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Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Book Review: The Return of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger

After recently reading and loving the novel, Little Big Man I had to dive straight into the sequel, which was originally published back in 1999 - It turns out that Jack Crabb faked his death at the end of the Little Big Man novel in order to get rid of that pesky journalist, and now he's back, at 112 years of age to narrate the rest of his story into one of those new tape recording machines. And the book, like its predecessor is an absolute delight.

"I had had my own grievance against Custer, whose attack on the Cheyenne camp on the Washita, years earlier, had resulted in the loss of my Indian wife and child, and thought for a while I'd kill him if I could, but I never got the chance, and now that somebody had done it with no help from me, I both lacked a feeling of satisfaction and a sense of purpose as to what I'd do with the rest of my life."
-- from the first chapter of 'The Return of Little Big Man'

Narrated of course in the first person; a chatty style as if Crabb is narrating his story onto tape for future generations, and the end of this one is absolutely excellent and both definitively finishes the story, while somehow leaving it open for yet another volume. Though with the author having died, Patrick Bergar that is not Jack Crabb at the young age of 89 back in 2014 it seems that the story is now over.

Once again Jack is as hand to witness historic events in the old West - Hickock's murder, of which Crabb sees himself as responsible, the gunfight at,, or rather close to the OK Corral and the murder of his good friend Sitting Bull by reservation police in 1890. He's also at hand when Queen Victoria comes out of a quarter of a century mourning to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Circus, of which Jack is a part. Other historical figures come in and out of the book - Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, Bat Masterton and Libby Custer to name but a few.

I loved this book and found it even better than Little Big Man - this time Jack's wanderings take him over a far larger canvas and the comedy is far broader, though never slapstick and always believable. For instance once scene in which Jack buries his beloved dog, Pard is absolutely heartbreaking but suddenly becomes insanely hilarious when the dog, very much alive and having dug itself out of its early grave, comes padding up to him. I won't give away the details of this scene but I will say that it works so well that, I think I shed a tear at the death of the pouch. I know I laughed out loud when it was revealed that he hadn't been dead  but......well, I won't give it away but will say that Pard doesn't seem to harbour any ill feelings to his adopted master for having prematurely buried him.

There are so many other highlights in this superbly crafted story - I've only ever read two Bergers books, this one and the volume that came before, but he seems to me as a kind of Mark Twain for the modern age. I guess I'm going to have to check out his other books.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Vintage Western Review: The Lonely Man 1957

Directed by Henry Levin.
Paramount Pictures.
Main Cast: Jack Palance, Anthony Perkins,Neville Brand, Robert Middleton, Lee Van Cleef.
Black and white
88 minutes
Original Release Nov 10 1957

Early hours of the morning, and I'm lounging on the sofa, my pipe filled with a Virginia/Perique mixture, a glass filled with a creamy porter from Brains, and I'm just flicking through the TV channels, so many of them with nothing to watch when I stumbled on this western, which I don't think I've seen before, on Netflix.

It was odd seeing Jack Palance in a role such as this -  he was usually cast as the bad guy, playing the part in some memorable westerns including of course Shane, but here he's the leading man. Technically, he's a bad guy but he's determined to go leave his life as a gunslinger behind him at the outset of this movie and provide a life for his son, Riley (Anthony Perkins).

The plot is quite simple - Gunslinger, Jake Wade (Palance) rides into save his long abandoned son Riley (Anthony Perkins) and provide him with some kind of future after the death of the boy's mother. The son though hates his father, is totally fixated on his dead mother and acts like a petulant child - seems that even then Anthony Perkins had cornered the market on playing dead mother fixated young men. Though Perkins doesn't display this by dressing up as his late mother and running around with  a carving knife, but instead refuses to accept anything from his father. The pair end up torching the family home and moving out together - at the first town they try to settle in they are moved on because of Jake's gunslinger past, and so they go to the home of Ada (Elaine Aiken), a women who looks wonderful in a pair of blue jeans. The woman's in love with Jake but all he can think of is providing some kind of future for his son.

Jake: What do you do for a living?
Riley: Nothing...I get along.

Soon the ;past catches up with Jake, in the shape of enemies from the past and it is revealed that Jake is going blind - what good's a blind gunfighter?

I'm surprised this movie is not better known - I pretty much have a good knowledge of western movies, and I can't say I'd ever heard of this one. It doesn't follow the standard structure of such movies, and the performances are quite excellent. It was also filmed in Vistavision which gives a clarity to the black and white images, unusual in itself since most Vistavision pictures were filmed in colour. The scenes in which Palance and his small band try and round up the wild horses are breathtakingly filmed, and look quite beautiful, and the inevitable final showdown is brilliantly staged. The female lead played by Elaine Aiken in her debut performance, and I don't think I've ever seen a woman fill a pair of jeans so well, but incredibly she didn't go onto have much of an acting career though did become one of the leading acting teachers at the Strasberg Theatre Institute. She is brilliant here and pulls of the part of a women torn between father and son with gusto.

You can't beat a good western - I've always said that, it's my favourite genre, And I really enjoyed this movie. Tonally, I found it not dissimilar to the Anthony Mann westerns of the same period and Palance and Perkins are both excellent, as are the rest of the cast.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Buffalo Bill and the Myth of the Wild West

Wild painted Red Indians from America, on their wild bare backed horses, of different tribes—cowboys, Mexicans &c., all came tearing around at full speed, shrieking and screaming, which had the weirdest effect. An attack on a coach & on a ranch, with an immense deal of firing, was most exciting, so was the buffalo hunt & the bucking ponies. . . .The cowboys are fine looking people, but the painted Indians, with their feathers and wild dress (very little of it) were rather alarming looking & they have cruel faces. . . .Col. Cody, ‘Buffalo Bill’ as he is called, from having killed 3000 buffaloes, with his own hand, is a splendid man, handsome and gentlemanlike in manner. He has had many encounters & hand to hand fights with the Red Indians. Their war dances, to a wild drum and pipe, was quite fearful, with all their contorsions [sic] and shrieks, & they come so close.  Queen Victoria describing the thrill of seeing the Wild West show.

