TV Review – CRACKER: MAD WOMAN IN THE ATTIC (1993)

Image result for cracker mad woman in the atticCRACKER: MAD WOMAN IN THE ATTIC (TV) (UK, 1993) ****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 27 September & 4 October 1993; Running Time: 103m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Michael Winterbottom; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Gub Neal; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: Julian Wastall; Film Editor: Trevor Waite; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: Deborah Morley; Set Decorator: ; Costumes: Janty Yates; Make-up: Helen King; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. Bilborough), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Adrian Dunbar (Kelly), Nicholas Woodeson (Hennessy), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Don Henderson (Hennessy Senior), Seamus O’Neill (D.C. Jones), Ian Mercer (D.C. Giggs), Paul Copley (Pathologist), Alan Partington (Mr Hobbs), Romy Baskerville (Irene Hobbs), Daryl Fishwick (Mrs Forbes), Kika Markham (Ann Appleby), John Grillo (Simon Appleby), Edward Peel (Chief Super), David Crellin (Quinlan), Andrew Brittain (Presenter), Diane Adderley (Mrs Royle).
      Synopsis: A young woman is brutally murdered on a train, the victim of a serial killer. The prime suspect is an amnesiac man, who cannot confess to the crime if he cannot remember committing it unless a troubled psychologist can crack him.
      Comment: The premiere episode of the Cracker TV series (1993-6) introduces us to Coltrane’s dynamite performance as the flawed psychologist, addicted to gambling and booze, and lays the template for a series that would reach new highs for crime TV in the UK. Fitz is such a compelling character he threatens to dwarf all around him. Fortunately, a very strong support cast is also on hand and Winterbottom’s inventive direction gets the best out of them. The story is intriguing as a ‘did he or didn’t he do it’ and that it succeeds in keeping you guessing for so long is down to McGovern’s strong script and a good supporting performance from Dunbar as the amnesiac suspect. Often a tough watch, this is never less than engrossing and is only let down by the rushed finale. Better was to follow, but this is still a great introduction.

Film Review – THE DROWNING POOL (1975)

Image result for the drowning pool 1975THE DROWNING POOL (USA, 1975) ***½
      Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: First Artists / Coleytown / Turman-Foster Company / David Foster Productions; Release Date: 25 June 1975 (USA), 14 September 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: began 16 October 1974; Running Time: 108m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Stuart Rosenberg; Writer: Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Walter Hill (based on the novel by Ross Macdonald); Producer: David Foster, Lawrence Turman; Associate Producer: Hawk Koch; Director of Photography: Gordon Willis; Music Composer: Michael Small; Film Editor: John C. Howard; Casting Director: Alan Shayne; Production Designer: Paul Sylbert; Art Director: Edwin O’Donovan; Costumes: Richard Bruno, Donald Brooks; Make-up: Monty Westmore; Sound: Larry Jost; Special Effects: Chuck Gaspar, Henry Millar.
      Cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Joanne Woodward (Iris Devereaux), Anthony Franciosa (Broussard), Murray Hamilton (J.J. Kilbourne), Gail Strickland (Mavis Kilbourne), Melanie Griffith (Schuyler Devreaux), Linda Haynes (Gretchen), Richard Jaeckel (Franks), Paul Koslo (Candy), Joe Canutt (Glo), Andrew Robinson (Pat Reavis), Coral Browne (Olivia Devereaux), Richard Derr (James Devereaux), Helena Kallianiotes (Elaine Reavis), Leigh French (Red Head), Peter Dassinger (Peter), James Fontenot (Bartender), Tommy McLain (Nightclub Band), Martin Ahrens (Cajun Heavy #1), Philippe Blenet (Cajun Heavy #2), Jerome Greene (Butler), Cecil Elliott (Motel Switchboard Operator).
      Synopsis: Sequel to HARPER (1966), in which the big-city private detective travels to the Deep South to help out an old girlfriend who is being blackmailed.
      Comment: Newman returns to the role that fit him like a glove nine years earlier. This new case has more depth to the plot and also benefits from a strong supporting cast – with Hamilton’s sleazy oil magnate the most notable. A young Griffith takes on the role of rich couple’s spoilt daughter. The overall set-up may be familiar to noir fans and certainly to fans of Macdonald’s novel – despite the switch of setting – so it packs few surprises. Rosenberg’s direction is a little flat at times, but overall this is an enjoyable mystery.
      Notes: During post-production, director Stuart Rosenberg hired Composer Charles Fox to do additional scoring, integrating the composer’s melody “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, into the movie.

