Book Review – THE FINAL SILENCE (2014) by Stuart Neville

THE FINAL SILENCE by STUART NEVILLE (2014, Vintage, 336pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Rea Carlisle has inherited a house from an uncle she never knew. It doesn’t take her long to clear out the dead man’s remaining possessions, but one room remains stubbornly locked. When Rea finally forces it open she discovers inside a chair, a table – and a leather-bound book. Inside its pages are locks of hair, fingernails: a catalogue of victims.
Horrified, Rea wants to go straight to the police but when her family intervene, fearing the damage it could cause to her father’s political career, Rea turns to the only person she can think of: DI Jack Lennon. But Lennon is facing his own problems. Suspended from the force and hounded by DCI Serena Flanagan, the toughest cop he’s ever faced, Lennon must unlock the secrets of a dead man’s terrifying journal.

This is the fourth of Stuart Neville’s crime thrillers featuring Belfast Detective Inspector Jack Lennon. We catch up with Lennon some time after the events of the excellent STOLEN SOULS (2013) recovering from post-traumatic stress having been shot in the previous book. He is on leave from the force and on the verge of splitting with his partner, Susan, who looks after their daughters from other relationships. It is against this domestic backdrop that Lennon links up with his ex-girlfriend, Rea, who has discovered her uncle, who had recently committed suicide, was keeping a dark secret. When Rea discovers the book she had found documenting a number of murders has gone missing leaving her nothing to show Lennon, the detective declines to help. When later Rea is murdered, Lennon is implicated as the prime suspect.

What follows is a familiar but expertly written variant on the fugitive trying the clear his name story. We are introduced to DCI Serena Flanagan (who will feature in her own series later), tasked with tracking down Lennon, who is on the run trying to clear his name. Flanagan also has problems of her own having been diagnosed with breast cancer and struggling to come to terms with her mortality. We also discover Rea’s father is a politician with his own secrets to protect. Neville expertly weaves themes of domestic violence, terrorist activity, political ambition and the psyche of a serial killer into his novel. His writing style is visual but concise with short sharp chapters many ending with a hook to take the reader to the next. As such it is the very definition of the page-turner.

Lennon has degenerated into an thoughtless and dislikeable individual by this book, yet the reader sticks with him as he tries to prove his innocence. There are questions from previous books still left unanswered at the conclusion, signifying Neville is not yet done with his characters. Flanagan is the career professional who likes to get things done by the book, but we also see her compassionate side through her consoling of Rea’s mother in both the death of her daughter and the abuse she has taken from her husband.

Overall, this book is a great read, that whilst written in a concise and efficient manner still manages to create three-dimensional characters. Whilst the subject matter is familiar there are enough twists in the story for it to remain an exciting thriller.

Film Review – TAKEN 3 (2015)

Taken 3 (2015; France/USA; FotoKem; 109m) ∗∗½  d. Olivier Megaton; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen; ph. Eric Kress; m. Nathaniel Méchaly.  Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Jonny Weston, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott, Jon Gries, Leland Orser, Andrew Howard, Don Harvey, Al Sapienza. Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name. What starts out promisingly, although borrowing liberally from 1993’s THE FUGITIVE, becomes increasingly formulaic and predictable. The action sequences are so frenetically edited as to be incomprehensible draining away any tension. Neeson displays a magnetic screen presence but he has little to work with leaving Whitaker to take the acting honours as the pursuing detective. Extended version runs 111m. [12]

Film Review – HOLLYWOODLAND (2006)

Hollywoodland (2006; USA; Technicolor; 126m) ∗∗∗½  d. Allen Coulter; w. Paul Bernbaum; ph. Jonathan Freeman; m. Marcelo Zarvos.  Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Joe Spano, Molly Parker, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Phillip MacKenzie, Larry Cedar, Eric Kaldor, Caroline Dhavernas, Zach Mills. Inspired by one of Hollywood’s most infamous real-life mysteries, follows a 1950’s private detective who, investigating the mysterious death of “Superman” star George Reeves, uncovers unexpected connections to his own life as the case turns ever more personal. The torrid affair Reeves had with the wife of a studio executive might hold the key to the truth. More a comment on fame and stardom than a murder mystery. It weaves between the lives of the star and the detective investigating his supposed suicide and in doing so often disturbs the flow of the story, but the performances are uniformly excellent and the subject matter is genuinely fascinating. Feature film debut for veteran TV director Coulter. [15]

Dynamite’s SHAFT gets trade-paperback release in October

David F Walker’s 6-part Shaft comic book will be released in a 176-page trade paperback format by Dynamite on 21 October 2015. The book compiles all 6 individual instalments of the series, which was well received by Shaft fans and comic book aficionados alike. The series also was the winner of the 2015 Glyph Comics Award for “Story of the Year” and nominated for the 2015 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. Whilst sales of the comics have been described as disappointing, it is felt the trade PB format will do much better given the positive vibes around the comic and a recent resurgence of interest in the character.

