Book Review – SHALL WE TELL THE PRESIDENT (1986) by Jeffrey Archer

SHALL WE TELL THE PRESIDENT by JEFFREY ARCHER (1986, Pan, 331pp) ∗∗∗

Blurb: At the end of The Prodigal Daughter, Florentyna Kane is elected President – the first woman President of the United States. At 7.30 one evening the FBI learn of a plot to kill her – the 1572nd such threat of the year. At 8.30 five people know all the details. By 9.30 four of them are dead. FBI agent Mark Andrews alone knows when. He also knows that a senator is involved. He has six days to learn where – and how. Six days to prevent certain death of the President.

This is the revised version of Archer’s original novel, which was published in 1977, with characters altered to form part of his Kane and Abel trilogy. The story is a traditional race against the clock thriller with it’s hero, FBI Mark Andrews, making a poor detective who walks past vital clues whilst attempting to foil a plot to kill America’s first female President. Archer’s writing style is a little too British for the subject matter and inconsistent – sometimes tight and at other times meandering – but he somehow manages to maintain the reader’s interest throughout. Throw in a romance with a female doctor, who happens to be the daughter of one of the mains suspects, and you also have a level of plot contrivance too. The pace quickens as the clock ticks down to an exciting , if brief, finale.

Book Review – SIRENS (2017) by Joseph Knox

SIRENS by JOSEPH KNOX (2017, Doubleday, 374pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

Blurb: Isabelle Rossiter has run away again. When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realizes Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?

This is a remarkably assured debut from Joseph Knox that explores the seedy criminal underworld of Manchester.  The book is a dark, modern take, on the noir-mystery genre. There are echoes of Chandler, MacDonald, et al, in Knox’s first-person narration, but more so this has an instinctive feel for time and place. It is also a depressing tale populated by characters with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Even Knox’s hero, Aidan Waits, has more than his fair share of troubles, including his own drug dependency. Despite this, Knox’s writing style keeps the reader gripped from start to finish as the mystery unravels. His use of short, one-scene chapters, and his sectioning of the book into effectively six acts, all carrying a single word title, gives the novel the structure of a TV mini-series, which this could well become. The book took Knox eight years to complete and his sense of perfection has resulted in one of the best debut crime novels in recent years. Where he will take his lead character in the promised series will be interesting, as there is a sense that Knox has put everything into this. Like his hero, I am hooked.

Book Review – THE DARKEST GOODBYE (2016) by Alex Gray

THE DARKEST GOODBYE by ALEX GRAY (2016, Sphere, 456pp) ∗∗∗½

Blurb: When newly fledged DC Kirsty Wilson is called to the house of an elderly woman, what appears to be a death by natural causes soon takes a sinister turn when it is revealed that the woman had a mysterious visitor in the early hours of that morning – someone dressed as a community nurse, but with much darker intentions. As Kirsty is called to another murder – this one the brutal execution of a well-known Glasgow drug dealer – she finds herself pulled into a complex case involving vulnerable people and a sinister service that offers them and their loved ones a ‘release’. Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is called in to help DC Wilson investigate and as the body count rises, the pair soon realise that this case is about to get more personal than either of them could have imagined . . .

This is the thirteenth book in Alex Gray’s William Lorimer series and is the first that I have read. Although Lorimer is the series’ primary character, this book focuses on newly appointed Detective Constable Kirsty Wilson. Her father is a well-respected DI who is about to retire and Kirsty is initially paired with troubled DS Len Murdoch – who has a gambling addiction and a wife suffering from MS – as her mentor. The mystery surrounds a secret organisation provided assisted death to terminally ill patients for money.  The mystery is well-plotted, but there is little depth to the characters and the lead, Lorimer, is somewhat lacking in charisma. The story, whilst familiar procedural fare, is never dull and is crafted by a writer comfortable in her game.

Book Review – THE HIGHWAYMAN (2016) by Craig Johnson

THE HIGHWAYMAN by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016, Viking, 194pp) ∗∗∗½

Blurb: When Wyoming highway patrolman Rosey Wayman is transferred to the beautiful and imposing landscape of the Wind River Canyon, an area the troopers refer to as no-man’s-land because of the lack of radio communication, she starts receiving officer needs assistance calls. The problem? They’re coming from Bobby Womack, a legendary Arapaho patrolman who met a fiery death in the canyon almost a half-century ago. With an investigation that spans this world and the next, Sheriff Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear take on a case that pits them against a legend: The Highwayman.

