Book Review – SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT (2013)

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2013, Penguin, Paperback, 146pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Sheriff Walt Longmire is in his office reading A Christmas Carol when he is interrupted by a ghost of Christmas past: a young woman with a hairline scar and more than a few questions about his predecessor, Lucian Connally. Walt’s on his own this Christmas Eve, so he agrees to help her. 
      At the Durant Home for Assisted Living, Lucian is several tumblers into his Pappy Van Winkle’s and swears he’s never clapped eyes on the woman before. Disappointed, she whispers “Steamboat” and begins a story that takes them all back to Christmas Eve 1988—a story that will thrill and delight the best-selling series’ devoted fans.

Spirit of SteamboatCraig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series of novels has gathered a loyal following over the years and spawned a successful TV series. Johnson initially intended this novella to be one of his seasonal short stories offered up free to his fans. The end result was something of more substantial length, but remains a fast-paced and thrilling read. Johnson has a splendid ear for banter driven dialogue and builds strong characters on the back of it.

There is no mystery in this tale, it is based around the selflessness of the main protagonists in trying to save the life of an infant (victim of a car crash) some 25 years earlier. The story goes through a series of setbacks and solutions as Walt and the old-sheriff Lucian, helped by Doc Isaac Bloomfield and co-pilot Julie Luehrman, use an old WWII bomber to fly their patient through a snowstorm to Denver. The story is also framed around references to Dickens’ Christmas Carol and is designed as a modern parable.

Witty dialogue and likeable characters who you want to spend more time with are the key to Johnson’s success. If you’ve not read any of the Longmire books I recommend you start straight away at the beginning (The Cold Dish) and you’ll be drawn into one of the very best series around.

Comic Book Review – SHAFT #4 (2015)

SHAFT #4 (11 March 2015, Dynamite Entertainment) ∗∗∗∗∗
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Bilquis Evely
Coloured by Daniela Miwa
Cover A by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Ivan Nunes

Shaft04-Cov-A-Cowan-fbd54Shaft returns to Harlem in search of Marisol DuPree, who holds the key to the murder of his girlfriend Arletha Havens. He comes across Bumma Brooks who takes him to meet businessman Vernon Gates. Gates is looking to trace a package, which holds incriminating material and which Marisol obtained from the recently deceased Jimmy Style. Gates asks for Shaft’s help in finding the package. On leaving Gates’ office Shaft picks up a tail who Shaft overpowers and knocks unconscious. He learns his tail is a police officer. Later, returning the Arletha’s apartment, he manages to find a lead to Marisol’s whereabouts…

The story is working nicely toward the concluding two chapters with different factions hunting for Marisol and the package she is holding. Walker has paced this tale expertly and Evely’s art work remains consistently impressive. The suggested playlist includes the Bar-Kays excellent Son of Shaft and Ray Charles’ interpretation of Over the Rainbow. In fact The Wizard of Oz is used as a metaphorical reference throughout this issue.

Book Review – THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE (2014)

THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE by BENJAMIN BLACK (2014, Picador, Paperback, 290pp) ∗∗∗∗
      BlurbMaybe it was time I forgot about Nico Peterson, and his sister, and the Cahuilla Club, and Clare Cavendish. Clare? The rest would be easy to put out of my mind, but not the black-eyed blonde . . . It is the early 1950s. In Los Angeles, Private Detective Philip Marlowe is as restless and lonely as ever, and business is a little slow. Then a new client arrives: young, beautiful, and expensively dressed, Clare Cavendish wants Marlowe to find her former lover, a man named Nico Peterson. Soon Marlowe will find himself not only under the spell of the Black-Eyed Blonde; but tangling with one of Bay City’s richest families – and developing a singular appreciation for how far they will go to protect their fortune . . .

untitled-benjamin-black-7-marlowe-978144723670201John Banville, under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black, takes on the mantle of continuing the literary cases of Philip Marlowe. I’m a huge fan of Raymond Chandler and his iconic creation. Chandler added depth to his hero as the series progressed peaking with the extraordinary The Long Goodbye (1953). It is from that book that Black takes his lead here.

