Book Review – DEAD MEN AND BROKEN HEARTS (2012) by CRAIG RUSSELL

DEAD MEN AND BROKEN HEARTS by Craig Russell (2012, Quercus, Paperback, 438pp) ∗∗∗
      Blurb: Lennox is looking for legitimate cases – anything’s better than working for the Three Kings, the crime bosses who run Glasgow’s underworld. So when a woman comes into his office and hires him to follow her husband, it seems the perfect case. And, unusually for Lennox, it’s legal. But this isn’t a simple case of marital infidelity. When the people he’s following start to track him, once more Lennox must draw on the violent, war-damaged part of his personality as he follows this trail of dead men and broken hearts.

9780857381859This is the fourth in Craig Russell’s series about Glasgow enquiry agent Lennox (no first name). Whereas the first three were largely confined to the smog-ridden streets of Glasgow in the 1950s, this time Lennox is involved in two cases with deep plots of subterfuge. The broadening of scope not only extends to the plot but to the setting as we follow Lennox to the Highlands in the book’s latter stages.

Lennox is an interesting character, haunted by his deeds in the war, he is a carefree character, who is beginning to understand the need to have roots and the comfort that can be gained from a steady relationship. But things change in his life that force him to consider returning to his native Canada. But not before he is framed for murder and has to escape police custody in order to clear his name.

The plot elements may sound familiar, but the first-person narrative, again familiar in the genre, is put to good use to create an real sense of mystery around the Hungarian connection and the use of the plot McGuffin being the mystery surrounding a dying man’s last word, “Tanglewood”, is not only pure Hitchcock but evocative of the last James Bond movie, Skyfall.

This is the strongest book in what has been a consistently entertaining, if not overly original, series. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Lennox, although there seems to be a certain amount of finality about the epilogue that suggests it may be.

The other books in the series are:

untitledLENNOX (2009, Quercus, 426pp) ∗∗∗∗∗  Blurb: Glasgow has always been a tough city and it’s getting tougher. Three crime bosses control the mean streets and shady investigator Lennox is the man in the middle. Lennox can be certain of only one thing – in this place only the toughest survive. The McGahern twins are on the way up until Tam, the brains of the outfit, becomes the victim of a vicious contract killing. Tam’s brother Frankie looks to Lennox to find out who killed his twin. Then Frankie turns up dead, and Lennox finds himself in the frame for murder. To prove his innocence he’ll have to dodge men more deadly than Glasgow’s crime bosses if he hopes to survive.

71HYM1tIhvL._SL1000_THE LONG GLASGOW KISS (2010, Quercus, 420pp) ∗∗∗∗∗  Blurb: Glasgow in the 1950s – private investigator Lennox is keeping a low profile, enjoying a secret fling with the daughter of shady bookie and greyhound breeder MacFarlane. When MacFarlane is found bludgeoned to death, Lennox is a suspect. Luckily, he has a solid gold alibi – he was in bed with the victim’s daughter. Lennox is quickly drawn into hunting the killer. It turns out MacFarlane was into some seriously dodgy stuff. One of Glasgow’s notorious Three Kings, crime boss Willie Sneddon, is involved and he’s not a man Lennox wants to cross. But there’s an even bigger player lurking in the shadows and it looks like Lennox is going to get his fingers burnt, badly.

deepdark_sleep_staticcover_THE DEEP DARK SLEEP (2011, Quercus, 358pp) ∗∗∗∗∗  Blurb: Human remains are recovered from the bottom of the River Clyde. Not an unusual occurrence, but these have been sleeping the deep, dark sleep for eighteen years. Suddenly Glasgow’s underworld is buzzing with the news that the dredged-up bones belong to Gentleman Joe Strachan, Glasgow’s most successful and ruthless armed robber. Isa and Violet, Strachan’s daughters, hire private investigator Lennox to find out who has been sending them large sums of cash each year, on the anniversary of Strachan’s most successful robbery. But Lennox’s instincts tell him that this job spells trouble and will take him back in to the dark world of the Three Kings – the crime bosses who run the city. He takes the job nevertheless. And soon learns that ignoring his instincts might just cost him his life. This is the third fantastic thriller featuring shady investigator Lennox as he stalks Glasgow’s tough streets. The Deep Dark Sleep is gritty, fast-paced, and totally absorbing.