Dynamite’s blurb: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine with all the chicks? Shaft! (You’re damn right!) Created by author Ernest Tidyman and made famous in a series of novels and films, iconic hero Shaft makes his graphic novel debut in an all-new adventure. He’s gone toe-to-toe with organized crime bosses, stood up to the cops, squared off against kidnappers, and foiled assassination attempts. But who was John Shaft before he became the hardboiled investigator with a reputation as big as New York City itself? Recently arriving home from his tour of duty in Vietnam, his first case – tracking down a missing person for his girlfriend – quickly turns into a matter of life and death, making him a target of gangsters and the police!

Film Review – WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (2014)

While We’re Young (2014; USA; Colour; 97m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Noah Baumbach; w. Noah Baumbach; ph. Sam Levy; m. James Murphy.  Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Charles Grodin, Brady Corbet, Maria Dizzia, Dree Hemingway, Adam Horovitz, Adam Senn, James Saito, Ryan Serhant, Greta Lee, Ashley James, Matthew Maher. An uptight documentary filmmaker and his wife find their lives loosened up a bit after befriending a free-spirited younger couple. Baumbach explores themes of generational values, integrity and the fear of getting old in this poignant and funny commentary on modern life. Fine performances from a strong cast who make the most of a bitingly witty script. [15]

Book Review – DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON by Tony Fletcher (1998/2005)

DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON by TONY FLETCHER (1998/2005, Omnibus, Paperback, 596pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Keith Moon was more than just rock’s greatest drummer, he was a phenomenal character and an extravagant hell raiser who – in a final, uncharacteristic act of grace – actually did die before he got old. This new edition includes a newly written After word that consiers Moon’s lasting legacy, the death of John Entwistle and The Who’s ongoing career in the new millennium. In this astonishing biography, Tony Fletcher questions the myths, avoids the time-honoured anecdotes and talks afresh to those who where closest to Moon including Kim, his wife of eight years, and Linda, his sister and Annette Walter-Lax, his main girlfriend of the final years. Also interviewed are Oliver Reed, Larry Hagman, David Putnam, Alice Cooper, Dave Edmunds, Jeff Beck, John Entwistle and many others who worked and partied with him. In interviewing over 100 people who knew Moon, Fletcher reveals the truth behind the ‘famous’ stunts that never occured – and the more outrageous ones that did! He also uncovers astonishing details about Moon’s outrageous extravagance which was financed by The Who’s American success.

Keith Moon was one of rock music’s most innovative drummers, but it was ultimately his lifestyle that created the legend. There are more myths surrounding Moon’s alcohol and drug fuelled adventures than surrounds any other rock ‘n roll legend. In his exhaustive and frank book, Tony Fletcher unravels the truth and in doing so creates one of the most absorbing biographical dissections of self-destruction ever written.

Moon’s death at a young age, he was only 32 when he died, was inevitable and yet throughout the pages here Fletcher also demonstrates his impressive capacity for survival. The constant diet of drink and drugs turned a natural eccentric – who was warm, funny and generous – into a wild and often uncontrollable force with a legendary track record in ritual destruction of hotel rooms, a chaotic home lifestyle and a 24-hour party mentality. There were also tragic events, which coloured his personality and brought out a dark side that contradicted his outward joviality and desire to make people laugh.

Tony Fletcher, a keen fan of The Who, is determined to present a balanced view on Moon’s life and doesn’t gloss over the more unsavoury aspects. He lets us in on the real Keith Moon through a series of frank interviews and extensive research. The band largely distanced themselves from the story with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend unwilling to be interviewed and quotes being restricted to archive material, but the book does not suffer because a greater objectivity is achieved as a result. This version, published in 2005, also contains an Afterword following new interviews that add further clarity(and in some cases uncertainty) to some of the key events in Moon’s life.

With today’s heavily corporate approach to rock music it is difficult for the current generation to understand that when rock was in its infancy it was at its most out of control. If any one book conveys the sheer scale of the wildness of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle in the 1960s and 1970s, then this book is it. If any one person conveys the chaos then it is Keith Moon.

