongside the nuanced killer who dominated the screen in this multiple award winning TV series.

The most repulsive drama ever broadcast on British TV”   The Daily Mail

And it is the character of Paul Spector that drives this series - writer and creator, Allan Cubitt has created a fully rounded character - a man who is evil personified and yet at the same time one of the most likeable and charismatic fictional creations in all of TV-world. This is quite an achievement, both in the writing and the execution - Spector is humanised because  the viewer often sees him through the eyes of other characters - we feel his daughter's unconditional love for a man who is the most important thing in her world, and like her we struggle to understand how a man such as this could be responsible for a string of truly horrendous killings. Likewise we look on the man through the fixated eyes of Katie Benedetto, the teenage babysitter but most often we see him through the eyes of  Detective Stella Gibson, played by Gillian Anderson in a career best performance.

Other shows are ambiguous with their serial killers - referring to them as monsters and setting them apart from the rest of us. Sure they can often interact with us but there is always something 0FF with them; they are different to the rest of us. This is not so with Paul Spector - he is so ON that it is terrifying - we seen him interacting with friends and family, laughing, crying. We see him lovingly cuddling his daughter in a park while simultaneously stalking his next victim. He is an animal in human form, a feline presence. For the most part he is a caring human being, a credit to his community but beneath all this there dwells a darkness as black as the deepest of coal mines.

Spector is played by Jamie Dornan, currently making mega money in the Fifty Shades movies, and he gives a performance that positively screams, 'you are looking at the next James Bond.' He is athletic, brutal and can play both light and dark with equal conviction. He's got real acting chops too - witness the facial ticks just before he explodes into shockingly impressive violence in his final episode. He also looks impressive in a tux.

I digress though and although the role of 007 could fit the actor well, the character wouldn't provide him with as much to get his teeth into as he is given in all seventeen episodes of The Fall. The makers of the show claim that The Fall will continue, but given that the character of Paul Spector is the reason for the shows success it is doubtful that future series would be able to match the masterpiece that are the three seasons made thus far.

The Fall is not a mystery, we know who the killer is from the start, and the show takes us into the very heart of darkness itself. We are repulsed by the character of Paul Spector but at the same time we empathise with him, and we come to realise that he is as much a victim as the poor women who fell prey to his perverted sexual desires. Though in truth desires is perhaps the wrong word for what drives Spector to kill - compulsions maybe closer to the mark. It is especially disturbing that once he has killed he then treats his victims with great love and care - bathing them, dressing them, posing them. He touches them with true tenderness, all the while the expressions on the actor's face taking the viewer far too close to the madness at the heart of his blackened soul. True enough it is a soul without redemption but at the same time we ultimately come to realise that the true monster is not Paul Spector, but actually Father Peter Jensen, a paedophile who abused scores of boys, Spector included, when he was in charge of a care home.

 The fact that Spector is so handsome is unsettling to the viewer.  His muscular allure belies the assumption that sexual predators act as they do because they’re ugly and stupid; that they attack women because women won’t give them a second glance. We expect murderers and perverts to be repulsive weirdos and not seemingly ordinary family men. Why would someone who looks like Spector behave like this? This aspect of the show gave the media much anguish and garnished a lot of criticism but think Ted Bundy - The Fall simply holds up a mirror to a dark truth in our society - not all monsters have hunched backs,

 'The Fall doesn't challenge evil: it wallows in it. This series is an invitation to share the extended rape fantasy.' The Daily Mail

Over the three seasons we saw Spector planning and carrying out his crimes, we saw him arrested, hospitalised and then we sat uncomfortably in a room while he was assessed for mental competence to stand trial for his murders. The incredible finale in which Spector ultimately escaped justice by taking his own life was a hour of jaw dropping television. Mind you my jaw was scraping the floor for entire the three season run.

 Simply excellent

Saturday 19 November 2016

Dead Simple = dead good. Peter James book review.

Dead Simple (2005) is the first in the hugely popular DS Roy Grace series from Peter James - when I picked up this book earlier this week I was coming to the series fresh. I had read Peter James before, I even interviewed the author for Samhain Magazine but that was back in the day when the author was known for his horror/supernatural novels.

Dead Simple then is the author's first crime novel though he doesn't leave his supernatural roots behind entirely, and there is some malarkey in this novel involving a psychic who Roy Grace consults in order to locate dead bodies, missing persons and his car keys. His acceptance in the supernatural often gets him into trouble with his superiors, the judiciary and the media. To be brutally honest I did find this element of the story to be slightly ridiculous but that's a small gripe given how genuinely gripping this book is.