Queen Victoria attended twice and at the first performance, the Queen bowed when a cowboy rode into the ring holding an American flag - highly symbolic given that this was the first time since the War of Independence that a British ruler had honoured the stars and stripes.
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill

The highlight of the Wild West Show was a re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand, though some sources claim that Buffalo Bill played Custer in the show, others state that the part of Custer was played by various performers, while Cody would ride in to avenge the death of Custer - 'The first scalp for Custer.' He would yell from the back of his trademark white horse. This is partly based on truth for it was Cody who had killed and scalped the Indian, Yellow Hair and although it seems unlikely it was generally believed for many years that it had been Yellow Hair who had killed Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Though in truth no one knows who actually killed Custer, indeed the Indians would not have recognized him since he had been out of uniform, wearing buckskins at the battle and his famous flowing locks had been cropped short to hide encroaching baldness.

What is known that on 25th June 1876, General Custer led 210 men of America's elite 7th Calvary into battle near the Little Big Horn in what is present day Montana and confronted thousands of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The Calvary were wiped out, but  Custer, realizing the situation was hopeless,  may have even killed himself once he saw the battle was lost. He had suffered two bullet shots - one in the heart and one in the head.

Still, why let the truth get in the way of a good story....

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Book Review: Little Big Man by Patrick Berger

I first came into contact with Little Big Man via the Arthur Penn 1970 movie - that film is something of a revisionist western and is generally considered a classic movie. I love the film myself but after finally getting around to reading the source novel, the movie has been somewhat diminished for me and I consider the novel to be vastly superior.

 I  can't understand why the movie changed the story somewhat; expanded the role of the character, Mrs Pendrake for instance. I suppose it was to give Faye Dunway more to do in the picture but it takes away from the depth of the story when later in the movie, Jack Crabb discovers her working as a prostitute, when in the novel this particular story-line was given to a character who Jack mistook for a long lost niece, and promptly spends much of his energy on earning the money to get her schooled properly, to turn her into a woman like Mrs Pendrake. This section of what is an epic story is far more powerful in the novel than in the movie, and is perhaps the biggest change from book to screen. Maybe if a lesser actress had been cast in the role then she would have been given a  smaller, though pivotal role in proceedings.

Though it is true that whilst Mrs Pendrake is far more of a secondary character in the novel,  her influence on Jack Crabb is felt throughout his life, particularly in the way he places women, or at least those who, he considers to be proper women,on a pedestal. For Jack Mrs Pendrake represents the perfect woman, and she often comes into his thoughts when he has dealings with those of the opposite sex.

The novel is famous for mixing in fact with fiction, and for the way Jack Crabb interacts with actual historical figures throughout his story, and the main ones throughout the narrative are Wild Bill Hickok and General Custer, though Jack also comes into contact with a young Wyatt Earp, though his brief interaction with Earp was for some reason not used in the movie. Still, that I can understand since Earp doesn't really have that much to do with where the narrative is heading and that's to show how Jack Crabb became the only white survivor of the Battle of the Little Big-Horn. Though western readers will know that it was Wild Bill Williams who was actually the only white survivor of the battle - check out Wild Bill Williams by Jack Martin for the lowdown on that.

The basic premise, both movie and novel, are virtually identical - the story is told by Jack Crabb, more than a hundred years old at the start of the book, and takes us through a history of the period known as the Wild West. As a young boy Jack saw most of family slaughtered by the Cheyenne Indians and he is carried away and brought up by the tribe. Later he is brought back to white civilisation and adopted by the Pendrake family, only to leave again when he discovers that the supposedly prim and proper Mrs Pendrake is actually a bit of a wild eyed slut whenever she gets the chance. From there Jack moves back and forth between Indian and white culture as an entertaining, often thrilling as well as humorous story moves towards the demise of Custer and the beginning of the end for the Indian way of life. Jack's various times with the Cheyenne throughout the story really drives the narrative and are by far the best parts of the book. The Indians call themselves the Human Beings and look down with puzzlement at the whites who they see as being vulgar and  infantile with no understanding of the centre of the world.

Larry McMurtry in his introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of the book called it, 'An American masterpiece. Up there with Twain and Hemingway'

Who am I to argue with that?

An excellent tall tale......

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Was Paul McCartney Jack the Hopper? Shocking evidence reveals Paul McCartney 's past as a frog killer

It's not new , was hit upon in Many Years From Now by Barry Miles back in 1997 but a new interview in GQ Magazine has brought up Paul McCartney's dark past as a serial killer of frogs. Yes as unlikely as it seems McCartney was actually Jack the Hopper, an amphibian serial killer, responsible for mass frogicide who has never been brought to justice.

"Yeah, I remember exactly why it was and what it was. We used to live on a housing estate called Speke, in Liverpool, just millions of houses, right on the border of woods and deep countryside. So I did a lot of that, went out in all that. But I was very aware that I would soon be joining the army, because all of us were called up for National Service. I was probably about 12, I was looking at being 17, which is kind of looming—it's going to happen fast—and the one thing that I thought is: 'I can't kill anything—what am I going to do? Get a bayonet and hurt someone? I've got to kill someone? Shit, I've got to think about that. How do I do that?' So I ended up killing frogs." McCartney told GQ Magazine when prompted of his blood thirsty past.

The Frog Chorus, Macca's  1984 song found the bloodthirsty musician once again thinking about frogs but this time he didn't torture the poor creatures but instead had them singing, 'Bom Bom, Bom', which upon reflection may have even been worse.