What starts out as a straight-forward mystery becomes linked to events in Marlowe’s past as he unravels the case surrounding the supposed death of a rich socialite’s lover. All is not as it seems and the mystery, which initially unfolds at a steady pace, gathers momentum in its closing chapters through to its surprise conclusion. Black proves himself to be a worthy successor to Chandler and Marlowe is in good hands.

More reviews of Shaft #4

Shaft04-1-859fdReviews continue to be largely positive toward the Shaft comic book series, which has now seen four of the initial six-part tale released. Here are some of the latest:-

Dan Pennacchia, All-Comic.com: “One of the most understated aspects of Shaft is the art direction and set design of the series. Evely does an absolutely stunning job depicting New York City in this era. The backgrounds are never simply shaped around the characters. Instead, the setting always feels as considered as the facial expressions on the leads. Shaft #4 brings readers back into the world through a return to Harlem, as John reflects on the city and his history with his hometown.” (4/5)

Gary Quigley, BigGlasgowComic.com: “Walker does an effective job in portraying the younger version of everyone’s favourite no nonsense Detective, John Shaft. Enough here to please loyal fans and those who are less familiar with the character.” (3/5)

Aaron Halverson, ComicBastards.com: “The story and the art are solid, even if it has been… inspired by other, better, stories.  If you haven’t read those other stories but are a fan of gritty ‘urban’ stories (I hesitate to use the word Blaxploitation since that implies a bit of a camp element that this does not contain, it takes itself very seriously) then there is a lot here for you.” (3/5)

Film Review Round-up – BRANDED (1950), GONE GIRL (2014) and GILDA (1946)

BrandedBranded (1950; USA; Technicolor; 104m) ∗∗∗  d. Rudolph Maté; w. Sydney Boehm, Cyril Hume; ph. Charles Lang; m. Roy Webb; ed. Alma Macrorie.  Cast: Alan Ladd, Mona Freeman, Charles Bickford, Robert Keith, Joseph Calleia, Peter Hansen, Selena Royle, Tom Tully, John Berkes, Milburn Stone, Martin Garralaga, Edward Clark, John Butler. A gunfighter takes part in a scheme to bilk a wealthy cattle family out of half a million dollars by pretending to be their son, who was kidnapped as child. Ladd’s intense performance and the stunning vistas are the best thing about this tale of redemption. Based on the novel “Montana Rides” by Max Brand (as Evan Evans). European version runs 94m. [PG]

Gone-Girl-2014-BluRay-480p-400mb-ESubGone Girl (2014; USA; Colour; 149m) ∗∗∗½  d. David Fincher; w. Gillian Flynn; ph. Jeff Cronenweth; m. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross; ed. Kirk Baxter.  Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, Missi Pyle, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Scoot McNairy, Sela Ward, Emily Ratajkowski, Lee Norris, Casey Wilson, Lyn Quinn, Lola Kirke, David Clennon, Lola Kirke. With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent. Initially inventive and intriguing, but ultimately it descends into increasing implausibility. Affleck and Pike deliver top class performances to maintain interest throughout despite the contrivances and Fincher keeps the pace consistent. Flynn adapted her own novel. [18]

GildaGilda (1946; USA; B&W; 110m) ∗∗∗½  d. Charles Vidor; w. Jo Eisinger, Marion Parsonnet; ph. Rudolph Maté; m. Hugo Friedhofer; ed. Charles Nelson.  Cast: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia, Steven Geray, Joe Sawyer, Gerald Mohr, Mark Roberts, Ludwig Donath, Donald Douglas, Sam Flint, Bess Flowers, Jean Del Val, Eduardo Ciannelli, Argentina Brunetti. The sinister boss of a South American casino finds that his right-hand man and his sensuous new wife already know each other. Hayworth delivers a mesmerising performance in this stylish but often overwrought noir, which is daring for its themes of sexual repression. Based on a story by E.A. Ellington. [PG]

