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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Girl in the Ice. Lotte and Soren Hammer (Writers). Paul Norlen (Translation). Bloomsbury (2010).

A very engaging and thoughtful Danish crime story. The body of a woman is found frozen in the ice in Greenland far from any inhabited location. Detective Chief Konrad Simonsen leads the investigation and the details of case remind him of a previous, unsolved, murder. A very clever reveal points at a plausible suspect from the outset of the investigation and the story moves from there in unexpected and engaging ways. The story unfolds with great force as a dark history in uncovered and the investigation slowly closes in on the suspect until events force Konrad Simonsen to make very hard decisions.
The plot mechanics are excellent, with the opening setting the stage reader expectations are smartly managed as the story becomes different from what had been apparently set up. The early reveal that places the focus of the investigation firmly on a suspect creates the room to move the investigation to trying to establish if there are connections between the two murders and the suspect. As the investigation proceeds and the tantalizing information become available, it is never conclusive and the investigation is  persistently caught between knowing and proving. A sharp plot move moves the story to a gripping final section as trouble strikes directly at the investigation.
A nicely set up sub plot regarding the site in Greenland where the murder victim worked and powerful people in the Danish government is unfurled with great care. The intersection between power and a police investigation is examined with finesse, the way that power is used is demonstrated with great flair.
The cast are hugely engaging, Konrad Simonsen is thoughtful, competent and suffering with some health issues. He brings consistent clarity of thought to the investigation as the rest of the team find themselves entangled by ambition and events that create problems for them.
The narrative gives the rest of the investigative team plenty of time to reveal themselves to the reader, they emerge with their frailties and plans credibly set up and engaging. They all respond to the increasing pressure of the investigation differently and credibly, the confrontations with each other and events are forceful because they never feel staged.
Paul Norlen's translation is invisible and natural, the story emerges as clearly Danish, the language fits to it without feeling foreign or imposed on the story.
This is a quiet book, the action when it arrives is intense and fierce gripping. Really smart crime fiction that confidently leads the reader on an unexpected and very rewarding path, a great read. 

You are Dead. Peter James. Macmillian (2015)

Engaging and enjoyable police procedural. A woman is apparently kidnapped from an underground car park, later a skeleton is unearthed when a pavement is being repaired, the skeleton had evidently been buried decades before. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace sets up investigations into both cases, personally overseeing the kidnapping investigation. A very strange visitor to a psychologist in London who had a connection to the kidnapped woman creates a link between the two cases.  Roy Grace has to face the possibility that a serial killer has started to be active again in Brighton. As more women go missing and are attacked this possibility starts to become a certainty. The investigations move carefully and as they start to find a focus events become more urgent until the satisfactorily sour conclusion.
Roy Grace is a credible, competent and force leading character, he has a pregnant wife coming close to birth, a house move and a new superior that he has had a distinctly troubled previous history with. He steadfastly refuses to be  dysfunctional, settling for rather harassed and stressed while stubbornly maintaining his focus on the investigation. Peter Robinson has developed a strong career professional who greatly enjoys a hugely stressful role and is consistently aware of the need to maintain his professional and intimate relationships. Roy Grace gives the story a strong central sense of competent strength and allows Peter Robinson to develop a suitably horrible villain.
The villain is wonderfully baroque, deeply committed to the project of capturing selected females and killing according to a deliberate schedule. The plot mechanics regarding the scheming and execution of the sadistic plans are wonderfully thought out and full of telling details. The whole scheme is gloriously elaborate and insane. It is all plausible within the context of the story because the rest of the cast and context are so firmly anchored in the city of Brighton.
Peter Robinson splits the narrative up across a very diverse cast and this nicely mixes up the story and consistently increases the tension. The reader is introduced to cast members, all of whom are given an opportunity to reveal themselves and then follows their paths to very different conclusions. Logan Somerville, the woman who was kidnapped from the car park is given a voice while she is held in captivity, she is never reduced a a helpless victim, she is terrified and  edging to despair. She speaks for herself and gives a voice to the other victims so they are more than just handy props for the plot.
This is a really good crime story, a wide inclusive story that is managed with concentrated discipline and confidence.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Night Terrors Podcast. (Comic) - Writer - Roddy McCance / Artist - Roland Kalnins, (Podcast) - Writers - Roddy McCance and Jonny Murray / Design - Tony Finnegan / Actor - Jonny Murray)