Craig Johnson continues his output of Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries – which has now stretched to twelve novels, two novellas and a collection of short stories – with this enjoyable novella. The “ghost story” elements give the story an sense of fun and mystery – although the mystery itself is straight-forward and doesn’t really produce any surprises and the scenario is never comedic. This is more about Johnson having fun with his characters with Walt supported by his long-time friend Henry Standing Bear. Their interplay is as witty and affectionate as ever. Whilst the book is never much more than a mild diversion until the next novel, An Obvious Fact published later the same year, it will satisfy fans of Johnson’s writing and characters.

Book Review – RATHER BE THE DEVIL (2016) by Ian Rankin

RATHER BE THE DEVIL by IAN RANKIN (2016, Orion, 310pp) ∗∗∗½

Blurb: For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found. Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

Rankin’s twenty-first Rebus novel is an entertaining read and one that shows Rankin is extremely comfortable with his characters. In this one the plot is fairly ordinary based around two cases that weave into one. Rebus is now long-retired, but investigating an old case and still sparring with gangster Big Ger Cafferty. The interplay between the main characters is what works best in this book. Rankin otherwise plays to more conventional crime fiction tropes and as such the book feels closer to his earlier work than his later, more complex novels. Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are on-board as is Cafferty’s challenger for the control of the Edinburgh crime scene – Darryl Christie. The book continues the gangland arc from Even Dogs in the Wild and sees it through to a satisfying conclusion, that sets up the series for the future. Rebus himself, is coming to terms with growing old and bronchial problems. He has, however, lost none of his acerbic wit and doggedness. Seeing him work with, but outside of, the police has given the series a new lease of life.

Book Review – HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) by Ernest Tidyman

hpd-paperbackHIGH PLAINS DRIFTER by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1973, Corgi, 150pp) ∗∗∗

Blurb: They whipped the last sheriff to death in the middle of the Main Street. Now a year of breaking rocks had made them hungry for revenge on the whole town. But first they had to deal with the stranger, a man with a lot of lean lightning on his hip – and a gut-urge to use it!

In the 1960s and 70s, before the advent of home video, paperback novelisations were the only way you could revisit a movie without waiting 5 years for a TV premiere or a re-release. They pretty much faded away once movies became readily available, firstly through the rental market and ultimately through retail. Tidyman’s High Plains Drifter is a solid example of how a novelisation could flesh out a screenplay, but could not always recapture the elements that made a movie special.

The novelisation of Tidyman’s screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s Western was published in May 1973 – a month after the release of the film. Tidyman had written the original screenplay during the early summer of 1972 and assigned Phillip Rock (uncredited here) to adapt the screenplay into a novel manuscript, which Tidyman would then edit. The book, therefore stays very close to Tidyman’s original draft. Eastwood saw the opportunity to add some mystical elements – suggesting the stranger was a re-incarnation of the murdered town marshal. Dean Reisner had been hired to add these elements into a final draft screenplay – although Tidyman retained sole credit on screen following a WGA ruling. It is these additional elements and Eastwood’s persona that made the film stand out from other westerns. The novel is, therefore, a much more straight forward tale. Most of the elements of Tidyman’s screenplay were used in the final version of the film, but in the novel there is no real suggestion of a link between the stranger and the marshal. The reader is left to ponder on the stranger’s motives. As a result, the novel – though well written and never less than engaging – does not stand out from the crowd in the same way as the movie.

Note: Phillip Rock wrote the novelisation of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in 1971.

 

Book Review – BIG BUCKS: THE TRUE, OUTRAGEOUS STORY OF THE PLYMOUTH MAIL ROBBERY AND HOW THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT (1982) by Ernest Tidyman

BIG BUCKSTHE TRUE, OUTRAGEOUS STORY OF THE PLYMOUTH MAIL ROBBERY AND HOW THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT  by ERNEST TIDYMAN (W. W. Norton & Company, 1982, 317pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: The71csp9i345ly came out of the mist on a Cape Cod highway one rainy August evening to write a chapter in the history of spectacular American crimes. They stole more money – over $1.5 million in cash – than anyone had ever stolen. Although three suspects went to trial for the robbery, the charges were dismissed, and the case of the Plymouth Mail Robbery has never been solved.