Book Review – LINE OF DUTY (1974) by Ernest Tidyman

LINE OF DUTY by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1974, W.H. Allen, Hardback, 240pp) ∗∗∗½
      Blurb: Terror prowls the dark streets of a sprawling American city waiting for violence to break out. Some men sleep but others wait for it too, hiding in the shadows. One of them waits in a comfortless room lit by a single glaring bulb, seller of secrets of the organization that could pillage the metropolis. A second comes hunting him with a policeman’s badge shielding a ruthless assassin’s hunger for the kill.. And a third, a just and honest man, begins to know that his hands alone can stop the bloodbath that threatens to engulf his city. Violence is about to come thundering through the night. Before day dawns, a trail of death will be created in its wake.

$(KGrHqVHJDUE63ZSCfoVBPqn7e!TGw~~60_57Ernest Tidyman’s Line of Duty was originally written as a screenplay titled The Inspector and its roots are apparent in the transition to a novel. The story of a cop gone bad, having become a killer for a major crime figure, is interesting and could have made for an intriguing movie. On the page, Tidyman allows his character to breathe giving all the major protagonists a voice. There is no snaking plot line or mystery. The enjoyment comes from seeing the characters react as the truth around Dempsey’s corruption emerges.

Tidyman’s dark humour is apparent throughout as is his knowledge of his home town. He even references a quote from his father Ben (a respected former crime journalist), to whom the book is dedicated: “There is only one reason this burg Cleveland exits. It’s a place to stop between New York and Chicago and piss in the river.”

 

Shaft #4 – first review

tumblr_ni946mTKiM1rfyagfo1_500BlackNerdProblems have published an advance review of the latest issue of David Walker’s Shaft comic book series, due to be released on 4 March. The review is another positive recommendation awarding an 8 out of 10 rating and stating in its summary:

“Between the mid-life crisis, revenge, and survival, Shaft is one of the best reads on shelves, and as a resident of Harlem I can’t help but enjoy the history and landscape. Looking forward to the story coming to a head and seeing what happens when Shaft comes face to face with Arletha’s killer. However he handles it is bound to change him, for better or worse.”

The art work for the main cover (above) is again by Denys Cowan & Bill Sienkiewicz.

Film Review Round-up – JOHNNY GUITAR (1954); THE MARCUS-NELSON MURDERS (1973) and THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2011)

51H5XHQ9HGLJohnny Guitar (1954; USA; Trucolor; 110m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. Nicholas Ray; w. Philip Yordan; ph. Harry Stradling Sr.; m. Victor Young; ed. Richard L. Van Enger.  Cast: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady, Mercedes McCambridge, Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine, John Carradine, Royal Dano, Ben Cooper. A strong willed female saloon owner is wrongly suspected of murder and bank robbery by a lynch mob, when she helps a wounded gang member. Stylish and original western is superbly directed by Ray and performed by a strong cast with Crawford and McCambridge standouts as feuding strong-willed women. Hayden is also excellent as the gunfighter who has a thing for Crawford. Filmed on location at Sedona, Arizona and at Red Rock Crossing. Entered 2008 into the National Film Registry. Based on the novel by Roy Chanslor. [PG]

41NVPY92GGL._SY300_Marcus-Nelson Murders, The (TV) (1973; USA; Technicolor; 137m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Joseph Sargent; w. Abby Mann; ph. Mario Tosi; m. Billy Goldenberg; ed. Carl Pingitore, Richard M. Sprague.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Marjoe Gortner, José Ferrer, Ned Beatty, Allen Garfield, Lorraine Gary, Roger Robinson, Harriet Karr, Gene Woodbury, William Watson, Val Bisoglio, Antonia Rey, Chita Rivera, Bruce Kirby, Robert Walden. A homicide detective begins to suspect that the black teenager accused of murdering two white girls is being framed by his fellow detectives. Gritty police and courtroom drama is well acted and directed and makes excellent use of the seedier streets of New York. Savalas is compelling amongst a strong cast. Based on the book by Selwyn Raab and an actual case known as the “Career Girl” murders that happened on 28 August 1963. Served as a pilot film for the TV series Kojak (1973-8) only here Savalas’ character’s name is spelled “Kojack”. [15]

