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Monday, March 28, 2011

Fallen Idols. Neil White. AVON (2007)

This is a gripping thriller with a superbly structured narrative, solid plot and a very engaging cast. When someone kills two top Premier League stars in public in public, and brutally kills any witnesses as well, freelance reporter Jack Garett sees an opportunity. The top Premier star, David Watts comes from the same town as Jack, Turners Fold and Jack sees a chance to write a profile of Watts and returns home to do so. At the same time David Watts is pulled into the killings in a brutally direct way and struggles to find a way out. The reveals are brilliantly set up, the pace is fast and frequently furious, the cast vivid and sharply alive.
The narrative structure of the book is superb, the shifts between the cast are cleverly calculated to push action forward in a very effective and surprising ways. The plot moves at a great pace and none of the cast lie down under their fate. All of them struggle and attempt to exert control over a situation that they are not sure about. This active cast is tremendous, it gives the story great forward momentum and allows Neil White to switch the story frequently without loosing any narrative force.
There is a slightly clunky plot device used in the book, it does not distract from the story, it undermined a reveal without destroying it. There is a slight gap in explaining the path that lead directly to the actions that drive the plot, an under explained transition from one state of being to another for a key cast member. It is a tribute to the story that it stays long enough in the readers mind for these issues to arise at all. Sharp, very violent and compelling, a pleasure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spider Trap. Barry Maitland. EuroCrime (2006)

A very enjoyable police procedural, with a strong plot and a very engaging cast. The discovery of two murdered girls leads by accident to the discovery of three skeletons buried on some wasteland. The investigation is headed by Detective Chief Inspector David Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla. The investigation soon find that the old crime may have links to a very dangerous criminal, Spider Roach. Brock had encountered Roach before and realises just how difficult his potential involvement could make the investigation. An officer on loan from the Special Branch is making life complicated for Kathy Kolla. The plot unfurls very nicely, the reveals are cleverly staged, the violent set piece at the climax is slightly out of place with the rest of the book, the final conclusion is grimly effective.
This is a really well structured book, Barry Maitland gives his large cast a very significant problem and they attempt to resolve it is credible and gripping ways. Spider Roach is a malign shadow, manipulating events from the shadows and rarely taking a direct route when an indirect one gets a result. DCI Brock and DS Kolla are trying to manage an investigation within the constraints of the police force while not stepping on one of Roach's landmines. The threads of the two investigations, the two murdered girls and the skeletons, mix and overlap in interesting ways.
One of the pleasures of the book is the way the extended cast, including a local, black MP are drawn into the plot and the scale of Spider Roach's reach starts to become apparent.With such a ferocious, clever villain at the heart of the plot gives the book great momentum, Brock & Kolla have to be smart, imaginative and resourceful to deal with him. They and the book are all that and more, a pleasure.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SCAPULA. Aidan Casserly (Writer & Artist). (2010)

This is a collection of some of the story lines from the superb web comic with one extra story exclusive to the collection. Scapula is a needy, rather pathetic and cowardly supervision attempting to gain respect from an uncaring world. One of the pleasures of the book is that it is not another superhero parody, it sparkles with an independent and very funny life. Aidan Casserly ranges across genres to develop solid and well thought stories full of very dark and cutting humour. There is no need to catch the references to enjoy the stories, the cast and the jokes stand very much in their own right. Scapula is a brilliant character, the impotent rage against his life, the whiny regrets about his failings are sharply developed so that he is funny but never tiresome. The rest of the cast are equally well developed and individual, they deal with their circumstances with tremendous, if frequently misguided energy, and draw the reader in.
The art is lovely, packed with detail which creates a superb context for the actions of the cast. The slightly cartoon look adds greatly to the action, the cast react and overreact as they should. They convey a lot through their body language, complemented by the nicely aware narration and laugh out loud dialogue. A great web comic, a great comic.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pornography. Men Possessing Women. Andrea Dworkin. The Women's Press (1981)