Film Review – HARPER (1966)

Image result for harper 1966HARPER (USA, 1966) ***
      Distributor: Warner Bros. (USA), Warner-Pathé Distributors (UK); Production Company: Gershwin-Kastner Productions; Release Date: 23 February 1966 (USA), 1 July 1966 (UK); Filming Dates: 7 June 1965 – 20 August 1965; Running Time: 121m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Jack Smight; Writer: William Goldman (based on the novel “The Moving Target” by Ross Macdonald); Producer: Jerry Gershwin, Elliott Kastner; Director of Photography: Conrad L. Hall; Music Composer: Johnny Mandel; Film Editor: Stefan Arnsten; Art Director: Alfred Sweeney; Set Decorator: Claude E. Carpenter; Costumes: William Smith; Make-up: Gordon Bau; Sound: Stanley Jones.
      Cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Sampson), Julie Harris (Betty Fraley), Arthur Hill (Albert Graves), Janet Leigh (Susan Harper), Pamela Tiffin (Miranda Sampson), Robert Wagner (Allan Taggert), Robert Webber (Dwight Troy), Shelley Winters (Fay Estabrook), Harold Gould (Sheriff), Roy Jenson (Puddler), Strother Martin (Claude), Martin West (Deputy), Jacqueline deWit (Mrs. Kronberg), Eugene Iglesias (Felix), Richard Carlyle (Fred Platt).
      Synopsis: Lew Harper, a cool private investigator, is hired by a wealthy California matron to locate her kidnapped husband.
      Comment: Smight’s adaptation of Ross Macdonald’s classic mystery is a product of the period in which it was made as the free spirit of the 1960s threatens to drown the plot. Newman layers his charm onto Macdonald’s detective and it is his performance that is the main draw. The kidnapping plot involves a strong cast of eccentric characters but fails to invest any with significant depth. The dialogue, however, is smarter as Goldman captures the spirit of the wisecracking down on his luck PI genre, if not the mood.
      Notes: The title of Ross Macdonald’s source novel “The Moving Target” was this picture’s title in Great Britain. The lead character was changed from Lew Archer to Harper because the producers had only bought the rights to the first book in the series. Followed by THE DROWNING POOL (1975), again with Newman.

Book Review – LET IT BLEED (1995) by Ian Rankin

LET IT BLEED (1995) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 1995
This edition published by Orion, 2011, 402pp (360pp)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-8359-5
includes an introduction by Ian Rankin and Reading Group Notes.

Blurb: Struggling through another Edinburgh winter Rebus finds himself sucked into a web of intrigue that throws up more questions than answers. Was the Lord Provost’s daughter kidnapped or just another runaway? Why is a city councillor shredding documents that should have been waste paper years ago? And why on earth is Rebus invited to a clay pigeon shoot at the home of the Scottish Office’s Permanent Secretary? Sucked into the machine that is modern Scotland, Rebus confronts the fact that some of his enemies may be beyond justice…

Ian Rankin’s seventh Rebus novel see the writer in maximum cynicism mode as he hits his stride taking on politics, the establishment, corporate industry and corruption. It is a complex plot the cleverly weaves its many strands into a cohesive whole. Rebus is the voice of conscience throughout, but he himself is no saint – failing in his relationships with his partner and his daughter and descending into greater dependency on alcohol. His wits remain as sharp as ever and this is his most expansive investigation to date. That Rebus is a flawed and human character makes him all the more believable and easier to forgive those failings. Whilst BLACK AND BLUE may be seen as the point where all the elements come together in the series, beginning a golden run, LET IT BLEED acts as an excellent prelude. I now only have the thirteenth book, RESURRECTION MEN, to read to have completed the whole series.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992) ***½
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996) ****
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002)
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Film Review – BLOOD WORK (2002)