Film Review – COLD IN JULY (2014)

COLD IN JULY (2014, BSM Studio, 109 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, DTS/Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Crime Thriller) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Michael C. Hall (Richard Dane), Sam Shepard (Ben Russell), Don Johnson (Jim Bob Luke), Vinessa Shaw (Ann Dane), Nick Damici (Ray Price), Wyatt Russell (Freddy), Lanny Flaherty (Jack Crow), Rachel Zeiger-Haag (Valerie), Brogan Hall (Jordan Dane).
      Producer: Linda Moran, Rene Bastian, Adam Folk, Marie Savare; Director: Jim Mickle; Writer: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici (based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale); Director of Photography: Ryan Samul; Music: Jeff Grace; Film Editor: John Paul Horstmann, Jim Mickle; Production Designer: Russell Barnes; Art Director: Annie Simeone; Set Decorator: Daniel R. Kersting; Costume Designer: Elisabeth Vastola.

Cold In July (2014) 720p WEB-DLMickle’s adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s novel wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve. There are strong echoes of Sam Peckinpah in the bloody violence and of John Carpenter in the tense opening and with the use of an electronic score echoing Carpenter’s classic scores.

Set in 1989, Hall plays an everyman who shoots an intruder and then is shadowed by the intruder’s father, played by Shepard, who is an ex-con. What at first seems like a re-tread of CAPE FEAR, turns on its head about mid-way as the plot twists and turns. At this point Johnson arrives on the scene as a pig farmer cum private detective and he, Hall and Shepard make an unlikely threesome.

The shifting plot focus keeps us on our toes, as the movie moves from a tense thriller to a more straightforward tale of vigilantes. The action is bloody and brutal but stops short of the excesses of a Tarantino. There are some unresolved plot points too, but the obvious enthusiasm of Mickle and his crew compensates, notably through Horstmann’s tight editing and strong performances by the leads. Shepard exudes quiet menace, whilst Johnson has the best witty lines. Hall is excellent as he slowly gets sucked into Shepard and Johnson’s world.

It doesn’t quite rank alongside NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, but this Texas-based crime thriller has a few tricks of its own and is a very entertaining ride.

David Walker talks Shaft

0b65c24196160ad8976fe3.L._V177507817_SX200_David Walker has been doing the promotional rounds talking about his new comic book series featuring John Shaft. A couple of podcasts – one with Publishers Weekly and another with Cold Beer and Comics give Walker the opportunity to talk about his work on the books and his enthusiasm for Ernest Tidyman’s novels, which are the basis for the stories Walker is developing.

The series is due to kick-off from Dynamite Entertainment on 3 December with six issues in total planned to date.

 

 

Film Review – FADING GIGOLO (2013)

FADING GIGOLO (2013, Antidote Films, 90 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, DTS/Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Comedy Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: John Turturro (Fioravante), Woody Allen (Murray), Vanessa Paradis (Avigal), Liev Schreiber (Dovi), Sharon Stone (Dr. Parker), Sofía Vergara (Selima), Tonya Pinkins (Othella), Aubrey Joseph (Cefus), Dante Hoagland (Coco), Isaiah Clifton (Cyrus), Michael Badalucco (Burly Driver), Aida Turturro (Driver’s Wife), Allen Lewis Rickman (Hasidic Driver).
      Producer: Bill Block, Paul Hanson, Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte; Director: John Turturro; Writer: Abraham Laboriel, Bill Maxwell; Director of Photography: Marco Pontecorvo (Color Lab); Music: Ken Thorne; Film Editor: Simona Paggi; Production Designer: Lester Cohen, Art Director: Sarah Frank; Set Decorator: Sheila Bock; Costume Designer: Donna Zakowska.

