Film Review – THE GAUNTLET (1977)

Image result for the gauntlet 1977THE GAUNTLET (USA, 1977) ***
      Distributor: Warner Bros. (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); Production Company: Warner Bros / The Malpaso Company; Release Date: 21 December 1977 (USA), 22 December 1977 (UK); Filming Dates: 4 April – June 1977; Running Time: 109m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack; Producer: Robert Daley; Associate Producer: Fritz Manes; Director of Photography: Rexford L. Metz; Music Composer: Jerry Fielding; Film Editor: Joel Cox, Ferris Webster; Art Director: Allen E. Smith; Set Decorator: Ira Bates; Costumes: Glenn Wright; Make-up: Don Schoenfeld; Sound: Bert Hallberg; Special Effects: Chuck Gaspar.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Ben Shockley), Sondra Locke (Gus Mally), Pat Hingle (Josephson), William Prince (Blakelock), Bill McKinney (Constable), Michael Cavanaugh (Feyderspiel), Carole Cook (Waitress), Mara Corday (Jail Matron), Doug McGrath (Bookie), Jeff Morris (Desk Sergeant), Samantha Doane (Biker), Roy Jenson (Biker), Dan Vadis (Biker), Carver Barnes (Bus Driver), Robert Barrett (Paramedic), Teddy Bear (Lieutenant), Mildred Brion (Old Lady on Bus), Ron Chapman (Veteran Cop), Don Circle (Bus Clerk), James W. Gavin (Helicopter Pilot), Thomas H. Friedkin (Helicopter Pilot), Darwin Lamb (Police Captain), Roger Lowe (Paramedic Driver), Fritz Manes (Helicopter Gunman), John Quiroga (Cab Driver), Josef Rainer (Rookie Cop), Art Rimdzius (Judge), Al Silvani (Police Sergeant).
      Synopsis: A hard but mediocre cop is assigned to escort a prostitute into custody from Las Vegas to Phoenix, so that she can testify in a mob trial. But a lot of people are literally betting that they won’t make it into town alive.
      Comment: Preposterous, ludicrous, but entertaining if taken in the right spirit and you are willing to condone its black humour as well as ignore the numerous plot holes. The movie must have set the record for the most gunshots on film. Eastwood and Locke make for a sparky team of misfits brought together by fate and a desire for the villains to remove them both from the scene. A long chase ensues with cartoon violent action sequences and barbed dialogue keeping things interesting. It’s hard not to smile at the absurdities or be impressed by Locke’s confident performance and Eastwood’s atypical dim-witted detective.
      Notes: The premise was reworked as the Bruce Willis vehicle 16 BLOCKS (2006).

Warner Archive announces Blu-Ray releases of Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft in Africa

As expected ahead of the release of the new Shaft movie in June, Warner Archive has announced it will finally be releasing the second and third of Richard Roundtree’s original Shaft films on Blu-Ray. The releases of both Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973) will take place in May. Both films will be remastered in HD. As with most Warner Archive releases it is not expected there will be any additional content. Warner has shared the following detail:

SHAFT’S BIG SCORE (1972)
NEW 2019 1080p HD MASTER
Run Time 105:00
Subtitles English SDH
Sound Quality DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 – English
Aspect Ratio ORIGINAL ASPECT RATIO – 2.40:1, 16 X 9 LETTERBOX
Product Color COLOR
Disc Configuration BD 50
You can’t say the mob wasn’t warned about John Shaft. “He’s a bad dude,” a numbers racketeer cautions them. Now, Shaft himself will deliver that message in a way New York City’s wiseguys understand.
Richard Roundtree reunites with the director (Gordon Parks) and screenwriter (Ernest Tidyman) of 1971’s trendsetting Shaft for Shaft’s Big Score!, the second of Roundtree’s three movie portrayals of the street-smart, leather-jacketed private investigator. This time, the blown-to-kingdom-come murder of a client plunges Shaft into a case that bounces him like a pinball between the 133rd Precinct and competing mobs. But the players are about to be played in this “rousing and entertaining thriller” (Newsweek).

SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973)
NEW 2019 1080p HD MASTER
Run Time 112:00
Subtitles English SDH
Sound Quality DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 – English
Aspect Ratio 16 X 9 LETTERBOX, 2.40:1
Product Color COLOR
Disc Configuration BD 50
Go ahead. Slug, drug, kidnap and leave John Shaft buck naked in a sweltering hellhole. It’s still no deal. If you want to recruit this tough-minded Manhattan detective for an overseas assignment, you’d better use a language he understands. One that offers a fat up-front fee. And a drop-dead-gorgeous accomplice. Richard Roundtree returns as the indomitable Shaft, who poses as a slave, unmasks the leaders of an Africa-to-Europe slavery cartel and, for good measure, mixes his business with amorous pleasure involving a beautiful princess (Vonetta McGee). The cool-fire impact of Roundtree’s performances endures: The actor won the 1993 MTV Movie Award for Lifetime Achievement for his work in the three Shaft thrillers.

Film Review – THE ENFORCER (1976)

Image result for the enforcer 1976THE ENFORCER (USA, 1976) ***
      Distributor: Warner Bros. (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures / The Malpaso Company; Release Date: 22 December 1976 (USA), 26 December 1976 (UK); Filming Dates: 14 June — early September 1976; Running Time: 96m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono | Dolby Digital (5.1); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: James Fargo; Writer: Stirling Silliphant, Dean Riesner (based on a story by Gail Morgan Hickman & S.W. Schurr and characters created by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink); Producer: Robert Daley; Director of Photography: Charles W. Short; Music Composer: Jerry Fielding; Film Editor: Joel Cox, Ferris Webster; Casting Director: Mary Goldberg; Art Director: Allen E. Smith; Set Decorator: Ira Bates; Costumes: Glenn Wright; Make-up: Joe McKinney; Sound: Bert Hallberg; Special Effects: Joseph A. Unsinn.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Harry Callahan), Tyne Daly (Kate Moore), Harry Guardino (Lt. Bressler), Bradford Dillman (Capt. McKay), John Mitchum (DiGeorgio), DeVeren Bookwalter (Bobby Maxwell), John Crawford (The Mayor), Samantha Doane (Wanda), Bob Hoy (Buchinski), Jocelyn Jones (Miki), M.G. Kelly (Father John), Nick Pellegrino (Martin), Albert Popwell (Mustapha), Rudy Ramos (Mendez), Bill Ackridge (Andy), Bill Jelliffe (Johnny), Joe Bellan (Freddie the Fainter), Tim O’Neill (Police Sergeant), Jan Stratton (Mrs. Grey), Will MacMillan (Lt. Dobbs), Jerry Walter (Krause), Steve Eoff (Bustanoby), Tim Burrus (Henry Lee), Michael Cavanaugh (Lalo), Dick Durock (Karl), Ron Manning (Tex), Adele Proom (Irene DiGeorgio), Glenn Leigh Marshall (Army Sergeant), Robert Behling (Autopsy Surgeon), Terence McGovern (Disc Jockey), Stan Ritchie (Bridge Operator), John Roselius (Mayor’s Driver), Brian Fong (Scoutmaster), Art Rimdzius (Porno Director), Chuck Hicks (Huey), Anne Macey (Madam), Gloria Prince (Massage Girl), Kenneth Boyd (Abdul), Bernard Glin (Koblo), Fritz Manes (Detective #1).
      Synopsis: Dirty Harry must foil a terrorist organization made up of disgruntled Vietnam veterans. But this time, he’s teamed with a rookie female partner that he’s not too excited to be working with.
      Comment: Third DIRTY HARRY film turns its slender plot into a series of violent action set-pieces. Most of the fun is derived from the interplay between Eastwood and Daly, who is excellent in her first major role as Eastwood’s female partner. The teaming gives rise for Harry to display his prejudices and some of these scenes may play uncomfortably with modern audiences (as they did with Daly at the time). Over the course of the film, the partnership warms up and reaches it’s almost inevitable conclusion during a fine shootout finale on Alcatraz. Whilst it lacks the gravitas of the original this second sequel moves at a faster clip than MAGNUM FORCE. However, the direction is uneven, injecting elements of black humour and the potential to play stronger messages about idealism and feminism are largely glossed over. The result is a diverting, but strangely stilted star vehicle.
      Notes: Preceded by DIRTY HARRY (1971) and MAGNUM FORCE (1973) and followed by SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) and THE DEAD POOL (1988).