Image result for BLOOD WORK 2002BLOOD WORK (USA, 2002) ***
      Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: Malpaso Productions / Warner Bros. Pictures; Release Date: 6 August 2002 (USA), 27 December 2002 (UK); Filming Dates: Began 19 February 2002 – March 2002; Running Time: 110m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS; Film Format: 35mm (Fuji); Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Brian Helgeland (based on the novel by Michael Connelly); Executive Producer: Robert Lorenz; Producer: Clint Eastwood; Director of Photography: Tom Stern; Music Composer: Lennie Niehaus; Film Editor: Joel Cox; Casting Director: Phyllis Huffman; Production Designer: Henry Bumstead; Art Director: Jack G. Taylor Jr.; Set Decorator: Richard C. Goddard; Costumes: Deborah Hopper; Make-up: Tania McComas, Francisco X. Pérez; Sound: Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman; Special Effects: Steve Riley; Visual Effects: Michael Owens.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Terry McCaleb), Jeff Daniels (Jasper ‘Buddy’ Noone), Anjelica Huston (Dr. Bonnie Fox), Wanda De Jesus (Graciella Rivers), Tina Lifford (Detective Jaye Winston), Paul Rodriguez (Detective Ronaldo Arrango), Dylan Walsh (Detective John Waller), Mason Lucero (Raymond Torres), Gerry Becker (Mr. Toliver), Rick Hoffman (James Lockridge), Alix Koromzay (Mrs. Cordell), Igor Jijikine (Mikhail Bolotov), Dina Eastwood (Reporter #1), Beverly Leech (Reporter #2), June Kyoto Lu (Mrs. Kang), Chao Li Chi (Mr. Kang), Glenn Morshower (Captain), Robert Harvey (Restaurant Manager), Matt Huffman (Young Detective), Mark Thomason (James Cordell), Maria Quiban (Gloria Torres), Brent Hinkley (Cab Driver), Natalia Ongaro (Receptionist), Amanda Carlin (Office Manager), Ted Rooney (Forensics #1), P.J. Byrne (Forensics #2), Sam Jaeger (Deputy), Derric Nugent (L.A.P.D. Officer).
       Synopsis: Still recovering from a heart transplant, a retired FBI profiler returns to service when his own blood analysis offers clues to the identity of a serial killer.
      Comment: Interesting premise is occasionally undone by lapses in logic and implausibilities. The production also feels a little too routine. Eastwood is as charismatic as ever in the lead role, but as director, he fails to inject sufficient suspense, even in its finale. The strongest moments are the character conflicts that arise during the story – notably Eastwood and his doctor Huston as well as with the two cops (Rodriguez and Walsh). It remains an entertaining enough and serviceable mystery despite its flaws.

Book Review – STRIP JACK (1992) by Ian Rankin

STRIP JACK (1990) ***½
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 1992
This edition published by Orion, 2011, 304pp (279pp)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-8356-4
includes an introduction by Ian Rankin and Reading Group Notes.

Blurb: Gregor Jack, MP, well-liked, young, married to the fiery Elizabeth – to the outside world a very public success story. But Jack’s carefully nurtured career plans take a tumble after a ‘mistake’ during a police raid on a notorious Edinburgh brothel. Then Elizabeth disappears, a couple of bodies float into view where they shouldn’t, and a lunatic speaks from his asylum. Initially, Rebus is sympathetic to the MP’s dilemma – who hasn’t occasionally succumbed to temptation? – but with the disappearance of Jack’s wife the glamour surrounding the popular young man begins to tarnish. Someone wants to strip Jack naked and Rebus wants to know why…