"I do look for rational explanations—I do think, you know, kids are cruel. Kids swing cats. I was from Liverpool—you do that kind of shit. It's dumb, it's mean, it's horrible, but you do that kind of shit. What is it? You're trying to toughen yourself up? I don't know. But I did. And I used to go out in the woods, and I killed a bunch of frogs and stuck them up on a barbed-wire fence. It was like a weird sort of thing that I kind of hated doing but thought: 'I'm toughening myself up.' I remember taking my brother there, once, to my secret place. And he was just horrified. Thought he had a nutter on his hands. And probably did." McCartney went on

Newspaper report from the time of the killings
McCartney's ritualistic killings resulted in dozens of frogs being impaled on barbed-wired fences, while the soon to be Beatle danced about, chanting 'Bom, bom bom,' and absorbing the amphibian's life force.

"I wonder. I don't know. He's just my younger brother—I showed him what I was doing. I think he was horrified, but I think I was, too. It was a dark thing, but no darker than a lot of stuff that was going on on our estate. It was just my way. I remember very consciously thinking: 'You've got to learn to harm things because you're a sissy. So you'd better get in some practice.'" McCartney tries to justify his froggicide.

The documents relating to this case are now with the AID, the Met's Amphibian Investigation Department.

Fall in: New Commando titles

There are four new Commando books on sale this week - titles are The Cutting Edge, Agents at War, Sea-Strike and The Pact.

Commando is Britain’s longest serving war comic, publishing stories of action and adventure since 1961. These stories, with their mixture of excitement, danger and courage under fire, and the dynamic artwork that accompanies them, have won Commando a loyal readership over the decades.

Lately the series has been on something of a roll - I've especially enjoyed many of  the Home Front set stories. These really bringing a freshness to the long running series.

This week I especially enjoyed, The Pact by Heath Ackley, which centered on the Indian Army which during the second world war was the largest volunteer force in history. Their contribution to the war effort is often overlooked so it was especially good to see Commando focusing a story on the Indian troops.

Other titles available now:

DC Cinematic Universe lose both Superman and Batman

Reports are that the floundering, DC Cinematic Universe has lost both it's Superman and Batman with Henry Cavill confirmed as leaving the Superman role. This week, The Hollywood Reporter quoted sources saying that Cavill is done with the Man of Steel, and this was followed by the New York Post reporting that Ben Affleck is hanging up his Batman cape.

The DC cinematic universe seems to be in a right mess.

Warner Brother's released a statement that included the following:

"While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we've always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged."

Although the Warner's statement doesn't come right out and say that Cavill is leaving the role, it doesn't deny it either. A similar situation exists with Batman at the moment with neither Warners nor Affleck confirming that he is finished with the role, however reports have surfaced that Warners have requested digital mock ups of Game of Thrones actor, Kit Harrington in the role.

Friday, 7 September 2018

'He's such a dirty old man!' Let's board Egypt Station

Many an artist I grew up with are now facing their autumn years, (shit, I can feel their icy grasp myself, telling me that the end of the end is not too far away.) and could be forgiven for taking a back seat. but for Paul McCartney it seems that senior citizenship has not only brought a bus pass, a penchant for hanging around with James Cordon and hobnobbing with royalty but also a massive boost in the needs of Little Macca. The latter ain't gonna curl up in a pair of comfortable high waisted underpants, content with the memories of early days. Hell no, Little Macca wants to party! Little Macca wants some action! This yearning, heartfelt or otherwise, is displayed in the slightly troubling Come On To Me and the hilarious, Fuh You.

These two songs, along with the lovely ballad, I Don't Know, were the first things people heard from the now released Egypt Station album and they provoked more than a few slack jaws, dozens of guffaws and tight smirks aplenty. Here was Macca, a national treasure, arguably the biggest legacy artist in the world inviting you to come on to him so that he could fuh you. Though those two tracks in all fairness, if you can separate the comedy value from the aural, rather than oral experience then they hold up as throwaway tracks. Come On To Me, Macca explained was written based around the memories of his younger self and not through the eyes of a man in his late 70's - hell, no that would be creepy. Fuh You is actually For You but it sounds like Macca is singing I just wanna Fuck You - and he knows it sounds like that, intended it to sound like that, and it is pretty Fuh'ing funny.

Fuh me, if Egypt Station is not a pretty funky album - coming across as a hybrid of his Fireman stuff and inward gazing of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. It's a far better album that his previous two long players and represents something of a classic entry into his incredible catalog.

The album kicks off with the sound of a train chugging and then we have some choir sounds which flow seamlessly into, I don't Know and the track works really well here, far better than it did as a single. 'I've got crows at my window, dogs at my door, I don't think I can take anymore,' wails a world weary voice and it really is quite beautiful. The piano medley is classic McCartney and it weaves around a lyric that is very much anti-McCartney in its depth of despair. 'It's alright, sleep tight. I will take the strain.'

The second track rocks out - Come Onto Me, - again this seems more at home here than it did as a single. The sounds not clean, the melody not too sweet and although it's pretty much a simple song it does have that edge, that raspy quality that reminds me somewhat of McCartney's Electric Argument album.

It occurs to me after a few spins of this album that Egypt Station is a real album, rather than a collection of songs. What I mean by that is where say Memory Almost Full and New were song collections, Egypt Station seems to have a unity that has been lacking from Macca's work since maybe Chaos and Creation and Electric Argument.

The third track is a lovely acoustic ballad, a  kind of modern day take on Every Night, in which Macca informs us that he no longer has to get stoned and can, no doubt safely enter Japan without worry of customs. It's a sweet melody, quite wonderful. 'I'm Happy with you,' Macca tells us and so far I'm happy with Egypt Station.

Next up is Who Cares, which is a standout rocker - it makes you want to punch the air. It's a fine track that would again fit into the Electric Argument era. 'Who cares what the idiots say. Who cares what the idiots do.'

Then we have the already infamous Fuh You -  I just find this song hilarious and it is a ear worm. Listen to it a few times and be careful because you'll end up singing it as you walk down the streets. It'll be awkward explaining to the girl on the Tesco checkout why you just uttered, 'I just wanna fuh you.'