101667_frontTurturro wrote and directed this slight comedy drama in which he plays Fioravante, a cash-strapped florist who decides to become a professional gigolo as a way of making money to help his equally cash-strapped friend, Murray (Allen). With Murray acting as his manager, prompted by his dermatologist (Stone) requesting he find her someone willing to participate in a menage-a-trois, Tuturro quickly becomes a word-of-mouth hit. But when he is asked to help Avigal (Paradis) overcome the loneliness she still feels seven years after the death of her husband, he begins to question his choices.

What starts out as a comedy, much akin to some of Allen’s own later efforts, turns into something of a parable in its second half with the tenderness Turturro’s character feels toward Paradis. Allen adopts the shyster screen persona he plays so well, notably in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE. Much of the film’s humour is derived from his enthusiastically entrepreneurial approach to his new role.

But as the focus moves away from Stone’s spoilt loneliness to Paradis’ sad loneliness, the mood of the film turns more toward gentle drama. The shift in tone is undoubtedly deliberate, but betrays a movie that falls between two stools and fails to satisfy either camp completely. Turturro himself downplays his role too much thereby removing all emotion from the character, despite his obvious tender feelings for Paradis.

It is therefore left to Allen to give the movie its life and its most pleasurable moments and whilst FADING GIGOLO will only find a limited audience there is still enough there to make it enjoyable, as well as demonstrate it could have been better.

Film Review – JUGGERNAUT (1974)

JUGGERNAUT (1974, David V. Picker Productions/Two Roads Productions, 109 mins, Colour, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Action Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Richard Harris (Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Fallon), Omar Sharif (Captain Alex Brunel), David Hemmings (Charlie Braddock), Anthony Hopkins (Supt. John McLeod), Shirley Knight (Barbara Bannister), Ian Holm (Nicholas Porter), Clifton James (Corrigan), Roy Kinnear (Social Director Curtain), Caroline Mortimer (Susan McLeod), Mark Burns (Hollingsworth), John Stride (Hughes), Freddie Jones (Sidney Buckland), Julian Glover (Commander Marder), Jack Watson (Chief Engineer Mallicent), Roshan Seth (Azad).
      Producer: Richard Alan Simmons (as Richard De Koker); Director: Richard Lester; Writer: Richard Alan Simmons (as Richard De Koker); Director of Photography: Gerry Fisher (De Luxe); Music: Ken Thorne; Film Editor: Antony Gibbs; Production Designer: Terence Marsh, Art Director: Alan Tomkins; Costume Designer: Evangeline Harrison.

Jug1Like GOLD, which I reviewed recently, JUGGERNAUT is another unfairly overlooked film from 1974. Set aboard the Britannic, a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic on which seven bombs have been planted by an extortionist, the story wittily plays around with standard disaster movie conventions. This is largely down to director Richard Lester’s observational and down-to-earth approach to filmmaking. Whilst the standard genre approach around establishing multi-character backgrounds amongst the passengers is adopted, Lester inhabits the story with a quirkiness in characterisation that somehow makes them more real than those seen in the bigger-budget blockbsuters of the day such as EARTHQUAKE and THE TOWERING INFERNO.

Lester is helped by an excellent cast including Hopkins as the detective tasked with tracking down the bomber, whilst his wife and family are aboard the Britannic. This situation could have become clichéd, but here comes across much more real due to the downplaying of the actors and Lester’s fly-on-the-wall approach to filming scenes. Harris is also on top form in the lead as the bomb disposal expert, Fallon, charged with de-activating Juggernaut’s seven bombs. Sharif plays the cold-hearted ship’s captain, involved in an affair with Knight whilst Kinnear is the other memorable performer as the ship’s entertainer, who won’t accept defeat in trying to lift the spirits of the passengers. Ian Holm, Julian Glover, David Hemmings, Freddie Jones and Clifton James all round out a diverse cast that keeps the film’s audience interested with their diverse characters.