Film Review – THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976)

Image result for the outlaw josey walesTHE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (USA, 1976) ****½
      Distributor: Warner Bros. (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); Production Company: Warner Bros. / The Malpaso Company; Release Date: 26 June 1976 (USA), 29 August 1976 (UK); Filming Dates: 6 October – late November 1975; Running Time: 135m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Philip Kaufman, Sonia Chernus (based on the book “Gone To Texas” by Forrest Carter); Producer: Robert Daley; Associate Producer: James Fargo, John G. Wilson; Director of Photography: Bruce Surtees; Music Composer: Jerry Fielding; Film Editor: Ferris Webster; Casting Director: Jack Kosslyn; Production Designer: Tambi Larsen; Set Decorator: Charles Pierce; Costumes: Glenn Wright; Make-up: Joe McKinney; Sound: Bert Hallberg; Special Effects: R.A. MacDonald, A. Paul Pollard, Frank Hafeman (uncredited).
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Josey Wales), Chief Dan George (Lone Watie), Sondra Locke (Laura Lee), Bill McKinney (Terrill), John Vernon (Fletcher), Paula Trueman (Grandma Sarah), Sam Bottoms (Jamie), Geraldine Keams (Little Moonlight), Woodrow Parfrey (Carpetbagger), Joyce Jameson (Rose), Sheb Wooley (Travis Cobb), Royal Dano (Ten Spot), Matt Clark (Kelly), John Verros (Chato), Will Sampson (Ten Bears), William O’Connell (Sim Carstairs), John Quade (Comanchero Leader), Frank Schofield (Senator Lane), Buck Kartalian (Shopkeeper), Len Lesser (Abe), Doug McGrath (Lige), John Russell (Bloody Bill Anderson), Charles Tyner (Zukie Limmer), Bruce M. Fischer (Yoke), John Mitchum (Al), John Davis Chandler (First Bounty Hunter), Tom Roy Lowe (Second Bounty Hunter), Clay Tanner (First Texas Ranger), Bob Hoy (Second Texas Ranger), Madeleine Taylor Holmes (Grannie Hawkins), Erik Holland (Union Army Sergeant), Cissy Wellman (Josey’s Wife), Faye Hamblin (Grandpa), Danny Green (Lemuel).
      Synopsis: A Missouri farmer joins a Confederate guerrilla unit and winds up on the run from the Union soldiers who murdered his family.
     Comment: One of the best Westerns ever made, this often violent but epic tale works over a number of evolving themes and is also a remarkable character study. Eastwood the director allows the story sufficient room to breathe and develop and draws great performances from a strong cast. Eastwood the star fleshes out his standard persona into a characterisation that grows as the story progresses. Chief Dan George also gives a wonderful scene-stealing performance as an old Indian with an ironic sense of humour. The film is beautifully photographed by Surtees, who takes advantage of the autumnal vistas with great use of natural light. All other aspects of the production are top notch, with the authentic production design and costumes also standout aspects. Jerry Fielding’s score, nominated for the Academy Award for Original Music Score, is sparse and eschews the convention for big orchestral gestures, settling instead for sparse but subtly effectively interjections which heighten the tension in this mature and intelligent genre classic.
     Notes: Philip Kaufman started to direct the film but was replaced by Eastwood, a controversial move which prompted the DGA to institute a ban on any current cast or crew member replacing the director on a film – a rule which has ever since been titled the “Eastwood rule.” Based on the book “Gone to Texas” by Forrest Carter. Followed by THE RETURN OF JOSEY WALES (1986) without Eastwood.