Confident is next, apparently a ode to Macca's guitar but it's an interesting lyric that could contain a little Beatle bashing or then again it may not. There's some startling imagery - butterfly's wearing army boots chanting long lost anthems. This is another great track.

People want Peace comes next - the opening is excellent but it ends up sounding like that song Macca did for a video game a few years back. It's not bad but not nearly as strong as the songs that preceded it. It may grow on me though and I certainly don't hate it.

The piano led Hand in Hand comes next and this one features another strained Macca vocal - a song that could have fitted on Kisses on the Bottom. It's romantic, hopeful and whimsical as well as even more optimistic than With a Little Luck. There's a lovely tune here but the song is a bit sappy. Maybe in the context of the album it works but taken from the whole it would maybe seem far too trite.

Dominoes follows and this song is, I think a late period masterpiece - an absolutely stunning song that goes all over the place. 'And like the dominoes are falling.' This is the album's top tune in my opinion.

Then we're going up tempo for a true party number with the gormless Back in Brazil but this songs has such a good vibe that it'll have you foot tapping aplenty. Musically it's a very complex piece and the lyric tells a little story. It's  a very experimental track, part lounge lizard music and part party piece. Quite brilliant.

Do It Now is another wonderful track, that echoes McCartney's best balladry. There's also some great Wings style harmonies flowing through this heavenly track. I'm loving it.

Ceaser Rock comes next and it really does rock and for this bemoaning McCartney's voice this is the perfect antidote with that voice sounding better than it has for many a year. He gets that perfect raspy vocal quality that reminds me of Rinse the Raindrops from the much maligned Driving Rain. The guitar work on this one is especially good.

Despite Repeated Warnings follows - this is the much hyped anti-Trump song but it's far more Admiral Halsey than Big Boys Bickering. It's got several inventive tempo changes and some nice Macca 'Yeah, yeah' wails. 'Well he's got his own agenda.' And at one point it goes all Live and Let Die with a crazy reggae/rock vibe. 'He'll take us with him.'  It's a great song with Macca seeming to be shouting for an uprising. 'Yes we can do it, yeah we can do it now.'

Then we arrive at Station II and it's been a breathless journey - some more heavenly choir sounds takes up into the closing medley of  Hunt you Down/Naked/ C-link. We get a hard rock riff to kick off proceedings with Macca rocking like it's 1970 all over again. This middle section is catchy in which Macca claims to have been mistaken for his little brother and confessing that he's been naked for so long. A brilliant wandering guitar solo takes us into the final movement in the medley and it's like the McCartney album meets No More Lonely Nights. A truly inventive medley then to round off a better than expected album from Macca.

In summing up then I would say that Macca's got balls on this album - to my mind it's far stronger than the safey stuff served up on the previous two albums. It was ironic that McCartney's previous album, New served up nothing even remotely new but this album certainly does. It's an album that works as an album, a unified whole and will no doubt reveal more of itself over repeated listens. I'd give this one top marks...I like dirty old man Macca.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Doctor Who moves to a Sunday night

Back in the day (and I'm old enough to remember) when the BBC first decided to kill off Doctor Who they moved it from the traditional Saturday evening slot to a Monday evening - putting it up against Coronation Street, and this was in the days before video recorders were widespread and streaming was something you hoped wouldn't happen while you were dashing to the toilet. So the recent announcement by the BBC that the new series of Doctor Who will now run on a Sunday night instead of a Saturday is troubling. Are the BBC once again fed up of the show?

Of course, given the rise of catch-up and on-demand viewing, it arguably matters less what night of the week Doctor Who airs on, with younger fans having the option of watching the show as and when they please on BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Taking a shot at kickstarting the sports comic revival

Creator Pete Nash with the support of readers via a crowdfunding project, had brought the football comic Striker to the kick off. The first match is due to kick off on September 12th as a weekly comic on sale in newsagents and by subscription.

The Archive will be buying and sends love and best wishes to Striker.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Down Among the Dead in FREE PROMOTION for three days only

My novel, Down among the Dead is part of a free promotion for the next three days only - go download a copy from Amazon worldwide....

1940 – France has fallen and Britain stands alone against the might of the German war machine; a fierce battle for supremacy of the air rages in the skies as the Battle of Britain hits full stride.

For Chief Inspector Frank Parade, and his much depleted team there are many challenges to policing the small Welsh mining village of Gilfach Goch, for whilst miles away from the theatres of war the Home Front faces unique challenges of its own. The wartime demands thrown on the country mean that each officer in Parade’s team must do the work of two men – three even.

Soon the already overwhelming workload is increased when not one but two bodies turn up, and Parade finds himself having to investigate two murders as well as cope with everything else thrown his way.

Chief Inspector Frank Parade is going to become the new superstar cop. An excellent book.’ *****

Well done police procedural. Chief Inspector Parade is a good cop with a wry humor. Faced with a double murder and little help he must find a killer. *****

Mr. Dobbs has created a complex character who is both diligent and compassionate. This is a well written story. a tantalizing mystery and a excellent description of the difficulty of policing in war time. The detective sergeant and the young teacher who captures his interest make up the supporting cast--who one hopes to see in future stories. *****

Friday, 31 August 2018

The Booker Goes Ballistic

Literary snobs get their knickers in a twist over the inclusion of Belinda Bauer's excellent novel, Snap in the Booker longlist

'It’s hard to understand how the Man Booker judges could have deemed Snap to be of sufficient depth or imagination to merit its inclusion.'   The New Statesman

Well how about the fact that the book is quite astounding, elicits multiple emotions in the reader and that the child characters in the book are as real as any in fiction. Is that enough of a reason for inclusion in your special longlist?

'Putting a crime novel in for a prize would be like entering a donkey in the Grand National,' former Booker judge, John Sutherland said back in 2010, and there lies the problem. Booker,it seems, only favours plot-less books featuring damaged characters in an existential crisis.

