Sting, The (1973; USA; Technicolor; 129m) ****½ d. George Roy Hill; w. David S. Ward; ph. Robert Surtees; m. Marvin Hamlisch (adaptor), Scott Joplin. Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Robert Earl Jones, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar, Jack Kehoe, John Heffernan, Dimitra Arliss, James Sloyan, Charles Dierkop, Sally Kirkland. In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker. Newman and redford along with director Hill repeat the success of their teaming on BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID with this caper. Great period design and a memorable score add to the charm and humour provided by a splendid cast. Won seven Oscars including Best Picture; Director; Screenplay; Art Direction (Henry Bumstead, James W. Payne); Costume Design (Edith Head); Editing and Music Adaptation. Followed by THE STING II (1983). [PG]
NOTHING SHORT OF DYING by ERIK STOREY (2016, Simon & Schuster, 314pp) ***
Blurb: Sixteen years. That’s how long Clyde Barr has been away from Colorado’s thick forests, alpine deserts, and craggy peaks, running from a past filled with haunting memories. But now he’s back, having roamed across three continents as a hunter, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and most recently, unjustly imprisoned convict. And once again, his past is reaching out to claim him. By the light of a flickering campfire, Clyde receives a frantic phone call from his sister Jen. No sooner has she pleaded with him to come rescue her than the line goes dead. Clyde doesn’t know how much time he has, or where Jen is located, or even who has her. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her. Joining Clyde in his against-all-odds quest is a young woman named Allie whose motivations for running this gauntlet are fascinatingly complex. As the duo races against the clock, it is Allie who gets Clyde to see what he has become and what he can still be.
Erik Storey’s debut novel is an assured riff on the loner action hero popularised by Lee Child and Vince Flynn. Where Clyde Barr is different is that he has a family of sisters, one of whom experienced with him abuse as a child by a succession of their mother’s men, giving him a personal stake in the story. The plot here is a basic kidnap plot serving to introduce a character to an audience Storey hopes will invest in through a series (a taster for the follow-up, A Promise to Kill, is included in this paperback edition). Here Storey succeeds admirably making Barr a seemingly more human hero than say Child’s Jack Reacher, if no less indestructable. The violent action scenes are also well-written and there is a good establishing relationship between Barr and saloon girl, Allie, who he falls for. Whilst Allie’s willingness to accompany Barr plays a little conveniently as a device to give Barr someone to worry about, it does allow for some good character interplay. The psychotic Zeke, who Barr enlists for help, is a little too caricatured and the villains are your typical violent and charmless drug dealing thugs. We even get the Feds in the black SUVs. The resolution is straight-forward and there are no twists or stings in the tail. As an action thriller it works well and is a cinfident debut. It will be interesting to see whether Storey can add depth and variation to the formula going forward.
Get Carter (1971; UK; Metrocolor; 112m) ***** d. Mike Hodges; w. Mike Hodges; ph. Wolfgang Suschitzky; m. Roy Budd. Cast: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland, John Osborne, Tony Beckley, George Sewell, Geraldine Moffat, Dorothy White, Rosemarie Dunham, Alun Armstrong, Petra Markham, Bryan Mosley, Terence Rigby, Glynn Edwards, Bernard Hepton. When his brother dies under mysterious circumstances in a car accident, a London gangster travels to Newcastle to investigate. Quintessential British gangster movie with Caine’s iconic performance setting the bar for others to follow. Hodges directs with flair and Suschitzky’s photography evocatively captures the bleakness of the North-East landscape. Budd’s minimalist score adds to the menace. A genre classic. Based on the novel “Jack’s Return Home” by Ted Lewis. Remade as HIT MAN in 1972 and again in 2000. 
JACK CARTER’S LAW by TED LEWIS (1974, Syndicate Books, 222pp) ****
Blurb: It’s the late 1960s in London and Jack Carter is the top man in a crime syndicate headed by two brothers—Gerald and Les Fletcher. He’s also a worried man. The fact that he’s sleeping with Gerald’s wife, Audrey, and that they plan on someday running away together with a lot of the brothers’ money, doesn’t have Jack concerned. Instead it’s an informant—one of his own men—that has him losing sleep. The grass has enough knowledge about the firm to not only bring down Gerald and Les but Jack as well. Jack doesn’t like his name in the mouth of that sort. It should be an easily solved problem for London’s suavest fixer, except for one slight problem: Jack has no idea where the grass is hiding.