Film Review – SILVER DREAM RACER (1980)

Silver Dream Racer (1980; UK; Eastmancolor; 111m) ∗∗½  d. David Wickes; w. David Wickes, Michael Billington; ph. Paul Beeson; m. David Essex.  Cast: David Essex, Beau Bridges, Cristina Raines, Clarke Peters, Harry H. Corbett, Diane Keen, Lee Montague, Sheila White, Patrick Ryecart, Ed Bishop, T.P. McKenna, David Baxt. A young hot-headed motorbike enthusiast inherits the prototype for an incredibly fast machine which was designed by his brother. Cliché ridden sports drama benefits from lively performances from Bridges and Peters, but is ultimately predictable. Star Essex, whose hot-headed character competes for Raines’ affections with Bridges, also provided the music score. Corbett’s last feature film. US shorter cut runs 101m. [15]

Film Review Round-up – The first three (of eight) THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. films from the 1960s

To Trap a Spy (1964; USA; Metrocolor; 92m) ∗∗∗  d. Don Medford; w. Sam Rolfe; ph. Joseph F. Biroc; m. Jerry Goldsmith.  Cast: Robert Vaughn, Luciana Paluzzi, Pat Crowley, Fritz Weaver, William Marshall, Will Kuluva, David McCallum, Ivan Dixon, Victoria Shaw, Eric Berry, Miguel Ángel Landa. The pilot for the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., re-edited and released to theatres as a feature. U.N.C.L.E. discovers that W.A.S.P. killer Andrew Vulcan plans to assassinate a visiting African leader, Premier Ashumen, while he’s on a tour of Vulcan’s factory. Whilst lacking the scope and grandeur of the James Bond films that inspired it, this is still a fun spy thriller. Vaughn and Crowley spark nicely off each other, but McCallum has only a background role. Followed by THE SPY WITH MY FACE (1965). [PG]

Spy with My Face, The (1965; USA; Metrocolor; 88m) ∗∗  d. John Newland; w. Joseph Calvelli, Clyde Ware; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp; m. Morton Stevens.  Cast: Robert Vaughn, Senta Berger, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll, Michael Evans, Sharon Farrell, Fabrizio Mioni, Donald Harron, Bill Gunn, Jennifer Billingsley, Paula Raymond, Donna Michelle, Harold Gould, Nancy Hsueh, Michele Carey. THRUSH captures Napoleon Solo and replaces him with a look-alike to infiltrate U.N.C.L.E. Second feature lacks the spark of TO TRAP A SPY and after a promising start descends into lapses of logic with its muddled plot. It also lacks an effective villain with Evans lacking charisma. The movie first aired on NBC as the eighth episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964), “The Double Affair” with additional scenes filmed to expand the running time. Followed by ONE SPY TOO MANY (1966). [PG]

One Spy Too Many (1966; USA; Metrocolor; 98m) ∗∗½  d. Joseph Sargent; w. Dean Hargrove; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp; m. Gerald Fried.  Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Rip Torn, Dorothy Provine, Leo G. Carroll, David Opatoshu, James Hong, Yvonne Craig. Megalomaniac Alexander wants to be like Alexander the Great. His plan is to commit the world’s greatest crimes to expand his industrial empire. Fairly enjoyable spy hokum, which despite low production values and a dodgy script is enlivened by well-staged action sequences, some witty lines and a winning supporting performance by Provine. Torn makes for an enigmatic villain. Expanded from the second-season opener, “The Alexander the Greater Affair” of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with additional scenes filmed for theatrical release. Based on a story by David Victor. Followed by ONE OF OUR SPIES IS MISSING (1966). [PG]

Music Review – TONY BANKS: A CHORD TOO FAR (2015)

TONY BANKS – A CHORD TOO FAR (2015, Esoteric, 4CDs) ∗∗∗∗

CD1:

  1. Rebirth – From Soundtracks
  2. At The Edge Of Night – From The Fugitive
  3. Walls Of Sound – From Strictly Inc.
  4. Lion Of Symmetry – From Soundtracks
  5. The More I Hide It – From Bankstatement
  6. Shortcut To Somewhere – From Soundtracks
  7. The Waters Of Lethe – From A Curious Feeling
  8. I Wanna Change The Score – From Still
  9. Water Out Of Wine – From Still
  10. Something To Live For – From Strictly Inc.
  11. By You – From The Fugitive
  12. Never Let Me Know – From Strictly Inc.
  13. Thirty Three’s – From The Fugitive

CD2

  1. Charity Balls – From Strictly Inc.
  2. An Island In The Darkness – From Strictly Inc.
  3. The Border – From Bankstatement
  4. Lucky Me – From A Curious Feeling
  5. Another Murder Of A Day – From Still
  6. Moving Under – From The Fugitive
  7. Still It Takes Me By Surprise – From Still
  8. Red Day On Blue Street – From Still
  9. After The Lie – From A Curious Feeling
  10. Redwing – From Soundtracks

CD3

  1. Queen Of Darkness – From Bankstatement
  2. A Piece Of You – From Strictly Inc.
  3. Big Man – From Bankstatement
  4. Angel Face – From Still
  5. This Is Love – From The Fugitive
  6. I’ll Be Waiting – From Bankstatement
  7. Back To Back – From Still
  8. For A While – From A Curious Feeling
  9. Throwback – From Bankstatement
  10. You Call This Victory – From Soundtracks
  11. And The Wheels Keep Turning – From The Fugitive
  12. You – From A Curious Feeling
  13. The Final Curtain – From Still

CD4

  1. Blade – From Six Pieces For Orchestra
  2. Black Down – From Seven
  3. Siren – From Six Pieces For Orchestra
  4. Earthlight – From Seven
  5. From The Undertow – From A Curious Feeling
  6. Spring Tide – Demo
  7. Neap Tide – Demo
  8. City Of Gold – Demo
  9. The Chase – From The Wicked Lady
  10. Kit – From The Wicked Lady
  11. Poppet – Previously Unreleased
  12. The Wicked Lady – From The Wicked Lady

Tony Banks is the most influential contributor to the Genesis sound and yet his solo career has been the least successful of all the band’s core members. Listening to this excellent collection it is evident that his solo output is of a high quality and should appeal to Genesis’ fan base. But where Banks has suffered in comparison to his band mates is in the personality department. He has never been at home in the limelight and his reluctance to front his own songs – with the exception of The Fugitive, he has relied on others to interpret his songs – has led to them having a lack of identity. Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel had the advantage of being singers in the first place, whilst Mike Rutherford employed two of the best in Paul Carrack and Paul Young for his Mike + The Mechanics project. Secondly Banks has never been one to compromise or overly simplify and whilst many of the songs here eschew his prog rock roots, they also are more complex in structure and harmony and therefore more challenging to the listener.The first thing you notice about this collection is the excellent remixes of tracks from the earlier albums – notably the period of A Curious Feeling through to Bankstatement. The initial CD releases had lacked a certain dynamic quality, which has been fixed here bringing new life to those tracks (A Curious Feeling having already been spruced up a couple of years ago). Banks has also sequenced the 4 CVDs and not simply followed a timeline. This gives a good balance to the collection and allows for some new creativity with the morph of the gentle instrumental “Redwing” into the rocking “At the Edge of Night” working particularly well at the outset.

Banks has employed some significant talent over the years and they are evident over the first 3 CDs. Singer Kim Beacon and Genesis touring drummer Chester Thompson worked on his debut A Curious Feeling, which remains the album from his solo career that Banks feels closest to with six of the tracks featured here. It was the album that was closest to his work with Genesis and it remains a very satisfying experience. Banks sang himself on 1983’s The Fugitive and did a decent job. The songs were simpler and more pop orientated, but still has the essence of Banks’ ear for harmony and chord structure. Five tracks are represented here. The Wicked Lady (1983) and Soundtracks (1985) featured instrumental and vocal work he had contributed to films in the early to mid 1980s. The synth pop of “Lion of Symmetry” is a classic example of how Banks can build a song with Toyah Wilcox supplying distinct vocals and lyrics.

The catchy “Shortcut to Somewhere” was one of three collaborations with former Marillion vocalist Fish. The other two coming from 1991’s Still – the brooding “Angel Face” and the meandering but dramatic “Another Murder of a Day” actually work much better. That album also saw him link up with 1980s pop star Nik Kershaw as well as Andy Taylor and Jayney Klimek, having worked with the latter on Bankstatement two years earlier. Alistair Gordon was the other vocalist on that album.

Banks’ tasteful compositions and arrangements are evidenced on tracks such as the breathy “I’ll Be Waiting” and the reflective “The Final Curtain”. His taste for the epic is demonstrated with the 17-minute “An Island in the Darkness” from 1995’s Strictly Inc on which Banks collaborated with vocalist Jack Hues of the Hues Corporation fame. The lack of success of that album in particular led to Banks moving into the classical world where he could be more true to his flare for melody, harmony and complex musical structures. Seven (2004) and then Six (2012) followed to warm reception and this work forms the majority of CD4, on which there are also his demos of some of the pieces that would appear on these albums.

All in all this is an excellent collection, but one primarily targeted at Genesis’ and Banks’ fan base. To those curious to find out more It serves as a splendid sampler to one of rock’s most creative writers and inspirational keyboard players. The set comes with a beautifully presented and illustrated 60-page book written by Banks himself. There is the promise of a re-release of Banks’ full catalogue in 5.1 Surround to follow. It is a catalogue worthy of re-appraisal.