The tension mounts during the bomb defusing sequences, and using an actual ship to film on adds to the sense of realism. Lester intersperses all of this with his trademark observational humour and overdubbed asides. Whilst acknowledging the conventions of its genre, Lester brings a fresh approach to it, which makes for a winning formula.

Film Review – GOLD (1974)

GOLD (1974, Killarney Film Studios, UK, 120 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: 12, Action Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Roger Moore (Rod Slater), Susannah York (Terry Steyner), Ray Milland (Hurry Hirschfeld), Bradford Dillman (Manfred Steyner), John Gielgud (Farrell), Tony Beckley (Stephen Marais), Simon Sabela (Big King), Marc Smith (Tex Kiernan), John Hussey (Plummer), Bernard Horsfall (Dave Kowalski), Bill Brewer (Aristide), Norman Coombes (Frank Lemmer).
      Producer: Michael Klinger; Director: Peter R. Hunt; Writer: Wilbur Smith, Stanley Price (based on the novel “Gold Mine” by Wilbur Smith); Director of Photography: Ousama Rawi (Technicolor); Music: Elmer Bernstein; Film Editor: John Glen; Production Designer: Syd Cain, Alex Vetchinsky, Art Director: Robert W. Laing; Costume Designer: Marjory Cornelius.

Gold_(1974)An overlooked film from the 1970s, this conspiracy action adventure story based on Wilbur Smith’s novel mixes exciting sequences underground with standard plotting and characters above it. Moore plays Rod Slater a mine manager who is set up as the fall guy by Dillman and his team of crooked investors. Their scheme is for Moore to flood the mine with water, whilst he believes he is drilling a new area for gold, and thereby raise the price of gold so Dillman and his crew can cash in.

Moore is excellent as Slater instilling more energy and emotion into the role than in his James Bond movies of the same vintage. In fact many of the Bond crew are on hand here. Peter Hunt, who directed one of the very best Bonds in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, livens the film with his trademark fast editing, supported by future Bond director John Glen, during the action scenes and significantly heightens the tension. The finale is particularly well staged as Moore and Sabela battle their way through the flooding mine in an attempt to seal it with explosives. The supporting cast is strong too with York good as Dillman’s wife and Moore’s love interest; Milland suitably grumpy as the mine owner and Dillman conniving as the director of operations. Gielgud, however, is wasted in a smaller role as the head of the investment syndicate.

With grippingly authentic and well filmed mining scenes making up for those above ground, which sometimes drag, this is a neat movie that deserves some re-appraisal.

First example of new artwork for Shaft comic book

There is a great interview with David Walker writer of the new Shaft comic book on the Comic Alliance website. In the interview Walker covers the history of the character and his plans for both the comic books and new prose. Walker has been commissioned for six issues but has sufficient material for twenty four. He also has a desire to adapt the first Shaft novel.

Also on the site are the below example panels minus the dialogue and prose. This is the first glimpse of artist Bilquis Evely’s excellent work. As Walker points out in the interview the physical depiction of John Shaft is based on Ernest Tidyman’s description and not Richard Roundtree.

Shaft01Colors2Shaft01Colors4

Preview Cover for SHAFT #2 comic book from Dynamite due in January

Shaft no 2
A Cover for Shaft #2 by Francesco Francavilla. (Dynamite)

A preview for the cover to Shaft # 2 has been published. The comic is written by David F. Walker and drawn by Bilquis Evely and goes on sale on 7 January 2015. Variant covers will also again be provided by Sanford Greene and Denys Cowan & Bill Sienkiewicz

Here’s the blurb for Issue #2:
Every great detective has their first case. For John Shaft, that first case seems simple enough. But tracking down a missing person for his girlfriend quickly turns into a matter of life and death. With the bodies piling up, Shaft realizes he’s in over his head. But can he stay alive long enough to figure out what is going on, or will his first case be the death of John Shaft?