Jack Carter’s Law is Ted Lewis’ follow-up to his highly influential Jack’s Return Home, which was filmed as, and later retitled, Get Carter. This second book in the series is set prior to the first. Whereas Jack’s Return Home gave Lewis’ anti-hero a personal vendetta as motivation for the ensuing mayhem, here Carter is acting in his role as fixer/enforcer for one of London’s biggest criminal gangs. As such, there is little for the reader to root for in a cast of characters that have few, if any, redeeming qualities. That said, Lewis masterfully keeps you engaged through his first-person perspective. Written in the present tense, not a popular style but effective here, the action feels immediate and the tension is kept high. Lewis also has a penchant for long descriptive paragrpahs, punctuated by salty and humorous dialogue. The book is not for the faint-hearted – there are several moments of brutality and cruelty – but for fans of gritty pulp fiction this is a great example of the genre. Lewis became something of a cult figure in the world of gritty crime fiction and unfortunately died young (aged only 42) after a battle with alcoholism.
Stormy Monday (1988; UK/USA; Rankcolor; 93m) ***½ d. Mike Figgis; w. Mike Figgis; ph. Roger Deakins; m. Mike Figgis. Cast: Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, Sean Bean, James Cosmo, Mark Long, Brian Lewis, Ying Tong John, Mick Hamer, Ian Hinchcliffe, Andrzej Borkowski, Caroline Hutchinson, Les Wilde, Desmond Gill, Benny Graham, Derek Hoxby, Catherine Chevalier, Brendan P. Healy, Clive Curtis, Heathcote Williams. A crooked American businessman tries to push the shady influential owner of a nightclub in Newcastle, England to sell him the club. Atmospheric British gangster thriller pays homage to the Hollywood movies of the 30s and 40s. Bean is effective as out-of-work drifter drawn into a stand-off between Sting’s jazz club owner and Jones’ American gangster over a new property development. Griffith oozes appeal as the moll caught between her ties to Jones and her love for Bean. Well-judged script and neat camera work add to the noir feel. Followed by the TV series Finney in 1994, which ran for just one season. 
THE GOODBYE LOOK by ROSS MACDONALD (1969, Penguin, 282pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Lew Archer, world-weary private investigator, is hired by Larry and Irene Chalmers when they suspect that their troubled son Nick is involved in their own burglary. But when a fellow investigator – one who’s been working with Nick – turns up dead, Archer soon realizes this isn’t simply about some stolen loot. To help their son, Archer must uncover the truth about a kidnap years ago, and discover why the handgun from a decades-old killing apparently turns up at every new and terrible murder.
Ross MacDonald is one of three writers considered to be the pinnacle fo the private eye genre – the other two being Raymond Chandler and Dashell Hammet. His Lew Archer novels and stories build on Chandler’s cynical view of Los Angeles and the flawed characters who inhabit it. This is the fifteenth of eighteen novels MacDonald wrote featuring the character and is typical of the later entries in the series. Archer becomes embroiled in a case revolving around a small group of families – all of whom are disfunctional. The mystery plot is cleverly unravelled as the book progresses at a good pace. With its convoluted plot, flawed characters and lone detective hero it feels as if it lives in the 40s or 50s, despite being set in a contemporary 1969. However, MacDonald was by then a master of his craft and his skill overcomes the slighly anachronistic feel. Highly recommended for scholars of the genre and fans in general.