5020111000Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The (2011; UK; Colour; 124m) ∗∗∗½  d. John Madden; w. Ol Parker; ph. Ben Davis; m. Thomas Newman; ed. Chris Gill.  Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup. British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than its advertisements, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways. Top-notch cast adds great dignity to the story and they are helped by a witty script, which manages to navigate the more predictable and familiar elements.  Based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach. [12]

Book Review – HOPE TO DIE (2001) by Lawrence Block

HOPE TO DIE by LAWRENCE BLOCK (2001, Orion, Paperback, 340pp) ∗∗∗½
      Blurb: Byrne and Susan Hollander stroll home from a concert on a fine summer?s evening in New York. Some hours later, their daughter Kristin arrives home to discover her parents brutally killed and the house ransacked. She also finds she is now a very young millionaire. A few days later the police trace the two killers to an apartment in Coney Island, and both are dead. One killed the other before turning the gun on himself ? at least that?s the way it looks. So that?s another case solved. But for Matt Scudder it’s only the beginning. The more he looks into it, the more things look wrong to him. There’s a murderer out there, and he’s just getting started. Pitted in a deadly game of cat and mouse, Scudder is up against the most resourceful and diabolical killer of his career.

isbn9781409130109-detailHaving recently watched and enjoyed the old-school thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson as Lawrence Block’s ex-alcoholic and part-time detective Matt Scudder, I remembered I had bought a copy of another of Block’s Scudder tales from the bargain bin at Asda some months ago and never got round to reading it. So I decided to catch up on what I had missed.

I found the first half of the book a little too ponderous after the initial set-up of the case. There’s a lot of pages devoted to exposition and a sub-plot featuring the death of Scudder’s ex-wife and his re-uniting with his two sons. We are also reminded that Scudder is a reformed alcoholic who still regularly attends AA meetings. Now older and wiser he finds solace in helping others. Whilst this adds depth to the character it tends to slow the pace of the story. But Block is an experienced and canny writer and he gradually homes in on the case in hand, which twists and turns in unexpected directions. The pace picks up in the last hundred pages and the conclusion is both shocking and surprising.

When I was reading Scudder’s dialogue I had a clear vision of Liam Neeson in mind, showing what a good piece of casting it was and a significant improvement over the previous film adaptation of Scudder – Eight Million Ways to Die (1986) – in which he was played by Jeff Bridges. I look forward to reading more Matt Scudder and also hope he returns to the screen soon.

New Line announce they have purchased movie rights to SHAFT

johnshaft001In a report in The Wrap it was announced that New Line have bought the movie rights to Shaft, initially brought to the screen by Gordon Parks on behalf of MGM in 1971. What this means in terms of approach is as yet unclear, but John Davis of Davis Entertainment has been named as the producer. Davis has become a reboot specialist recently with the soon to be released The Man from UNCLE and Victor Frankenstein.

David Walker has posted his wish list for the new film here and I agree 100% with his thoughts. The character has to be set in period and remain true to Ernest Tidyman’s original novels – otherwise they may as well give him a new name. The Shaft of the novels is a man of depth with a history that has never been explored on screen. My hope too is that Davis is sympathetic to Tidyman’s hero.

The last attempt to relaunch the franchise was John Singleton’s Shaft in 2000, which suffered from having to conform to studio demands and updating the story to be based around Shaft’s nephew. The film became a compromise and failed to satisfy fans of the original or ignite enough new interest for a continuation with a new John Shaft.

We wait for further announcements – most importantly who will be the new John Shaft.