Film Review – THE EIGER SANCTION (1975)

Image result for clint eastwood totem poleTHE EIGER SANCTION (USA, 1975) ***
      Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: The Malpaso Company / Jennings Lang / Universal Pictures; Release Date: 21 May 1975 (USA), 21 August 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: 12 August – late September 1974; Running Time: 129m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15 – strong violence.
      Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Hal Dresner, Warren Murphy, Rod Whitaker (based on the novel by Rod Whitaker, as Trevanian); Executive Producer: David Brown, Richard D. Zanuck; Producer: Robert Daley ; Director of Photography: Frank Stanley; Music Composer: John Williams; Film Editor: Ferris Webster; Art Director: George C. Webb, Aurelio Crugnola; Set Decorator: John M. Dwyer; Costumes: Glenn Wright, Charles Waldo; Make-up: Joe McKinney; Sound: James R. Alexander, Robert L. Hoyt; Special Effects: Ben McMahan.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Jonathan Hemlock), George Kennedy (Ben Bowman), Vonetta McGee (Jemima Brown), Jack Cassidy (Miles Mellough), Heidi Brühl (Mrs. Montaigne), Thayer David (Dragon), Reiner Schöne (Freytag), Michael Grimm (Meyer), Jean-Pierre Bernard (Montaigne), Brenda Venus (George), Gregory Walcott (Pope), Candice Rialson (Art Student), Elaine Shore (Miss Cerberus), Dan Howard (Dewayne), Jack Kosslyn (Reporter), Walter Kraus (Kruger), Frank Redmond (Wormwood), Siegfried Wallach (Hotel Manager), Susan Morgan Cooper (Buns), Jack Frey (Cab Driver).
      Synopsis: A classical art professor and collector, who doubles as a professional assassin, is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend.
      Comment: Saddled with a weak by-the-numbers script this spy thriller is considerably bolstered by the superb mountain climbing footage and Eastwood’s star power. Eastwood also performed his own stunt work adding a sense of authenticity and he directed the climbing sequences with considerable skill, managing to create a tense climactic ascent of the Eiger. Kennedy shines in a support role as Eastwood’s climbing buddy, as does Cassidy as a gay assassin. Great use is made of Monument Valley and Swiss locations and John Williams provides an evocative score.
      Notes: The scenes that depict Hemlock training for the Eiger climb include Monument Valley’s “Totem Pole,” a rock spire with an elevation over 5,500 feet. According to production notes, Eastwood performed the climb himself while Kennedy was lowered onto the rock’s crest by helicopter. Shortly after the scene was filmed, the Navajo Nation deemed “Totem Pole” off-limits to future climbers. Twenty-six-year-old British climber David Knowles died on the Eiger during the production.

Film Review – THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974)

