Book Review – STAY CLOSE (2012) by Harlan Coben

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.

Film Review – THE GODFATHER (1972)

Image result for the godfather blu-rayGodfather, 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. [15]

Graphic Novel Review – SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE (2017) by David F. Walker/Dietrich Smith

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.

TV Review – TAKEN – “PILOT EPISODE” (2016)

Image result for taken tv seriesTaken – “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.

Film Review – FRIDAY FOSTER (1975)

Image result for friday foster blu-rayFriday Foster (1975; USA; Colour; 90m) ∗∗½  d. Arthur Marks; w. Orville H. Hampton, Arthur Marks; ph. Harry J. May; m. Luchi De Jesus.  Cast: Pam Grier, Yaphet Kotto, Godfrey Cambridge, Thalmus Rasulala, Eartha Kitt, Ted Lange, Tierre Turner, Jim Backus, Scatman Crothers, Paul Benjamin, Jason Bernard, Ed Cambridge, Julius Harris, Rosalind Miles, Carl Weathers. Friday Foster (Grier), an ex-model magazine photographer, goes to Los Angeles International airport to photograph the arrival of Blake Tarr (Rasulala), the richest black man in America. Three men attempt to assassinate Tarr. Foster photographs the melee and is plunged into a web of conspiracy involving the murder of her childhood friend, a US senator, and a shadowy plan called “Black Widow”. Tonally inconsistent and lightweight late entry into the Blaxploitation genre benefits from a strong cast including Grier and Kotto, but suffers from weak script and lacklustre direction. Based on the comic strip by Jim Lawrence. [18]

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.

Film Review – WHITEOUT (2009)

Image result for whiteout 2009 blu-rayWhiteout (2009; Canada/USA/France; Technicolor; 101m) ∗∗∗  d. Dominic Sena; w. Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes; ph. Christopher Soos; m. John Frizzell.  Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short, Alex O’Loughlin, Shawn Doyle, Joel S. Keller, Jesse Todd, Arthur Holden, Erin Hickock, Bashar Rahal, Julian Cain, Dennis Keiffer, Andrei Runtso, Roman Varshavsky. A U.S. Marshal tracks a killer in Antarctica, as the sun is about to set for six months.  Antarctic setting adds to the atmosphere of this otherwise familiar genre thriller. Beckinsale is good in the lead, although she remains perfectly presented despite the hostile environment. Generates some tension and thrills despite lack of originality. Based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. [15]

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.

Film Review – THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973)

Image result for the friends of eddie coyle blu-rayFriends of Eddie Coyle, The (1973; USA; Colour; 102m) ∗∗∗½  d. Peter Yates; w. Paul Monash; ph. Victor J. Kemper; m. David Grusin.  Cast: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco, Mitchell Ryan, Joe Santos. After his last crime has him looking at a long prison sentence for repeat offenses, a low-level Boston gangster decides to snitch on his friends to avoid jail time. Mitchum is impressive in bleak tale, which features authentic staging of armed robberies and gun-running deals. Relentlessly downbeat and typical of its time. Based on George V. Higgins’s acclaimed novel. [15]