The New Statesman review of Snap is needlessly critical - the book explores trauma through the eyes of Jack Bright, eleven years old at the start of the narrative, and his siblings, one little more than a baby in arms. This character has to survive in a brutal reality and he doesn't have time for an inner crisis, existential or otherwise.  It's a darker than dark story, but the characters are so well realized that there are some incredibly humorous scenes that spring from these characters. And yet all the Statesman review seems to suggest is that the descriptions of a pregnant character is patronizing to women. Um, er - OK if they say so.

It's these same people who bemoan the fact that young people don't read anymore, and yet when something exciting comes along, something that can actually compete with video games, big budget movies - well, surely this is the way to go.

'If it’s tokenism, I don’t care, because it does so much not only for crime writers but for readers in general, because now hopefully some of them will be open to reading a different kind of book. So many writers from other genres are jumping on the crime bandwagon, and I think it’s starting to find its place again, with people who love to read a good book and don’t care what it is. It’s just about marketing, and I wish people would understand that and pick up some good stuff and read it.”    Belinda Bauer talking to The Times about her novel's inclusion in the Booker longlist.

Bauer's received some flak from literary minded keyboard warriors on Twitter since the announcement of the longlisting, but she doesn't care, and is taking it all in her stride.

In a few weeks the shortlist will be announced and the Archive is keeping its fingers crossed that Belinda will make it to the final six titles - that'll cause the literary snobs to take note. They'll be so shocked that their pullovers may slip from their shoulders - the over the shoulder jumper look  just makes you look like a twat, anyway.

Regardless of the prize or not, Belinda is certainly shaking things up in the literary world. It's as if she's become a  literary version of Johnny Rotten, a keyboard bound Sex Pistol. Anarchy in the book store.

Read the book and decide for yourself, the Archive says.

Snap by Belinda Bauer is available now.

Once all the madness is over The Tainted Archive will be running an interview with Belinda Bauer herself, so keep reading folks.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Achtung - Commando Comics

Gott im Himmel!

If you think the days of British action comics are long gone, that our square jawed heroes have been replaced by America's costumed crusaders then you are only partly correct in your assessment.

For whilst the glory days of the boy's adventure comic, the days when titles like Battle, Warlord, Hotspur and Victor dominated newsagent's display stands, may have been cosigned to history there is one series of adventure comics that are still being published. Commando Comics, published by D C Thomson, first saw print back in 1961 and today more than 50 years later there series is still going strong with four new titled being published every two weeks.

'I've lost count of the number of people who, over the years, have told me they learned all their German vocabulary from Commando. They freely admit that Commando hasn't taught them much of the language but every single one has started the list of words they know with "Achtung!' We're Glad we've done our bit for international understanding.' Calum Laird, one time editor of the Commando series, writing in his introduction to the Carlton Books Commando collection, Achtung.

Though it's not all been stereotypical Germans - Over the decades Commando stories have featured both good and bad German characters, as well as characters from all the other nations that took part in the conflicts featured in the stories. And whilst it is true that the majority of stories have been set around World War II, it is not always the case. Over the years there have been First World War stories, Cold War stories, science fiction stories, westerns, stories of adventures with pirates on the high seas, and lately there have been stories set on the Home Front. The latter series has been very well recieved - I felt that The Land Army Marches written by Iain McLaughlin with artwork from Vincente Alcazar was a particularly fine piece of storytelling that made the most of the comic book medium.

Each Commando title is a digest sized publication that contains a complete 63 page story, told in panels of striking black and white artwork.

When Commando was first launched back in the 1960's the competition was fierce. Fleetway were the main competitor with it's popular War Picture Library books, and D C Thompson knew they didn't have the budget to compete in terms of the production values of their rival, and so it was a conscious effort to make the Commando covers far more lurid, far more exciting that those of War Picture Weekly. The Commando covers were like a British answer to the American pulp style art and the storytelling within was equally pulpish - high concept plots with steely eyed heroes.

The true origin of Commando though, indeed of war comics in general goes back much further - during the late 19th century the Religious Tract Society began publishing the Boy’s Own Paper, featuring exciting stories of daring and adventure, with strong Christian moralistic undertones. The ‘Boys paper’ was born, and was very much seen as an educational tool for inspiring good young citizens for society and the empire. The publication had a slew of imitators including D C Thomson's first steps into the field with 1921's, Adventure - the paper ran for 1878 issues between 1921 and 1961 when it was merged into Rover.

'Although I’m delighted by it, I don’t know for sure what to put the title’s longevity down to. I think that because each story is so long we concentrate on plot more than visuals (though never at the expense of the visuals) and this gives the finished article a weight that the comics couldn’t. There’s a lot of reading in a Commando so if you’re a story fan, it gives you just what you need.'  Previous series editor, Calum Laird, talking to The Tainted Archive back in 2009

'COMMANDO saw off all its competitors simply because of the quality of its stories, artwork and general presentation, all of which were superior to the likes of WAR PICTURE LIBRARY, BATTLE, WAR AT SEA, AIR ACE and so on. But I have no idea how it has survived. A loyal, hardcore readership? Probably.' Writer, David Whitehead talking to the Tainted Archive in 2009.

The Commando books are now iconic and their contribution to pop culture can not be overestimated - there have been exhibitions of the comic's artwork held at the National Army Museum and stories about the series have been featured many times in the national press - 

'Mein Gott! Donner und Blitzen! Can it really be true? The Commando comic has just turned 50.  For half a century, schoolboys have thrilled at these action-packed wartime stories.' 

The Daily Mail announced when the title turned fifty years old back in 2011. That same newspaper would make a big fuss in 2013 when it was announced that Commando Comics would now be printed in Germany. That article, written in the Mail's usual bombastic style can be found HERE.