Tidyman’s telling of the Plymouth Mail Robbery is the book equivalent of the docu-drama. The result is a fascinating and in-depth realisation of the masterminding of one of the greatest heists ever. Tidyman largely presents the story as if it were a novel and this gives depth to the main protagonists on both sides of the law. The gang’s ring leader – here given the name Dan Murphy – is presented as a meticulous organiser of criminal activity. He works with a small group he trusts, which keeps his plans tight. he evades the law through his ingenuity right to the end. The book would have made for a great film adaptation – and indeed the author had prepared a screenplay co-written with his wife, Chris Clark-Tidyman in 1983 – but the story is yet to be filmed. This was to be Tidyman’s final book – he died two years later.

Book Review – NOT DEAD YET: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2016) by Phil Collins

Image result for phil collins not dead yetNOT DEAD YET: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2016) by PHIL COLLINS (2016, Century, 448pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

Phil Collins tells his life story as he would put it, “warts and all”. It is a fascintating, touching, funny and sad read showing how his dedication to his career resulted in domestic disharmony and ultimately psychological issues, alcoholism and failing health. A man who could do no wrong in the 1980s became pilloried in the 1990s, following what he terms as “Faxgate” – for which he puts the record straight here, and ultimately retreated into a form of semi-seclusion following his so-called “retirement”.

Collins has always been honest and forthright in his interviews and he is brutally honest here about his descent into depression and alcoholism over an 8-year period from 2005-2013. He is frank about how this affected those around him and he is big enough to lay the blame with no-one else but himself. He is riddled with guilt over how he put his career before his family and this is a constant theme throughout the book. It is sometimes hard to read as Collins lays bare his soul and his increased self-loathing, which obviously fuelled his near self-destruction. Fortunately he had people around him who cared enough, but it was a long hard and ugly road that has left many scars on himself and those close to him.

But the book is also balanced and is often very witty and funny.  Collins tells of his adolescent years as a child actor and his early musical influences visiting clubs like the Marquee to watch his favourite bands; a strange tale of how, as a 19-year old star-struck percussionist, he was left off George Harrison’s first post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass; his audition and early touring years with Genesis then his ascension to group singer following Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975. He describes 1987s four-night stint at Wembley Stadium (touring Invisible Touch) as the point where Genesis hit their peak and demonstrates great affection for all his former band mates.

His divorce from his first wife, Andy, set the tone for his song-writing inspiration and led to solo success and his elevation to the pop stratoshpere. He becomes in demand from the musical good and the great (John Martyn, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Bob Geldof, et al) and flattered he finds it hard to refuse his friends. The result is a constant workload throughout the eighties that bred contempt from non-fans and music journalists. When his second marriage broke down in the early nineties – this time through his own infidelity – the press had a field day and this was the catalyst for Collins’ gradual withdrawal from the limelight.

Fans of Collins will likely be shocked as to how self-destructive he became in the 8-year period from 2005-2013, when he was lout of the public limelight for long periods, excepting a brief Genesis reunion, work on a Broadway production of Tarzan and his Motown covers album Going Back. It’s incredible none of his issues became public at the time – although the press had probably moved on to other targets. Non-fans may find Collins’ humility refreshing and be prepared to re-assess their views of a likeable man who undoubtedly likes to be liked and is hurt by “unwarranted” criticism. But, he is ultimately harder on himself than any of his critics.

That Collins has retained his sense of humour is encouraging and this book will undoubtedly have acted as a release for him. It is a sobering parable of how a single-minded dedication to your career will ultimately lead to unhappiness and loneliness. But there is always the hope of redemption if you are willing to see past the psychological wall and admit your failings. Collins is loved by all his children and is on good terms with two of his three ex-wives. An unwritten postscript to the book is that Collins is now reunited with Orianne, his third wife, and living a family life again,. He has also come out of retirement to tour again – on his own terms – with his son, Nic, on drums.

When I finished the book there was a sense of a story incomplete. Maybe there will be a happy ending for Collins after all – his music is being re-appraised and many modern artists have come out to say he was an influence. His fans have not deserted him and the tour sold out instantly. So, there may be a few more twists to the tale. Collins says at the outset the book is his story as he remembers it and no-one can deny it is a compelling and cautionary tale.