Image result for thunderbolt and lightfoot 1974THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (USA, 1974) ***½
      Distributor: United Artists; Production Company: The Malpaso Company; Release Date: 22 May 1974 (USA), 19 September 1974 (UK); Filming Dates: July – September 1973; Running Time: 115m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Michael Cimino; Writer: Michael Cimino; Producer: Robert Daley; Director of Photography: Frank Stanley; Music Composer: Dee Barton; Film Editor: Ferris Webster; Casting Director: Patricia Mock; Art Director: Tambi Larsen; Set Decorator: James L. Berkey; Costumes: Jules Melillo; Make-up: Joe McKinney; Sound: Bert Hallberg, Norman Webster; Special Effects: Sass Bedig.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Thunderbolt), Jeff Bridges (Lightfoot), George Kennedy (Red Leary), Geoffrey Lewis (Eddie Goody), Catherine Bach (Melody), Gary Busey (Curly), Jack Dodson (Vault Manager), Eugene Elman (Tourist), Burton Gilliam (Welder), Roy Jenson (Dunlop), Claudia Lennear (Secretary), Bill McKinney (Crazy Driver), Vic Tayback (Mario Pinski), Dub Taylor (Station Attendant), Gregory Walcott (Used Car Salesman), Erica Hagen (Waitress), Alvin Childress (Janitor), Virginia Baker (Couple at Station), Stuart Nisbet (Couple at Station), Irene K. Cooper (Cashier), Cliff Emmich (The Fat Man), June Fairchild (Gloria), Ted Foulkes (Young Boy), Leslie Oliver (Teenager), Mark Montgomery (Teenager), Karen Lamm (Girl on Motorcycle), Luanne Roberts (Suburban Housewife), Lila Teigh (Tourist).
      Synopsis: With the help of an irreverent young sidekick, a bank robber gets his old gang back together to organise a daring new heist.
      Comment: Road movie turns into heist movie in this entertaining vehicle for Eastwood and Bridges. The plot is initially slight and the pace slow as we are introduced to the two misfit loners. Once Kennedy and Bridges enter the story the character interplay becomes the main focus and the pace quickens as the quartet take to work to raise money to fund their heist. The tone swings from comedy to melodrama to violent action but is generally well-handled by Cimino on his directorial debut. Bridges delivers a superb and believably natural performance and Eastwood generously gives him centre stage. Kennedy too stands out as Eastwood’s stubbornly proud ex-partner.
      Notes: Cimino modelled this movie after one of his favourite films, CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT (1955). Bridges was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.

Music Review – MIKE + THE MECHANICS: OUT OF THE BLUE (2019)

Mike + The Mechanics
Out of the Blue (2019) ***

Image result for mike + the mechanics out of the blueMike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass, Drum Programming
Andrew Roachford – Vocals, Keyboards
Tim Howar – Vocals
Anthony Drennan – Lead Guitar, Bass
Gary Wallis – Drums
Luke Juby – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Clark Datchler – Keyboards (3)
Paul Meehan – Keyboards and Programming (1 & 2)
Priscilla Jones-Campbell, Bryon Jones, James Thompson, Joy Malcolm – Choir (4)

Produced by Mike Rutherford and Paul Meehan
Recorded at The Farm Sand Drungewick Studios by Harry Rutherford
Mixed by Mike Rutherford and Nick Davis
Matered by 360 Mastering

TRACKS:
New songs:
1 One Way (Rutherford/Roachford/Datchler) ****
Strong opener with a classy chorus and wonderful vocal from Roachford. The best of the three new songs on the album.
Out of the Blue (Rutherford/Roachford/Datchler) ***
Typical Mechanics sound with a neat arrangement and sturdy chorus, but just doesn’t stand out as having anything new to offer
What Would You Do (Rutherford/Roachford/Datchler) **
The programmed intro is reminiscent of the failed Rewired experiment. Pleasant enough, but again lacks any distinguishing elements.
Re-recordings:
The Living Years (Rutherford/Robertson) ****
The band’s best-remembered song is still an affecting ballad, delivered here with a soulful interpretation by Roachford. The acoustic arrangement on the bonus disc gives a different arrangement and perhaps more heart-wrenching vocal from Roachford.
Beggar on a Beach of Gold (Rutherford/Robertson)) ***
Tim Howar may lack Paul Young’s range but there is an energy to his performance of this classic Mechanics track.
Get Up (Rutherford/Carrack) ****
Probably the only one of these recordings to actually improve on the original.
Another Cup of Coffee (Rutherford/Neil) ***
Almost a carbon-copy of the original but Carrack’s version cannot be bettered.
All I Need is a MIracle (Rutherford/Neil) ***
Again Howar energetically takes on a song that Paul Young made his own both on record and live. A good effort.
Silent Running (Rutherford/Robertson) **
Minus the atmospheric introduction, this pales in comparison to the original. Roachford’s soulful vocal interpretation is solid.
10 Over My Shoulder (Rutherford/Datchler/Howar) ∗∗∗
Like “Another Cup of Coffee”, this treads the same path as the original down to the whistled chorus. Adds nothing new.
11 Word of Mouth (Rutherford/Neil) ****
Has the live feel of the original and is again sung with passion by Howar. Enjoyable closing rocker.