And now decades later Commando remains the only British war comic still in production, and although sales may not match the incredible circulation figures of the 1960's and 70's they are still healthy - servicing a loyal core readership and hopefully gaining new readers from time to time. The title is still published in print (ask at your local newsagents) but it has been joined by a digital edition which can be read on tablets, eReaders and computer screens.

Long may they continue to be published.

Find the official Commando website HERE 

Find my interview with both David Whitehead and the previous editor of Commando HERE

Read David Whitehead's article on writing Commando Books HERE

Monday, 27 August 2018

Sunlight a hundred years dead

Watching filmed footage of the First World War one gets an odd sensation - we are aware that what we are witnessing are horrific events, and yet there is so much distance between now and then that it is difficult to fully appreciate the enormity of the situation presented in the grainy film. The movements of the men on the screen seems jerky, almost as if they were created by animation and the explosions are merely puffs of smoke, fleeting and seemingly insubstantial. Photography is basically the capture of light and what we are watching is sunlight a hundred years dead.

Prior to starting work on my book, Cardiff and the Valley's In The Great War (published Feb 28th 2015 by Pen and Sword Books), my knowledge of the so called Great War was limited to a list of dates and major battles. But by the time I finished the book I had a far greater understanding of the conflict. It had been brought closer to me, and now I saw it as a very human story. No longer was it some far distant war, the combatants made up of anonymous names and faces, the devastation lessened by the passing of the years, but something very real, something that I felt on a deeply emotional level. There were times when I was writing that I found tears in my eyes - one such instance was when I detailed the eventual fate of the Cardiff Pals, but there were others too. Writing the book had brought me closer to these soldiers who long before I was born took to the foreign fields to protect a way of life for future generations...for you and me, if you like.

The research for the book was immense and I spent many hours going through old newspapers in Cardiff's excellent Central Library, covered many miles traveling up and down the country visiting graveyards and the offices of military records and on several occasions meeting people who had stories to tell of relatives who had fought in the war.

I am immensely proud of this book. 

I do hope many of you pick up a copy.

Cardiff in The Great War - Looks at the Cardiff Pals and other local regiments who fought in the Great War and how the experience of war impacted on the area, from the initial enthusiasm for sorting out the German Kaiser in time for Christmas 1914, to the gradual realization of the enormity of human sacrifice the families of Cardiff were committed to as the war stretched out over the next four years. An important place for Coal export this book looks at how the balance between working and fighting was achieved by the Dockyard workers The Great War affected everyone. At home there were wounded soldiers in military hospitals, refugees from Belgium and later on German prisoners of war. There were food and fuel shortages and disruption to schooling. The role of women changed dramatically and they undertook a variety of work undreamed of in peacetime. Meanwhile, men serving in the armed forces were scattered far and wide. Extracts from contemporary letters reveal their heroism and give insights into what it was like under battle conditions.

The book can be purchased now from any bookshop and there is also a Kindle version available.

This November will see the publication of a companion volume that looks at the second world war.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Man Booker Prize gets Real - Belinda Bauer longlisted

When I reviewed Snap by Belinda Bauer earlier this year, I wrote:

 - I think this is my book of the year - yes I know we're just nudging towards the end of June, but I really can't see another book coming along that touches me in the way this one did. It's absolutely heart breaking in places, but despite the darkness of its subject matter it is full of humour. The main character Jack, a young boy who carries truly Dickensian misery upon his shoulders is a wonderful creation and it would be a very cold reader who didn't develop a strong affection for him; empathize with the incredible burden he carries around.-

You can find my full review HERE.

Well, it seems that a great many people agree and this week the news dropped that the novel has been long-listed for the prestigious Man/Booker Prize.

Here at the Archive we're rooting for Belinda...but what an achievement.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Theakstons Best Crime Novel Award

Congratulations to Stav Sherez on winning 2018 Theakston's Old Peculiar aware for best crime novel
for his book, The Intrusions.

Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher thrillers, paid tribute to the novel’s “brilliant and organic blend of ancient terror and suspense, with modern issues as its core”. creator of the Jack Reacher thrillers, paid tribute to the novel’s “brilliant and organic blend of ancient terror and suspense, with modern issues as its core”.

Sherez received the £3,000 award, along with an engraved oak beer cask, at a ceremony marking the opening of the Harrogate crime writing festival. He joins a roster of winners including Denise Mina and  Mark Billingham .

Congraulations, Sir.

2017: A record year for Book Sales

Figures from the Publishers Association recently revealed that UK book sales last year reached £5.7billion -  The record breaking year, claimed the association's CEO, Stephen Lotinga, 'Shows  the love of books, in all forms.'

Hardcover sales soared to £97million, while sales of audiobook were also healthy with a 25% increase in sales to total £31million. School digital books were also up 32%, while non-fiction digital sales rose 4%, suggesting that younger readers consume books on eReaders, tablets and smartphones. And overseas sales rose 8% to £3.4billion which consolidates the UK's place as the world's biggest exporter of books.

'Publishers are catering to modern consumers who are reading books in different forms across different platforms,' Mr Lotinga said. 'However there is still a very real attachment to the printed word, as we continue to see the resiliance and popularity of print across puplishing sectors.'

The Top Five fiction paperbacks of last year were: (Figures from The Sunday Times)

1 The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
2 Night School by Lee Child
3 The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
4 The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
5 I See You by Clare Mackintosh 

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Book Review: Forever and a Day by Anthony 007 is dead!

'So 007 is dead,'

I reviewed the first Horowitz Bond novel, Trigger Mortis CLICK HERE, and looking back at that review it seems the only thing I wasn't enamoured with was the title itself. Trigger Mortis -  it just didn't sound Bondian. There have been some great titles used for the Bond continuation novels over the years, and of course some not so good, and whilst Trigger Mortis was not, to my mind, the worse title (that distinction belongs to John Gardner's execrably titled, No Deals, Mr Bond) it just didn't have that touch of class, that magical ring to it. We're talking titles here mind -  not the books themselves because Gardner's No Deals, Mr Bond is ironically one of his best Bond novels and Mr Horowitz's first Bond novel was bloody wonderful.