This brilliantly written, fiercely argued book is both invigorating and deeply dispiriting to read. Andrea Dworkin develops a powerful argument that pornography is central to men controlling women. It reduces women to being sexual slaves, publicly reinforcing their subservient position. This is placed within a wider context of sexual relations betwen men and women and how that relates to the larger society. Andrea Dworkin's close examination of a variety of pornographic books and images is dispiriting and very difficult to read, it is a catalouge of contempt, cruelty and lust for dominance. At the end of the book Andrea Dworkin writes on the toll taken on her personally by the investigations she undertook.
What makes this book invigorating is the passionate argument that Andrea Dworkin develops. There is a very strong sense of having someone place a hand on your chest and have a lucid and commited argument directly with you as the reader. It is an argument in that there is a very clear intent to persuade, not by force of detail rather by thoughtful and carefully copnstructed arguments supporting a conclusion. I disagree very strongly with a great deal of the arguments in the book and the pleasure of engaging with the arguments head on and attempting to match the passion and rigor of the arguments was exhilirating.
Andra Dworkin has written a brilliant, passionate, infuriating, depressing and amazing book, hard to read and deeply engaging, superb.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Savage Moon. Chris Simms. Orion Books (2007)

A very engaging police procedural with a superbly constructed plot and a very well realised cast. A woman is found mauled to death on Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester. A rouge big cat is suspected and the evidence supports the idea. When a man is killed in a similar fashion at a gay rendezvous, DI Jon Spicer is assigned to the case. While the investigation does reveal a lot about the lives of the victims, there is no apparent connection between them nor any evidence that it was murder. The plot develops strongly as the investigation continues and the threads begin to tie together in a grim and very effective fashion, leading to a surprising and hard hitting conclusion.
In addition to the excellent plot Chris Simms has taken two threadbare genre staples and given them a very welcome breath of life. DI Spicer has a domestic problem, his wife is a new mother and does not appear to be coping well. The issue and impact of post natal depression is handled with care, the struggle to manage domestic and professional demands with a male character in the vise is deftly done. In addition Spicer has conflicts with superiors at work, this too is handled well, organisational pressures, ambition and differing agendas are the context rather than stupidity. The mix of the two is very well drawn together as well as the escalating pressure of the investigation.
Chris Simms pulls of a major reveal that has the potential to unbalance the book and topple the reader out of the story with elegant skill. A lengthy exposition is given a clever context and tension that neatly tie it to the story and feels natural. This is a very well written novel that pushes the boundaries of the genre while scrupulously respecting them,a pleasure.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Inside the Mind of BTK. John Douglas & Johnny Dodd. Josssey-Bass (2008)

Between 1974 and 1991 Dennis Rader killed ten people in Wichita, Kansas and created public terror and fear as the serial killer knows as BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill). He was arrested in 2005 following a superbly executed police effort to finally trap him.
John Douglas, who was an agent with the FBI and ran the criminal profiling section, first encountered BTK in 1979 when he created a profile for the Wichita police.
Dennis Rader got overwhelming gratification from having power over other people,tying them up and killing them was the sole meaningful actions in his life. Everything else that he did was a shallow facade designed to ensure he could continue to follow his desires in safety.
There is no specific event in Dennis Rader's life that appears to have pushed him in the direction of becoming a serial killer. He had a compulsive desire to tie himself up and a turbulent desire to have power over someone else and to inflict extremes of pain and terror on them before killing them. John Douglas & Johnny Dodd, using Rader's own extensive notes and diaries, trace the development of his murderous desires.The emergence of BTK followed Rader's desire to be credited in full for his crimes, he wrote to the newspapers and identified himself as BTK with enough detail about his first murder to be credible. From there he maintained a efforts to maintain his profile and relished the fear and panic he was causing. It was vanity that eventually lead to his arrest, he started to issue public communications again after reading a an article that a journalist was writing a book about BTK, who had been dormant for years at this point.
In this book Rader emerges as a man so narrowly focused on himself that other people were just props to his desires, shallow and a coward. John Douglas never imagines Rader as other than he is, a dangerous, deeply unattractive predator. The story of his crimes is deeply sad, the victims are treated with care and respect. The investigation that finally trapped Rader is simply astonishing. This is a gripping, thoughtful, angry and very well written book.