Book Review – FLOWER POWER (1968) by Ernest Tidyman

front-cover-scan-jpeg-2FLOWER POWER by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1968, The Paperback Library, 160pp) ∗∗∗

Blurb: Phyllis Greenfield was sweet sixteen – and never been stoned. Life was passing her by. So she ran away from her comfortable home in Cleveland, Ohio, and went to Haight-Ashbury to make the Underground Scene. There she met Furman, a young Black acid-head who wanted to be a FBI agent – or at least a member of the Hell’s Angels. Furman rechristened her “Flower” and brought her to his crash pad where she settled down to making the protest rallies with Me, a mystic love-child who took her to a swinging guru. And Signal, who caught special vibrations by making sex a mixed-media happening. And Tripper, who convinced her that LSD was the only ticket to visiting Inner Space. Flower was grooving in the switched-on life until one day the straight and the hippie worlds clashed in a battle that taught her the true meaning of FLOWER POWER!

Ernest Tidyman’s debut novel was published six months before he signed a contract with Macmillan to write Shaft. At the time, Tidyman was working as a freelance writer and magazine editor. He wanted to write a novel that would connect with the fashion of the time and so he came up with this story of a young girl exploring free-spirited communal living in the hippy culture of San Francisco.

Tidyman invests time in his characters and adds touches of humour throughout, but the story is slight at best. The book was very much of its time and many of the situations and characters will seem stereotypical today – the experimentation with drugs and sex; the Indian karma influences; the garden of home grown marijuana and the open-house approach to living. The first half of the book concentrates on Phyllis and her transformation to Flower whilst living with her small group of new friends. Once this is established the book opens up to bring in a wider group of characters including a motorbike gang, FBI agents and corrupt cops. The whole thing culminates at a party hosted by Flower and her friends where all these elements collide in true crazy sixties fashion.

Tidyman prefers an observational approach to his writing here, without getting too deeply engrossed in the politics of what these youngsters are about. indeed they all seem lost in one way or another and none of them really find their answers – they merely move on to the next adventure. Whilst this may be an accurate portrayal of the hippy movement in its free-spirited mentality of living for the now – it leaves the book’s character stories incomplete. Like the characters, the reader is left to feel they have spent time in a strange new world but then simply moved on feeling unfulfilled.

Book Review – DUMMY (1974) by Ernest Tidyman

dumy-wh-allenDUMMY by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1974, W.H. Allen, 210pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: First there was Ernestine Williams, a prostitute found murdered in a Chicago alleyway on November 12, 1965. She had last been seen leaving a bar with a young black mute. Donald Lang, “The Dummy” was arrested. It was the beginning of one of the most bizarre murder cases in American History. From Chicago’s South Side Donald Lang was twenty years old, poor, black, totally illiterate – and deaf and dumb. He could not talk, write, read lips, or understand sign language. It was an unprecedented legal problem: How could the accused defend himself when he could not even communicate? In bewilderment the court appointed the only man who might be able to defend the boy – a tough, determined, resourceful lawyer named Lowell Myers. Myers was also deaf. Dummy is a story of the legal process as an enormous “Catch 22”, a nightmare that ends only to begin when Lang is implicated in a second murder.

Ernest Tidyman uses all his journalistic skills in the telling of the story of Donald Lang – the deaf, dumb and illiterate young black man who was subject of two murder charges during the mid-late 1960s. Tidyman deftly works his way through the court transcripts to highlight the key components on the case focusing on Lang’s predicament and treatment and the efforts of his deaf attorney – Lowell J. Myers. Tidyman offers no opinion on Lang, preferring to let the facts speak for themselves as the story unfolds. He allows opinions from some of the key people working on the case – but only once the story is complete – via interviews with the detectives and prosecutors, This means the reader has the opportunity to form their own views as the story unfolds. Tidyman’s voice comes through in some of the early passages where he sets the scene and introduces us to Lang and Myers before the courtroom battles commence.

Tidyman was in heavy demand at the time of writing this book following his Oscar win for The French Connection and his ongoing work on the Shaft books and films. Like many of his books, Dummy started out life as a screenplay as early as 1971. Tidyman would eventually complete the project as a well-received TV Movie in 1979. For the book he enlisted the research help of fellow journalist Dorothy Storek, of the Chicago Daily News, and manuscript support of regular collaborator Phillip Rock.

Dummy then is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in legal history or the rights of the handicapped to be fairly represented in court. It is also a book that doesn’t get bogged down in legal talk and is also accessible to the general reader.