On a side note -  John Gardner was revealed to not be happy with the title, No Deals Mr Bond and wanted to title the book, Tomorrow Always Comes but the estate wouldn't go with it and so No Deals, Mr Bond was settled on. It could have so much worse and Bond Fights Back and Oh No Mr Bond were also suggested.

Thankfully Horowitz was asked by the Fleming estate to pen a second Bond novel and this time the title itself is pure Bond - Forever and a Day. The novel itself also carries on in the same assured style as the previous Horowitz title. There's a lot of the Bond formula used in the story - the meeting with M, the high stake gambling, the larger than life villain, the torture scene, the snobbery towards food and wine, but because this book takes place before Casino Royale, the first Fleming novel,  and because Horowitz delivers this deceit with such proficiency, it feels almost as if the well worn formula is actually being invented here.  There are some nice touches too throughout the book - we learn the origin of why Bond likes his drinks, 'shaken and not stirred', and why he smokes a certain type of cigarette. There are other little nods for Fleming fans too but I'll leave you to discover them.

The book opens with M delivering the line, 'So 007 is dead.' And this time it's not a twist that will reveal 007's death was staged in order to go deep undercover. No, this time 007 really is dead - shot three times whilst operating in the South of France. It seems another agent carried the 007 number before Bond, and this book tells the story of how Bond replaced him, became the new 007 and also avenged his death. This all takes place before the events in the actual first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. This makes this book a prequel to the series, and as such I think it's very good.

The fact that Horowitz is able to set his Bond novels in the time frame where he belongs, an era when political correctness had yet to show it's ugly head gives him a massive advantage over some of the other Bond continuation authors. The novels that have Bond set in the modern day have always seemed more like the film Bond than Fleming's creation, and it is Fleming who Horowitz is reaching for here. As good as the Bond novels of say John Gardner and Raymond Benson were, and sometimes they were very good, you can't help thinking that they would have been so much better had they been set in the 1950's/1960's like Fleming's original canon. Still, I believe that was down to rules set by the Fleming estate rather than the authors themselves.  I wrote to John Gardner when his first Bond novel, Licence Renewed came out and I still have his reply in my scrap book and he more or less confirmed this.

There are one or two problems with the story in that the MKII Bentley Continental mentioned early in the story didn't actually exist at the time the story is set, but then Fleming often messed up his cars in the original books, so maybe that's the point. It does though seem an oversight that there is no mention of the 4 litre supercharged Bentley that Fleming said Bond drove during the early books, and had owned since 1933. Then again, now many people would actually pick up on this and as I say Fleming made all kinds of mistakes - perhaps the most famous being in his original choice of guns for his superspy. In 1956 a fan letter sent to Fleming by a Major Boothroyd  convinced the author that the Beretta was a ladies gun and that a jobbing secret agent would be much better armed with a Walther PPK.

'I have, by now, got rather fond of Mr. James Bond. I like most of the things about him, with the exception of his rather deplorable taste in firearms. In particular, I dislike a man who comes into contact with all sorts of formidable people using a .25 Beretta. This sort of gun is really a lady’s gun, and not a really nice lady at that. If Mr. Bond has to use a light gun he would be better off with a .22 rim fire; the lead bullet would cause more shocking effect than the jacketed type of the .25.' Extract from the letter to Fleming from Major Boothroyd.

Fleming's reply was:

Dear Mr Boothroyd,
I really am most grateful for your splendid letter of May 23rd.

You have entirely convinced me and I propose, perhaps not in the next volume of James Bond’s memoirs but, in the subsequent one, to change his weapons in accordance with your instructions.
Since I am not in the habit of stealing another man’s expertise, I shall ask you in due course to accept remuneration for your most valuable technical aid.

Incidentally, can you suggest where I can see a .38 Airweight in London. Who would have one?
As a matter of interest, how do you come to know so much about these things? I was delighted with the photographs and greatly impressed by them. If ever there is talk of making films of some of James Bond’s stories in due course, I shall suggest to the company concerned that they might like to consult you on some technical aspects. But they may not take my advice, so please do not set too much store by this suggestion.

Gun expert and fan: Major Boothroyd
From the style of your writing it occurs to me that you may have written books or articles on these subjects. Is that so?

Bond has always admitted to me that the .25 Beretta was not a stopping gun, and he places much more reliance on his accuracy with it than in any particular qualities of the gun itself. As you know, one gets used to a gun and it may take some time for him to settle down with the Smith and Wesson. But I think M. should advise him to make a change; as also in the case of the .357 Magnum.

He also agrees to give a fair trial to the Bern Martin holster, but he is inclined to favour something a little more casual and less bulky. The well-worn chamois leather pouch under his left arm has become almost a part of his clothes and he will be loath to make a change though, here again, M. may intervene.

At the present moment Bond is particularly anxious for expertise on the weapons likely to be carried by Russian agents and I wonder if you have any information on this.
As Bond’s biographer I am most anxious to see that he lives as long as possible and I shall be most grateful for any further technical advices you might like me to pass on to him.
Again, with very sincere thanks for your extremely helpful and workmanlike letter.
Yours sincerely
Bentley Continental mentioned early in the book too. Ian Fleming also messed up Bond’s cars, so maybe that is the point.

Read more
Bentley Continental mentioned early in the book too. Ian Fleming also messed up Bond’s cars, so maybe that is the point.

Read more

Fleming did indeed take Boothroyd's advice and as a thank you he introduced the character of Major Boothroyd in the sixth Bond novel, Dr No. The character would go onto become the much loved, Q.