Dead Simple which has been adapted into a stage play, and is being mooted for possible TV adaptation, is structured more like a thriller than a standard crime novel. It doesn't take the whodunnit route since the reader is drip fed information throughout the story and is always one step ahead of the police. Though the author  manages at several key moments to twist the story in ways totally unexpected, which leaves the reader squirming in glorious anticipation of what happens next.

The plot goes: A  stag night prank of burying the groom in a coffin by his mates. If this seems a pretty extreme prank, (I mean what's wrong with stripping the groom naked and tying him to a lamppost in the town centre? Or shaving his bollocks and tattooing a smiley face on his manhood?) then it all makes sense when James explains the history that leads to this event. The macabre prank becomes plausible enough to stick with it.  However the first of many twists comes when  the perpetrators are killed in an horrific traffic accident  - this leaves our man trapped in the coffin. We soon learn that one person knows of the coffin prank but it seems he has a lot to gain by leaving the man there.  This is where the twists start but the plot does remain credible within the confines of the world here. And speaking of confines, some of the coffin scenes really are genuinely claustrophobic to read.

It's a page turner, folks and although it often strays dangerously close to B-movie shenanigans it does manage to keep itself on track for an excellent climax. If there was a problem with the story it was the author's decision to suddenly pull a key character out of nowhere towards the end of the book- a character who largely drives the book towards the breathtaking climax involving a car chase that could put Bullitt (a movie actually referenced by a film buff cop in the plot) to shame. The author is a skilled storyteller and skills learned when he was a scriptwriter serves him well in keeping the incredibly impressive pace of the narrative.

Peter James arrested for dealing in highly addictive fiction
The book did leave some questions hanging for me - Why don't the police ever check emails? At least five  of the characters would have sent or received emails containing the exact details of where the coffin was. Why don't the police make any real effort to work out where the coffin could be? Such as, maybe, an empty plot of land owned by the main characters, a plot of land that's right by one of the pubs they went to. These questions were racing through my mind but the plotting is so incredibly well done, the pacing so exciting, that the story hooked me entirely and I couldn't put the damn book down.

Of course a crime series such as this is largely dependent on creating an interesting main character - for it is this character who will carry the series from one book to another. So what of Roy Grace? Well Peter James gives as a cop who is not as dour as John Rebus, nor as earthy as Tom Thorne. There is a sadness surrounding Roy Grace, who comes across as a likeable and ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary situations. The reader learns that his wife went missing some years back, no one knows what has happened to her and no doubt this element of Roy Grace's past will become important as the series progresses. The disappearance of his wife (their marriage is portrayed as having been idyllic) haunts the policeman and is largely responsible for his penchant to turn to psychics in order to help in solving crimes

I will be reading more in this series - in fact I'm going to start the second book,  Looking Good Dead, today - I will be interested in seeing where the character goes and if psychic malarkey continues throughout the series.

All in all Dead Simple was an excellent, tighly plotted crime thriller....I bloody enjoyed that. Dead good, it was.

Find Peter James HERE

Friday 4 November 2016

Writer's Snippets, writer's news

Amazon India have purchased WESTLAND publishing - "Our acquisition of Westland continues our commitment to India -- enabling Amazon to bring Westland's highly talented authors and their books to even more customers in India and around the world," said Amit Agarwal, vice-president and country manager at Amazon India.

And sticking with Amazon - the company recently released it Amazon Rapids APP which delivers serialised snippets of stories to children's devices - Find out more HERE 

The 2016 Futurebook Conference will take place on  2nd December in London - details HERE

 The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article claiming that audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in the book business today. Sales in the U.S. and Canada jumped 21% in 2015 from the previous year, according to the Audio Publishers Association.

Audibooks the facts

  • Smart Phones have helped with the rise in audiobook usage as they are now VERY portable.
  • Technology and the size reduction of files has made listening to audio books in cars and at the gym much more convenient.
  • The cost of producing an audio is now (on average) $3,3000 as opposed to $6,500 in 2012.
  • owns both AUDIBLE and BRILLIANCE AUDIO. This means, their ACX platform has a huge lead in distribution to this fast-growing market.
  • If you fancy trying an audiobook then I suggest Audible - oh why not get Granny Smith Investigates by G M Dobbs (plug,plug) as your first download.

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