SHAFT-order-form-color
Shaft #1 in all its variant covers. (Dynamite)

I look forward to receiving the first issue published on 3 December 2014. I have ordered the Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz cover variant (top left of the six choices). The series will form an origin story set one year before Ernest Tidyman’s 1970 novel.

I will post reviews of the series here as the comics are published.

Book Review – SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE (2013) by Ian Rankin

SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE by IAN RANKIN (2013, Orion Books Ltd., Paperback, 389pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

Blurb: A thirty-year-old case is being reopened, and Rebus’ team from back then is suspected of foul play. With Malcolm Fox as the investigating officer, are the past and present about to collide in a shocking and murderous fashion? And does Rebus have anything to hide? His old colleagues call themselves “the Saints” and swore a bond on something called “the Shadow Bible”. But times have changed and the crimes of the past may not stay hidden much longer.

Saints-of-the-Shadow-Bible-Rebus is out of retirement and back on the force – although at the lower rank of Detective Sergeant with Siobhan Clarke now his boss, having ascended to his old rank of Detective Inspector. The case they are working is a car accident where the driver has fled the scene of the crime, but all is not as it seems as the plot thickens to involve local gangsters and a rich businessman. This give Rankin ample time to bring Rebus’ cynicism with both authority and big business to the fore.

Alongside this, the main plot around the death of a local low-life who had escaped prison thirty years previously – seemingly due to police ineptitude – looks like implicating the team Rebus joined as a Detective Constable when he began his career with CID. The relationship between these old-school veteran cops is strained and we also meet an old flame of Rebus as well as a potential new love interest.

Rankin weaves these two separate plots cleverly and the characters retain their interest throughout. He also allows us brief glimpses inside other characters – a variance from his usual focus on Rebus and Clarke. Whilst the book is not as strong as the best entries in the series – its recurrent themes give it a feeling of familiarity – it is still an entertaining read. Rebus is a fantastic creation and it is great to see him back.

Film Review – FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966)

FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966, Lowndes Productions, UK, 105 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Spy Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Michael Caine (Harry Palmer), Paul Hubschmid (Johnny Vulkan), Oskar Homolka (Col. Stok), Eva Renzi (Samantha Steel), Guy Doleman (Ross), Hugh Burden (Hallam), Heinz Schubert (Aaron Levine), Wolfgang Völz (Werner), Thomas Holtzmann (Reinhardt), Günter Meisner (Kreutzman), Herbert Fux (Artur), Rainer Brandt (Benjamin), Rachel Gurney (Mrs. Ross), John Abineri (Rukel), David Glover (Chico).
      Producer: Charles Kasher; Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Evan Jones (based on the novel by Len Deighton); Director of Photography: Brian Elvin (Technicolor); Music: Konrad Elfers; Film Editor: John Bloom; Production Designer: Ken Adam; Art Director: Peter Murton; Set Decorator: Michael White, Vernon Dixon.

funeralinbIn this solid follow-up to 1965’s THE IPCRESS FILE, British agent Harry Palmer (Caine) is sent to Berlin to receive a Communist defector (Homolka), but the true situation turns out to be rather more complicated.

The plot twists and turns and Caine is again highly watchable and droll as Palmer. But whilst the first film indicated a desire for exec producer Harry Saltzman to move away from the James Bond formula, in this second outing there are increasing nods toward his prime asset. This would be taken even closer with the third film in the series – BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN. In the meantime, Jones’ competent adaptation of Deighton’s complex novel keeps the viewer engaged. The production credentials are strong with great use of the Berlin locations, tight, if safe direction from Hamilton and a good supporting cast adds some energy to the proceedings.

The familiarity of the ingredients had been well and truly set by this point and the genre would become increasingly inhabited by far-fetched spoofs and parodies.