Gripping and engaging, a clever idea and brilliant execution, a comic and related podcast that support and amplify each other. In 2014 Liam Cunningham, presenter of The Night Terrors Podcast vanished along with his entire on line presence. There had been 16 podcasts broadcast prior to the disappearance, podcast 17 has been mysteriously delivered "The Gamesmaster" and it is revealed that Liam Cunningham had been sent a request and a link and had taken up the implied challenge. This may have been a mistake.
The comic is dense and claustrophobic, Roddy McCance packs a lot of story into four pages.The naaration pulls the reader directly into the events as the unfold and the steady accumulation of detail is gripping. Roland Kannins' art is stunning, the black and white art is packed with details and is horribly suggestive of off panel nastiness. Liam is disheveled to begin with, the progress of fear and anxiety is marked and  effective. The details of the game as they unfold are dark and threatening, the sound effects add to the atmosphere. The panels are used to control the pace of the story with great skill, there is a great deal of work done in a small time.
The podcast is superb, Roddy McCance and Jonny Murray have written a script that never sounds anything other than the spontaneous narration by Liam as he follows the challange he has been give. They also solve one of the biggest problems in horror, why would someone do something stupid that leads them into trouble? It becomes clear that Liam is driven by curiosity and vanity and these motives consistently push him forward in the face of clear details that would suggest other wise. Jonny Murray conveys the enormous range of emotions that Liam is trying to keep under control as he moves through the game, he is talking to himself and an audience at the same time. 
The comic and the podcast reach area that the other cannot and they amplify each other brilliantly, pictures without sound and sound without pictures, they mix and match with tremendous force in the reader's imagination.The care taken in the detail of the art in the comic is matched with the care taken in the sound in the podcast, the details that surround Liam's voice are evocative and unsettling.
For any story the medium is extremely important, it has a huge influence on the story possibilities, this is a really smart use of the possibilities of a website to view deliver different aspects of the story in different ways that combine very successfully to create a much stronger story.  The Night Terrors Podcast can be found here,  http://thenightterrorspodcast.com/, read,listen and enjoy the pleasures of very talented creators confidently delivering a sharp story.
Chief Wizard Note: Many thanks to Roddy McCance for sending me the link and giving me the chance to enjoy the substantial pleasures of The Night Terrors Podcast

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jeb Clucker's 100 Acres of Hen. Kim Roberts (Writer), Gabe Ostely (Art), Chris Allen (Letters and Colours) WP Comics (2017)

Very funny and horrifyingly gory, a clever take on a horror staple that uses a simple change to give allow humour and gore happily work together. A tourist party on a camping trip take a wrong turn and find themselves camping in a unscheduled location. It does not go well.
The fact that the entire cast are chickens is a simple and very smart shift in story. The room for chicken related jokes is taken at every opportunity by Kim Robert, who does so without every killing the central joke. In a very short space the cast are introduced, and different enough so that they are clearly individuals, the reader has enough chance to register them before the inevitable happens. The story structure correctly follows a familiar format, the ideas are used very effectively to counterpoint the inherent absurdity of the cast.
Gabe Ostley's art, from the wonderful cover and throughout the book is a joy to read. It manages the difficult task of being completely absurd and satisfying forceful, the cast are chickens acting like humans who are involved in savagely violent events. A tricky balance has to be maintained all the time for the story to be successful, the element of parody has to be respected and the gore has to have a genuine impact. Gabe Ostley achieves this balance with confident skill and amazing detail.
Chris Allen's colours are bright and exuberant, not horror colours at all, they work fantastically in the context of Kim Roberts smart story structure and Gabe Ostely's art. They give the vivid expression to the absurdity and the gore. The sound effects are exactly the right side of cartoony.
What makes this comic work is that beneath the bright and wild story there is real menace arising from the tension between the story structure and the delivery. A very funny story that never forgets that it is a horror story.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. To purchase a copy of Jeb Clucker's 100 Acres of Hen, you should to usher in the 2017 with a really good comic and give yourself the best possible start, it is available from http://www.wpcomicsltd.com/comics

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Song of Shadows. John Connolly. Hodder & Stoughton (2015)