Ian Rankin’s fourth Rebus book sees the author maturing in his writing and the character of Rebus settling down into the one who would populate the rest of the series. The plot again is singular and Rankin delves into the world of politics as well as again exploring his favourite theme of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of his characters. Whilst the mystery elements are fairly routine – a cast of suspects all with a motive – the real pleasure here is in Rebus’ determination and resilience to see the case through and the fact that he makes mistakes along the way makes the character all the more human. It would be four more books and five more years before the series came of age and stepped beyond its police procedural roots into more complex works of fiction, but the seeds are sown here.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992) ***½
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996)
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002)
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Book Review – HIDE AND SEEK (1990) by Ian Rankin

HIDE AND SEEK (1990) ***
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 1990
This edition published by Orion, 2011, 278pp (261pp)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-8354-0
includes an introduction by Ian Rankin and Reading Group Notes.

Blurb: A junkie lies dead in an Edinburgh squat, spreadeagled, cross-like on the floor, between two burned-down candles, a five-pointed star daubed on the wall above. Just another dead addict – until John Rebus begins to chip away at the indifference, treachery, deceit and sleaze that lurks behind the facade of the Edinburgh familiar to tourists. Only Rebus seems to care about a death which looks more like a murder every day, about a seductive danger he can almost taste, appealing to the darkest corners of his mind…

Ian Rankin’s second Rebus book is an interesting read when reading out of sequence in the series. Rankin was still a relatively inexperienced novelist at this point, as he readily acknowledges in his own introduction to the book, and the Rebus we see here is not yet the fully formed version that we see in later books. Here we meet Superintendent ‘Farmer’ Watson for the first time, whilst Rebus enjoys G&T and wine rather than his pint of heavy and listens to jazz rather than rock. The mystery itself is interesting and sees Rankin begin to tackle social themes as well as have the newly promoted Rebus solve the case. The book is relatively short compared to the more layered later novels and resists the temptation to expand into sub-plots. In that respect, this is a tightly written police procedural but it would be a few more books before Rankin would really find his stride.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992)
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996)
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002)
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Book Review – RED BONES (2009) by Ann Cleeves

RED BONES (2009) ***½
by Ann Cleeves
First published by Macmillan, 2009
This edition published by Pan Books, 2015, 406pp (392pp)
ISBN: 978-1-4472-7446-9
includes 12-page preview of BLUE LIGHTNING.

Blurb: When an elderly woman is shot in what appears to be a tragic accident, Shetland detective Jimmy Perez is called to investigate the mystery. The sparse landscape and the emptiness of the sea have bred a fierce and secretive people. As Jimmy looks to the islanders for answers, he finds instead two feuding families whose envy, greed and bitterness have lasted generations. Then there’s another murder and, as the spring weather shrouds the island in claustrophobic mists, Jimmy must dig up old secrets to stop a new killer from striking again…

The third book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez is a slow-burning mystery. Cleeves takes great care in growing her characters and making them feel real and this is key to the readers’ investment in the mystery. Whilst this approach can often slow the pace in a book with a relatively small cast of suspects, it does help create a sense of place. Cleeves also has the knack of cleverly ratcheting up the tension without the reader noticing it and you can feel yourself being drawn in as the book progresses. Perez is a detective who may lack charisma but has integrity and a sense of moral justice on his side. Much time is given to his sidekick, the raw and naive Sandy Wilson, whose character grows significantly through the book. The result is a good old-fashioned mystery with all the elements present.

Book Review – THE FALLS (2001) by Ian Rankin

THE FALLS (2001) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 2001
This edition published by Orion, 2011, 498pp (475pp)
ISBN: 978-1-4072-4759-5
includes an introduction by Ian Rankin and Reading Group Notes.