But back to Forever and a Day - Horowitz has written another great Bond novel with an absolutely shocking climax - well, epilogue really since the huge set piece that would  usually be considered the climax comes a little earlier. I do hope Horowitz does a third Bond novel, and that should tell you all you need to know about, Forever and a Day.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Keep Calm and Read On

Following the success of my book, Cardiff and the Valleys in the Great War , the publishers commissioned a follow up to be entitled Cardiff at War 1939 - 1945. As you can imagine the book requires a lot of careful research and recently while going through news archives I found a newspaper article from January 1940 that I'd like to share here.

It seems that during the early years of the war there was a spike in reading - I'm not sure if this was nationwide but Cardiff library found itself incredibly busy. So much so in fact that the library collected together its data and told the South Wales Echo of its most popular titles.

Black Out Makes Cardiff Read More, the newspaper headlined. which means there must have been a lot of candles burning behind those black out curtains. Though as of yet I've not found an article on the spike in candle sales  - Escapist fiction was understandable extremely popular, as was Richard Llewellyn's beautiful How Green was my Valley - apparently people who saw the hardships of the coal mining industry first hand also enjoyed reading about them. The public were also very keen to educate themselves on the background of the crisis in Europe and books about Germany and Hitler in particular were hired out often. Hitler' s Mein Kampf was eagerly read, as was Hitler Speaks which reproduced a lot of the mad little Charley Chaplin impersonator's speeches.

There was also a revival in classic literature and Wuthering Heights was particularly popular.

As a book lover myself, a constant reader I took great pleasure from reading the article, and it's nice to think of all those people hunched over a book in the dimness of the black out - I wonder what they would have thought of the Kindle Paperwhite?

Cardiff and the Valleys in the Great War (Pen and Sword Books) is available now in both print and electronic formats. Check it out by CLICKING HERE

Cardiff at War 1939 - 1945 is scheduled to be published December 2018.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Men with the Golden Pens

The recently published Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz (expect a full review soon) is the latest in a long line of novels featuring Ian Fleming's masterspy James Bond. And whilst it is commonplace these days for a long running series to continue after the death of the original author, this wasn't the case back in the early 1960's.

Fleming died in 1964, and although he saw the success of the early Sean Connery movies he missed seeing the global phenomenon that his character became after the release of the third Bond movie, Goldfinger.

After the death of Ian Fleming, Glidrose Productions, later Ian Fleming Publications, began exploring the idea of having new writers create new James Bond novels using the collective pen name of Robert Markham. Geoffrey Jenkins, a friend of Flemings and  a fine thriller writer himself seemed an obvious choice. By 1964, he had four best-sellers to his credit and he already had story ideas that Ian Fleming himself had participated in shaping. However when in  1966, Jenkins submitted his manuscript for PER FINE OUNCE.  Glidrose rejected the book and it is now considered a lost Bond novel. The reasons the work was rejected have never been made clear, nor has the manuscript ever turned up.

In  1968 James Bond did finally return in Colonel Sun by Robert Markham (actually written by Kingsley Amis).  As previously noted the Robert Markham name was intended by  Glidrose,  to be a pen name that would be used by multiple authors to continue Flemings work. However this was not to be and although Colonel Sun was reasonably successful it didn't sell as well as had been hoped and the plans for a new Bond literary series seemed to be dead in the water.

The next Bond novels where actually novelisations of two of the movies - The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, both written by Christopher Wood. The film versions were so different to Fleming's original novels that these books, which follow their respective movie's screenplay, can be considered original novels. Both build on their screenplays and we learn from the books that the Jaws character's real name is Zbigniew Krycsiwiki.

In the 1980's the Bond copyright holders decided to bring Bond back in a new series, and thriller writer John Gardner was selected as the new writer. His first book was 1981's Licence Renewed and in all he wrote 16 Bond novels. Licence Renewed / For Special Services / Icebreaker / Role Of Honour / Nobody Lives For Ever / No Deals, Mr. Bond / Scorpius / Win, Lose Or Die / Licence To Kill / Brokenclaw / The Man From Barbarossa / Death Is Forever / Never Send Flowers / SeaFire / GoldenEye / COLD.

When Gardner tired of the series, American author Raymond Benson took up the golden pen and gave us six new novels, as well as novelisations of the Pierce Brosnan movies, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is not Enough and Die Another Day. The Benson Bond's were: Zero Minus Ten / Tomorrow Never Dies / The Facts Of Death / High Time To Kill / The World Is Not Enough / DoubleShot / Never Dream Of Dying / The Man With The Red Tattoo / Die Another Day.

There wasn't a new Bond novel - ignoring the Young Bond novels and the Moneypenny Diaries - until 2008 when noted author Sabastian Faulks wrote Devil May Care. There was much hype around this novel, which was written as a pastiche of Fleming's style but Faulks declined to write more.

Bestselling crime writer, Jeffrey Deaver next took a stab at 007 with 2011's Carte Blanche, and although the previous Bond had been set in the early 1970's, Deaver took the route used by John Gardner and Raymond Benson and set his adventure in the present day.

William Boyd came next with Solo and this time Bond was back in the 1960's - like the two previous authors, Boyd would only write the one Bond adventure.

All of the Bond novels written since Fleming's death have their strong points, but it wasn't until 2015's Trigger Mortis written by Anthony Horowitz that the novels really captured the true feel of Fleming - perhaps because the author was able to use some unpublished Fleming material in his book. The story took up immediately after the climax of Goldfinger with Pussy Galore featuring in the story, well until she ran off with lesbian racing driver, that is.

The book was so well received that Horowitz was asked back for a second Bond novel, the aforementioned Forever and a Day. Let's hope Horowitz does a third because he seems as near as dammit as one can get to the real Ian Fleming.

Forever and a Day is available now in hardcover, audiobook and eBook.

A spy is dead. A legend is born. This is how it all began. The explosive prequel to Casino Royale, from bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.

M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. 'We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.' 

'It’s Bond, sir,' the Chief of Staff replied. 'James Bond.' 

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time.

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand.

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime.
It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera.