This week I completed my first interview by Skype about my book The World of Shaft with James P Stancil of the New Books Network. James was a very gracious host. The podcast is now available to listen to by clicking the link below:
STAY CLOSE by HARLAN COBEN (2012, Orion, 406pp) ∗∗∗½
Blurb: Megan once walked on the wild side. Now she’s got two kids, a perfect husband, a picket fence, and a growing sense of dissatisfaction. Ray used to be a talented documentary photographer, but at age forty he finds himself in a dead-end job posing as a paparazzo pandering to celebrity-obsessed rich kids. Broome is a detective who can’t let go of a cold case – a local husband and father disappeared seventeen years ago, and Broome spends the anniversary every year visiting a house frozen in time, the missing man’s family still waiting, his slippers left by the recliner as if he might show up any moment to step into them. Three people living lives they never wanted, hiding secrets that even those closest to them would never suspect. As the terrible consequences of long-ago events crash together in the present and threaten to ruin lives they will discover the hard truth that the line between one kind of life and another can be as whisper-thin as a heartbeat…
Harlan Coben writes page-turning crime thrillers with a post-modern dose of humour. The plot here borders on incredulity, by insisting that a series of murders committed annually at the same spot could go undetected for twenty years. But if you are prepared to accept this premise then you are in for a fast-paced and entertaining read. The three central characters – Megan, a woman with a secret past; Ray, a photographer who cannot forget the love of his life despite being seaparated for seventeen years and Broome, the detective who can’t hold down a relationship – are cleverly intertwined in the story. Coben uses his brand of sarcastic wit across the dialogue of a number of characters, but manages to keep it this side of annoying. The resolution comes with the appropriate twist.
Broadway Danny Rose (1984; USA; B&W; 84m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Gordon Willis; m. Dick Hyman (supervisor). Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte, Sandy Baron, Milton Berle, Craig Vandenburgh, Herb Reynolds, Paul Greco, Howard Cosell, Corbett Monica, Jackie Gayle, Morty Gunty, Will Jordan, Howard Storm, Jack Rollins. In his attempts to reconcile a lounge singer with his mistress, a hapless talent agent is mistaken as her lover by a jealous gangster. Delightful comedy with Allen is superb form as agent Danny Rose and farrow delivering an atypical performance as the gangster’s moll. It’s all wonderfully photographed in black & white by Gordon Willis. The character driven jokes work well in a charming tale. Many old comics appear to recount their favourite Danny Rose stories. [PG]
Long Chase, The (TV) (1972; USA; Technicolor; 74m) ∗∗½ d. Alexander Singer; w. Roy Huggins (as John Thomas James), Dick Nelson; ph. Gene Polito; m. John Andrew Tartaglia, Pete Rugolo. Cast: Ben Murphy, Roger Davis, J.D. Cannon, Rod Cameron, Buddy Ebsen, Marie Windsor, James Drury, Laurie Ferrone, Dave Garroway, George Keymas, Frank Sinatra Jr., Larry Storch, Sally Field. This is actually three episodes (“The Long Chase”, “High Lonesome Country”, and “The Clementine Ingredient”) of the classic wild west cowbuddy show of the Seventies Alias Smith and Jones edited into one TV movie. Two reformed criminals are constantly on the run from the law. The story strands are loose and clumsily edited, but there is still undeniable charm in the characters. [PG]
Godfather, The (1972; USA; Technicolor; 175m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. Francis Ford Coppola; w. Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo; ph. Gordon Willis; m. Nino Rota. Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Richard Castellano, Sterling Hayden, Gianni Russo, Rudy Bond, John Marley, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Abe Vigoda, Franco Citti, Lenny Montana, Al Martino, Joe Spinell, Simonetta Stefanelli, Morgana King, Alex Rocco, John Martino, Salvatore Corsitto. Epic tale of a 1940s New York Mafia family and their struggle to protect their empire from rival families as the leadership switches from the father to his youngest son. Superbly scripted and directed, this is the template for all gangster movies thereafter. Brando as the patriarch and Pacino as his heir are superb. A strong cast supports. Great period detail and production design by Dean Tavoularis. Winner of three Academy Awards: Best Movie, Actor (Brando) and Adapted Screenplay. Based on Puzo’s novel. In 1977, a special version for television titled The Godfather: A Novel for Television (1977) was prepared by director Francis Ford Coppola and editor Barry Malkin by re-editing THE GODFATHER (1972) and THE GODFATHER PART II (1974) in chronological order and adding deleted scenes. Extended version runs 200m. Followed by two sequels. 
GENESIS – THE ULTIMATE MUSIC GUIDE (2017, Uncut, 122pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: The Ultimate Music Guide: Genesis, then, seeks to explain the whole shapeshifting brilliance of the band. We’ve delved deep into the archives of NME and Melody Maker, finding interviews with the members that have languished unseen for decades. You’ll see characters emerging and plans being formulated, key figures stepping in and out of the spotlight. A career path being mapped out that does not always appear obvious, but which incrementally builds Genesis into one of the biggest bands of their era. Alongside all these revelatory interviews, we’ve written in-depth new reviews of every single Genesis album, from their 1969 debut right up until 1997’s Calling All Stations, stopping off at all auspicious points in between. We’ve also investigated the significant solo careers: not just of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, but of Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, too. It’s a tricky tale, but an endlessly rewarding one.
Uncut‘s series of The UltimateMusic Guide finally gets around to Genesis. The magazine stretches to 122 pages covering all aspect of the band. Each album is reviewed by a different writer, which ensures they get a dedicated hearing, but also means there are some inconsistencies in terms of judgement and comment. Having said that, there is an admirable balance across the whole of the band’s output as the writers resist falling into the trap of siding with the 5-man line-up or the trio. What this means, however, is that some tracks within the albums are not rated according to their status within the fan base. Classic Genesis songs like Firth of Fifth, I Know What I Like, Los Endos, Afterglow, Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End, Home by the Sea, Domino and Fading Lights all receive just 3-stars, which is hard to accept. However, everyone will have their own favourites and there are some compelling arguments here for the stance taken. The interviews pulled from the archives of NME and Melody Maker are weighted toward the early years. Both papers took with the punk crowd in the late 70s and were savage in their treatment of Genesis thereafter – the later review extracts demonstrate this. The band members’ solo careers are also covered, with particularly interesting perspectives on the output of both Peter Gabriel and Phil Colins. Despite its flaws, this is a good read and an interesting take on a band that, despite its popularity with the music buying public, continues to divide opinion amongst critics.
SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE by DAVID F. WALKER/DIETRICH SMITH (2017, Dynamite, 104pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: After a high-profile case puts him in the headlines, private detective John Shaft is looking for something low profile and easy that will keep him out of the spotlight, out of danger. Shaft takes a missing person case that proves to be more difficult than he initially thought. At the same time, he is hired to be a consultant on a low budget film that may or may not be based on his life, and proves to be as dangerous as any job he’s ever had. But when there’s danger all about, John Shaft is the cat that won’t cop out – even if it means squaring off against sadistic gangsters that want him dead.
The trade paperback publication of this four-part comic book arrives a year after similar treatement for Shaft: A Complicated Man. David F. Walker returns as writer and is partnered with Dietrich Smith as artist. The book demonstrates the confidence Walker took from his critically acclaimed debut as the literary heir to Ernest Tidyman’s creation. The story stretches itself around social issues of a decaying New York and the expoitation of young gays through pornography. Walker also finds time to seemingly take a satirical swipe at some of the excesses of Blaxploitation cinema, by having Shaft work as a consultant on a film based on his own exploits, only here exaggerated to comical effect. In reality, however, this is a dig at the makers of the proposed new Shaft movie, which is reported to have a comedic slant. Smith’s artwork is more bold and colourful than the more sensitive tones applied by Bilquis Evely. His work is very effective and at times sublime – notably in the use of light and shade at the start of Part 3, where Shaft is interviewed by detectives in his office. Ultimately, whilst the story lacks the dramatic and emotional bite of Walker’s debut, it is an entertaining read lifting the lid on the sleazier aspects of early 1970s New York. Unlike the TP publication of Shaft: A Complicated Man, this book comes without any extras, such as an introduction, script extracts and character profiles, which is a shame. It is also a shame that Dynamite seem to have stalled on any new Shaft output – with as yet no commissioned third comic book or follow-up novel to Walker’s excellent Shaft’s Revenge. There is also no news of the continuation of the reprints of Tidyman’s originals. I hope the publisher has not lost interest in the series and that we see more Shaft output very soon.
DARK WINTER by WILLIAM DIETRICH (2001, Warner Books, 388pp) ∗∗∗
Blurb: At America’s base at the South Pole, 26 “winterovers” complete the yearly ritual of waving good-bye to the “last plane out,” then summon their energies for that season’s battle with constant darkness, total isolation and murderous cold that can dip well beneath 100 degrees below zero. Little does the group guess that in succeeding days and weeks, they’ll be tested not just by unimagineable weather extremes, but by a murderer intent on gradually eradicating them. Jeff Lewis, as the latest to arrive, becomes the chief suspect when staff members begin to go missing. But he’s hardly alone in attracting suspicion. As the death toll mounts and the camp’s communication with the outside world is all but extinguished, the fault lines that always lie below the surface of any co-operative effort split open. As hysteria develops and scientific jealousies, romantic entanglements and class bitterness intensify the friction, the polar habitat itself – a football-field-sized dome holding temperatures at tolerable levels – becomes compromised. What’s left is a stark choice: root out the psychological contaminant, stop the murderer and the dissent he has sewn, relearn co-operation – or slide down a dark tunnel of everlasting cold.
The Antarctic setting is the star of this book. Dietrich has a feel for the isolation and absolute cold and having personally visited the location, the author is very capable at desribing the environment in which this psychological mystery is set. There are problems though. Dietrich spends a good third of the book establishing the setting and introducing his large cast of twenty-six characters. This slows the pace to a crawl in the book’s early sections and less patient readers may abandon ship. But, once the murders begin the pace quickens. The McGuffin is a priceless rock from a meteor, which has been disovered in the ice and becomes the motive for the murders. The characters all have their own reasons for being at the Pole and their suspicion of Lewis, as a late addition to the party, coincides with knowledge of the meteor becoming public and the first of the deaths. Howeber, as the murders increase, credibility becomes stretched. This is ultimately something that would make a passable movie adpatation – with its references to John Carpenter’s The Thing, betraying its inspiration of an isolated group gripped with paranoia. As a book it is diverting enough, despite its uneven pacing.
Taken – “Pilot Episode” (2016, USA, Colour, 43m) ∗∗½ pr. Luc Besson; d. Alex Graves; w. Alexander Cary; ph. Thomas Kloss; m. Trevor Morris; ed. Jordan Goldman; exec. pr. Thomas Anargyros, Luc Besson, Alexander Cary, Edouard de Vésinne, Matthew Gross. Cast: Clive Standen, Gaius Charles, Brooklyn Sudano, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Michael Irby, Jose Pablo Cantillo, James Landry Hébert, Jennifer Beals, Jennifer Marsala, Simu Liu, Ali Kazmi, Celeste Desjardins, Victoria Snow. Former Green Beret Bryan Mills (Standen) must overcome a personal tragedy, in order to get revenge while starting his career as a special intelligence operative. Standen is no substitute for Liam Neeson in this TV prequel to the TAKEN movie trilogy. Whilst the star lacks charisma and the dialogue feels like its been extracted from a scripting manual, the pilot sets up the series neatly enough and is well shot. There are also enough competently staged action sequences to enliven the standard espionage plot.