The Falls (A Rebus Novel)Blurb: A student has gone missing in Edinburgh. She’s not just any student, though, but the daughter of well-to-do and influential bankers. There’s almost nothing to go on until DI John Rebus gets an unmistakable gut feeling that there’s more to this than just another runaway spaced out on unaccustomed freedom. Two leads emerge: a carved wooden doll in a toy coffin, found in the student’s home village, and an internet role-playing game. The ancient and the modern, brought together by uncomfortable circumstance…

The 12th book in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series is an intriguing mystery that confirmed Rankin’s position in the premier league of crime writers. Four years and four books on from the breakthrough Black and Blue, this is confidently written and demonstrates Rankin’s total mastery of his characters. He even manages to give Rebus a love interest in this story who is also integral to the plot, which adds an additional dimension. The book also sees Gill Templar’s promotion to Detective Chief Superintendent, creating a different boss/Rebus dynamic, given their involvement together earlier in the series. Rankin also gives a greater role to DC Siobhan Clark and highlights her inner turmoil at balancing career aspirations with her leaning toward Rebus’ maverick methods. Rankin also brings DC Grant Hood and DS Ellen Wylie more into the mix with a subplot surrounding their competitiveness in advancing their careers. The characterisations are given depth and motivation, which is explored to the full. Slimy journalist Steve Holly, however, is maybe a tad stereotypical.  At 475 pages, the novel may seem a little over-extended, but it allows the characters to develop and the intricacies of the plot to unfold at a steady rate. The book is never boring as even in its slow passages the writing and introspection are very strong. Only in the finale do we see Rankin fall into more conventional territory.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991)
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992)
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996)
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002)
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Book Review – ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) by Lawrence Osborne

ONLY TO SLEEP (2018) ***
by Lawrence Osborne
Hardback published by Hogarth, 2018. 250pp.
ISBN: 978-1-7810-9057-2

Image result for Only to Sleep: A Philip Marlowe NovelBlurb: The year is 1988. The place, Baja California. Private Investigator Philip Marlowe – now in his seventy-second year – has been living out his retirement in the terrace bar of the La Fonda hotel. Sipping margaritas, playing cards, his silver-tipped cane at the ready. When in saunter two men dressed like undertakers. With a case that has his name written all over it.  At last Marlowe is back where he belongs. His mission is to investigate Donald Zinn – supposedly drowned off his yacht, leaving a much younger and now very rich wife. Marlowe’s speciality. But is Zinn actually alive? Are the pair living off the spoils? 

This is the fourth attempt to continue Raymond Chandler’s legacy of private investigator Philip Marlowe. None of these works has come anywhere near to replicating the best of Chandler’s work. First, there were two books by Robert B. Parker – Poodle Springs (1989) and Perchance to Dream (1991) – the former completing an unfinished Chandler manuscript, the latter a disappointing sequel to Chandler’s first Marlowe novel,  The Big Sleep (1939). Then in 2014, John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) produced The Black-Eyed Blonde, which was a pretty good sequel to Chandler’s masterpiece The Long Goodbye (1953). Now we have Lawrence Osborne’s take on Marlowe with Only to Sleep. Osborne has taken the brave decision to write about an ageing Marlowe, 72-years old here. This gives him the opportunity to introduce even more world-weariness into the character. A physically spent force, Marlowe now needs a cane to help him get around. Coaxed out of retirement to investigate a suspicious insurance claim, Marlowe goes to Mexico to find the truth. The book has a slow, deliberate pace which allows Osborne to share Marlowe’s anachronistic view of the world. However, his observations are merely those of a tired old man and lack the bite of his younger self. That may have been Osborne’s intention, to show how age has dulled Marlowe’s caustic cynicism. But much of the charm of Chandler’s creation is lost in the process. So whilst, as per convention, the story is written in the first person from Marlowe’s point of view, it doesn’t feel like this is the same man that inhabited Chandler’s novels  – or even those of Parker and Black. There is little of the biting wit we expect. The mystery itself is less a mystery and more a manhunt. There is also nothing in the unravelling of the plot elements that will surprise the reader. Osborne does, however, capture the hot, sleazy atmosphere of Mexico in the 1980s, drawing on his own experiences. Taken as a detective story, the writing is good and mercifully the page count is traditionally light and we are left with a competent detective novel, for which the only real distinction is its use of an iconic name to sell it.