A very engaging thriller that has a nicely set up supernatural element that never upsets the balance of the story.Charlie Parker has retreated to a small seaside town called Boreas in Maine to recover and recuperate from a near fatal attack. His nearest neighbor is a single mother, Ruth Winter, with a daughter who is the same age as his own. When a murdered man washes up on the beach near Parker's house and Parker becomes involved in the investigation, it becomes clear that Ruth Winter has something she wishes to hide. The story unfurls nicely as old sins and sinners respond to threats with violence and the weight of the past bears very heavily on the present.
AS with any book that is part of a series this has two stories running through it. The smaller story is the continuity story that involves the series cast including Charlie Parker. The bigger story is the one about what is happening in Boreas and why. The continuity story rests lightly enough on the main story that it does not interfere with the enjoyment of the main story in its own right. John Connolly has  interesting plot mechanics that drive the story, the pleasure and engagement of the book lie in the cast and the writing.
The story moves at a leisurely pace, there are very effective and gripping outbursts of action, the greater part of the story is given over to developing the extensive cast and location. What is noticeable and very enjoyable is that it is the non-series cast that get the time and attention. The town of Boreas emerges strongly because of the detail lavished on some of the cast whom Charlie Parker meets. John Connolly takes the time to introduce them and give them sufficient background and context to become fully developed. This depth of detail becomes important as the plot mechanics start to reveal what is waiting in the shadows.
The solidity of the regular humans in the cast give weight and room to the more extreme characters who start to appear, they gain significant credibility because they are anchored so firmly in an ordinary context. The supernatural elements slide in easily without upsetting the balance of the story because the context has such weight and presence.
The continuity story is equally well done, Charlie Parker has been wounded nearly fatally and cannot just shrug off the impact. Across the arc of the action Charlie Parker recovers and returns to his essential mission with a darker edge than he had before.
John Connolly has delivered a story that has multiple threads without ever getting tangled up in any, a story about small town secrets and lives, a nasty view of the long reach of history and revenge, an episode in a longer story of supernatural trouble all of them rest easily with each other and each has substantial pleasures of their own. Combined they provide a very satisfying reading experience.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Way. Christopher Baldwin (Writer & Art). Good Port Publishing (2016)

A glorious and engaging romantic science fiction comic. A space ship is sent on a voyage to make the first human contact with an alien race. The crew are the most skilled and expendable in the fleet and it is clear from the outset that there is a strong possibility that it will be a one way voyage. Trouble starts early and continues right up to the unexpected, heartfelt and utterly satisfying conclusion.
Christopher Baldwin takes the genre standard for a disaster story, a eccentric group of people in a confined space becoming involved in an escalating disaster and gives it a big heart and lashings of humour.
The crew introduce themselves neatly as they start off on their journey, they have a nice range of characters in the cast and they strike off each other with great style and spark. When the first major incident occurs the cast start to reveal themselves and it is this process that continues through the rest of the story. Christopher Baldwin uses the genre staples with care and wit and at the same time carefully unwinds them to find the blood and bones of the humans hiding behind the roles they have given to themselves.
A deep pleasure of the story is the way that the plot, cast and context interact in unexpected and engaging ways. The confidence that Christopher Baldwin has in the story and cast is a joy, the pages are full of funny exchanges that never hide the cast behind gags, they continuously manage to be funny and revealing at the same time. Each cast member is given a change to engage the reader on tier own terms and to emerge as satisfyingly complicated.
The art is friendly and a pleasure to read, the figures are all slightly stiff particularly in a profile view, they all move naturally and relate to each other and their context very naturally. The strong personalities are expressed with eloquent body language, in particular the faces of the cast. They move through their context with force and physical weight that is vital in such a confined space. The spaceship feels right, enough detail to anchor the action firmly without being overdressed. There is a crucial sense of the length of the spaceship, the layers of the space that have different functions are are essentially belonging to different members of the crew, it feels like a working operation.
The muted colours catch the understated emotional tones of the story and bring out the details of the cast and context with strength and quiet force.
Christopher Baldwin has managed a very difficult story and made it look easy, a space opera that has the confidence to push really hard into the implications of the story idea and never backs down to easy ways out. Doing all this heavy lifting with laugh out loud humour and making it all look easy is a considerable achievement.
One Way is superb science fiction, a great comic and a luxurious pleasure to read.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Toothville issue #1, Kim Roberts, Chris Allen and illustrated by Gabe Ostely. Swamp Line Productions(2016)

Toothville #1 is a current Kickstarter project that closes on Sunday 29.01.2017. Tilda Hillfairy is a failure as a tooth fairy and a sugar miner, this does not reduce or deflect her ambition or plans. Johann Dipplurger is a mad scientist posing as a dentist who is on a direct collision course with Tilda. While Toothville is projected to be a 5 part series the preview pages up at Kickstarter  show that the creators have developed a engaging, funny and very smart comic. The clever updating of the tooth fairy is nicely done, the original fairy tale core is maintained while it is given a smart do over that has exactly the correct level of sharpness. Tilda is engaging and determined, she is also in far too much of a hurry, either as a tooth fairy or in the sugar mines she is bursting with energy rather than care. Johann Dipplurger is exactly the man with a bad plan that a fairy story needs to drive it forward. He proves this when he visits a witch with a bucket of centipedes to entice her into giving him what he wants.
Kim Roberts and Chris Allen create the story with confidence and assurance, the set up is intriguing, the possibilities are enticing.
Gabe Ostley's art is a pleasure, the cast are bursting with personality and energy, the action is loud and big without ever being violent. It captures the balance between the modern update and the dark absurdity of the fairy tale and amplifies it perfectly.
More good comics is a great idea, supporting the production and development of Toothville is a great way to get more good comics.
Chief Wizard Note: I have backed Toothville, you should take a look at the preview and you will see why you should do so as well, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139490928/toothville