Mike + The Mechanics’ ninth album is a strange concept mixing three new songs with eight re-recordings of old favourites that are a staple of the band’s live set.  The new songs are passable but lack the freshness of most of the songs on Let Me Fly. The decision to re-record some old favourites to make up the bulk of the album is a bold move. Unfortunately, most of these re-recordings merely restate the live arrangement and are therefore largely redundant. Why not just release a live album? The only real purpose would be to support the re-invention of the band, which has been touring successfully in this new combination for the last eight years, and prove to listeners the new line-up can handle the old material – which it can.  The deluxe version of the album has a second CD with six lo-fi acoustic recordings including a wonderfully evocative piano-led arrangement of “The Living Years” sung with real emotion by Roachford.

Book Review – ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) by Lawrence Osborne

ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) ***
by Lawrence Osborne
Hardback published by Hogarth, 2018. 250pp.
ISBN: 978-1-7810-9057-2

Image result for Only to Sleep: A Philip Marlowe NovelBlurb: The year is 1988. The place, Baja California. Private Investigator Philip Marlowe – now in his seventy-second year – has been living out his retirement in the terrace bar of the La Fonda hotel. Sipping margaritas, playing cards, his silver-tipped cane at the ready. When in saunter two men dressed like undertakers. With a case that has his name written all over it.  At last Marlowe is back where he belongs. His mission is to investigate Donald Zinn – supposedly drowned off his yacht, leaving a much younger and now very rich wife. Marlowe’s speciality. But is Zinn actually alive? Are the pair living off the spoils? 

This is the fourth attempt to continue Raymond Chandler’s legacy of private investigator Philip Marlowe. None of these works has come anywhere near to replicating the best of Chandler’s work. First, there were two books by Robert B. Parker – Poodle Springs (1989) and Perchance to Dream (1991) – the former completing an unfinished Chandler manuscript, the latter a disappointing sequel to Chandler’s first Marlowe novel,  The Big Sleep (1939). Then in 2014, John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) produced The Black-Eyed Blonde, which was a pretty good sequel to Chandler’s masterpiece The Long Goodbye (1953). Now we have Lawrence Osborne’s take on Marlowe with Only to Sleep. Osborne has taken the brave decision to write about an ageing Marlowe, 72-years old here. This gives him the opportunity to introduce even more world-weariness into the character. A physically spent force, Marlowe now needs a cane to help him get around. Coaxed out of retirement to investigate a suspicious insurance claim, Marlowe goes to Mexico to find the truth. The book has a slow, deliberate pace which allows Osborne to share Marlowe’s anachronistic view of the world. However, his observations are merely those of a tired old man and lack the bite of his younger self. That may have been Osborne’s intention, to show how age has dulled Marlowe’s caustic cynicism. But much of the charm of Chandler’s creation is lost in the process. So whilst, as per convention, the story is written in the first person from Marlowe’s point of view, it doesn’t feel like this is the same man that inhabited Chandler’s novels  – or even those of Parker and Black. There is little of the biting wit we expect. The mystery itself is less a mystery and more a manhunt. There is also nothing in the unravelling of the plot elements that will surprise the reader. Osborne does, however, capture the hot, sleazy atmosphere of Mexico in the 1980s, drawing on his own experiences. Taken as a detective story, the writing is good and mercifully the page count is traditionally light and we are left with a competent detective novel, for which the only real distinction is its use of an iconic name to sell it.