Lew Archer novels:
- The Moving Target (1949)
- The Drowning Pool (1950)
- The Way Some People Die (1951)
- The Ivory Grin (1952) ****
- Find a Victim (1954)
- The Barbarous Coast (1956)
- The Doomsters (1958)
- The Galton Case (1959) *****
- The Wycherly Woman (1961)
- The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
- The Chill (1964)
- The Far Side of the Dollar (1965)
- Black Money (1966) ****
- The Instant Enemy (1968)
- The Goodbye Look (1969) ****
- The Underground Man (1971)
- Sleeping Beauty (1973)
- The Blue Hammer (1976) ****
THE DRY by JANE HARPER (2016, Abacus, 404pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Who really killed the Hadler family? In the small town of Kiewarra, it hasn’t rained for two years. Swept up in the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, the town crackles with seething malice and unvoiced grudges. Tensions in the community are at breaking point when three members of the Hadler family are suddenly brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty, but is he just an easy scapegoat? Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.
Jane Harper’s debut novel is a confident mystery thriller with an evocative closed community setting. The book links together two mysteries – one in the present, the other from twenty years earlier. Harper’s detective hero, Aaron Falk, is linked to the mystery from the past via his friend, Luke Hadler, who along with his family are the victims of the mystery of the present. Both are seeming suicides and may be linked. The book unravels these mysteries through clever use of flashback passages, frequently interspersed with the present day case. Chapters and scenes are edited so as to keep the reader turning the pages. The characters are vividly drawn and the reader is left guessing right up until the reveal. A strong debut for a proposed series.
Death Wish (1974; USA; Technicolor; 93m) ∗∗½ d. Michael Winner; w. Wendell Mayes; ph. Arthur J. Ornitz; m. Herbert Hancock. Cast: Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Hope Lange, Stuart Margolin, Stephen Keats, William Redfield, Jack Wallace, Jeff Goldblum. A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark. Sensationalist crime thriller became influential because of its subject matter and its connection with the public due to the time at which it was filmed, rather than for the quality of the product. Gardenia’s performance adds a level of class to this crowd-pleaser, but Winner’s direction is inconsistent and lacks subtlety. Film debut of Goldblum. Based on the novel by Brian Garfield. Four sequels followed. Remade in 2017. 
THE REDEEMERS by ACE ATKINS (2015, Corsair, 370pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: He is only in his early thirties, but now Quinn Colson is jobless – voted out of office as sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, thanks to the machinations of county kingpin Johnny Stagg. He has offers, in bigger and better places, but before he goes, he’s got one more job to do – bring down Stagg’s criminal operations for good. At least that’s the plan. But in the middle of the long, hot summer, a trio of criminals stage a bold, wall-smashing break-in at the home of a local lumber mill owner, making off with a million dollars in cash from his safe, which is curious, because the mill owner is wealthy – but not that wealthy. None of this has anything to do with Colson, but during the investigation, two men are killed, one of them the new sheriff. His friend, acting sheriff Lillie Virgil, and a dangerous former flame, Anna Lee Stevens, both ask him to step in, and reluctantly he does, only to discover that that safe contained more than just money – it held secrets. Secrets that could either save Colson – or destroy him once and for all.
The fifth novel in Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is the closest the author has come to emulating one of his writing heroes – Elmore Leonard. The story is populated with the type of characters Leonard employed in many of his crime novels set in the modern west. The plot itself is slight, being centred around a robbery, but the character interaction, double-crossing and the bigger picture of Colson’s mission to put Johnny Stagg behind bars keep the pages turning. Atkins has a great handle on his characters and embellishes them through their salty dialogue. Whilst the plot itself reaches a conclusion, some of the domestic threads that have ran through the series are left loose. there is also a signal in the series taking a change of direction in its final pages. Another strong addition to an excellent series.
Hollow Point, The (2016; USA; Colour; 97m) ∗∗ d. Gonzalo López-Gallego; w. Nils Lyew; ph. José David Montero; m. Juan Navazo. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane, James Belushi, Lynn Collins, John Leguizamo, Nathan Stevens, Michael Flynn, Karli Hall, Heather Beers. A new sheriff of a small town along the U.S. & Mexico border investigates a drug cartel deal that went horribly wrong. Dark, violent modern Western. Efficiently made but the sensationalist script leaves us with no-one to root for and there is little in terms of scope outside of its formulaic chase thriller premise. McShane fails to convince as a Texas sheriff and Wilson struggles to hit the right note as his deputy.