Book Review – WILD FIRE (2018) by Ann Cleeves

WILD FIRE (2018) ***½
by Ann Cleeves
Originally published by Macmillan, 2018.
This edition published by Pan Books, 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-7826-9

Blurb: Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, an English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life. But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire. With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case. Perez is facing the most disturbing investigation of his career. Is he ready for what is to come?

As  I was watching the latest series of BBC’s excellent Shetland series, I was also reading what is to be the last of the novels the series was based on. From Series 3 the BBC moved away from adapting Ann Cleeves’ novels and into writing original series length stories. That lifted the TV series to the next level by expanding the universe and making the TV version feel less about an isolated community. Cleeves, meanwhile, has finished her series with a novel that is deeply rooted in that community. Themes of a close-knit and suspicious community dealing with an invasion of new residents are explored here. The case is a murder, which in method replicates an earlier suicide by a local man down on his luck, having had to sell his ideal home to a couple of immigrants from England and their family, including their autistic son. Wild Fire is both familiar and entertaining. We know the characters and we know the island very well by now. Cleeves explores her characters by slowing the pace and allowing room for development. Her writing style is descriptive and also looks to explore each of the major protagonist’s viewpoint, making for a fully rounded story that otherwise has the familiar elements of the English crime mystery.

TV Review – SHETLAND – SERIES 5 (2019)

Image result for shetland series 5SHETLAND – SERIES 5 (TV) (UK, 2019) ***½
     Distributor: Silverprint Pictures / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Scotland; Release Date: 12 February – 19 March 2019; Running Time: 341m (6 episodes); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
     Director: Gordon Anderson, Isabelle Sieb; Writer: David Kane, Paul Logue (based on characters created by Ann Cleeves); Executive Producer: Kate Bartlett, Gaynor Holmes, David Kane; Producer: Eric Coulter; Director of Photography: Cinders Forshaw; Music Composer: John Lunn; Film Editor: Colin Monie, Chris Buckland; Production Designer: Emer O’Sullivan; Art Director: Ghillie Smith; Visual Effects: Fraser Murdoch.
     Cast: Douglas Henshall (DI Jimmy Perez), Alison O’Donnell (Alison McIntosh), Steven Robertson (DC Sandy Wilson), Mark Bonnar (Duncan Hunter), Erin Armstrong (Cassie Perez), Julie Graham (Rhona Kelly), Rakie Ayola (Olivia Lennox), Catherine Walker (Alice Brooks), Derek Riddell (Chris Brooks), Robert Cavanah (Graeme Benson), Therese Bradley (Andrea Doyle), Anne Kidd (Cora McLean), Kate Dickie (DI Sam Boyd), Lorn Macdonald (Jamie Hayes), Owen Whitelaw (Prentice Hayes), Tracy Wiles (Carla Hayes), Isabelle Joss (Catrina), Robin Laing (Gavin Laird), Gail Watson (Mary Hunter), Ryan Fletcher (Calum Dunwoody), Meghan Tyler (Mags), John Kazek (Aaron McGuire), Frances Mayli McCann (Niki), Angus Miller (Donnie), Emma Mullen (Rosie), Olivia Barrowclough (Trish), Titana Muthui (Zezi Ugara), Ayanda Bhebe (Daniel Ugara), Lewis Howden (Billy McCabe).
     Synopsis: Perez finds that the murder of the young Nigerian man is more than just the drugs trade but could be sex trafficking with the Shetlands a cog in a much larger wheel.
     Comment: The fifth series of the brooding crime drama set in the bleak remote community of Shetland is another absorbing mystery. The plot unfolds at a slow pace with occasional bursts of energy and activity. This allows for investment in the characters and gives them room to breathe. As the mystery unfolds the pace quickens. The climax feels a little conventional, but the story overall is nevertheless satisfying. Henshall is excellent as the detective with a conscience and a strong supporting cast help to lift the material above the standard genre tropes.