Book Review – IN A HOUSE OF LIES (2018) by Ian Rankin

IN A HOUSE OF LIES (2018) ***½
by Ian Rankin
Published by Orion, 2018, 372pp
ISBN: 978-1-4091-7691-6

Blurb: Everyone has something to hide… A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched. Everyone has secrets… Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth. Nobody is innocent… Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

The 22nd book in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series sees the retired detective feeling his age as his deteriorating health leads him to quit smoking and limit his drinking. Bored, he grasps at the opportunity to help his former partner, DI Siobhan Clarke, by re-investigating an old case. Meanwhile, Clarke herself is deeply embroiled in a murder investigation whilst fighting off an internal enquiry into her conduct.

Rankin steers away from any major political and social issues and concentrates on the mechanics of the two cases. The murder mystery involves a high-ranking businessman and a film producer as well as two corrupt cops, giving the novel a few narrative strands to weave together. Of course, there is a link between these threads and Rebus again locks horns with his nemesis Big “Ger” Cafferty who is tied to both.

Nothing too surprising here, just another well-written crime mystery by a writer who knows his craft. It’s difficult to see where Rankin will take his lead character as he ages in retirement and struggles with ill-health.

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

Film Review – ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Related imageEscape from New York (1981; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 99m) ***½  d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Nick Castle; ph. Dean Cundey, George D. Dodge; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, John Stobel, Bob Minor, John Diehl, George “Buck” Flower. In 1997, when the US President crashes into Manhattan, now a giant max. security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in for a rescue. Cult classic may have dated, notably in the visual effects, but still has much to enjoy. Russell deftly essays Clint Eastwood in his portrayal of Snake Plissken. Good support cast of oddball characters and some nice tongue-in-cheek touches from director/co-writer Carpenter. Grimy and decadent representation of Manhattan as a prison city is well realised. Followed by ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996). [15]

Film Review – BRANNIGAN (1975)

Image result for brannigan 1975Brannigan (1975; UK; Colour; 111m) ***  d. Douglas Hickox; w. Christopher Trumbo, Michael Butler, William P. McGivern, William W. Norton; ph. Gerry Fisher; m. Dominic Frontiere.  Cast: John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, Mel Ferrer, Ralph Meeker, John Vernon, Lesley-Anne Down, Barry Dennen, Brian Glover, James Booth, Daniel Pilon, John Stride, Arthur Batanides, Pauline Delaney, Del Henney. An American detective is sent to London to bring back an American mobster who is being held for extradition. Nice twist on the fish-out-of-water formula with Wayne coasting on his charisma. Attenborough also adds a sprightly performance to this otherwise routine crime action thriller. Hickox directs with some flair although his shooting in London often resembles a tourist film capturing as many iconic shots as possible. [15]

Book Review – IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993) by Max Allan Collins

IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993) ****
by Max Allan Collins (based on the screenplay written by Jeff Maguire)
Published by HarperCollins, 1993, 262pp
ISBN: 0-00-647856-5

Image result for in the line of fire max allan collinsBlurb: It was his job to safeguard the destiny of the nation. But at the crucial moment, Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan was a split second too late. Now, after a lifetime of second thoughts and second guesses, Frank Horrigan is about to get a second chance. And this time, he’ll be ready.

Movie novelisations were a common site on paperback shelves back in the days before home video. At the time they were the only way to relive a movie in the comfort of your own home as films would, as a rule, not be screened on TV for at least 5 years after the release date. This particular book was published in 1993 to coincide with the release of the Clint Eastwood vehicle directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The film is one of Eastwood’s very best. A taut, suspenseful and efficiently made thriller. Eastwood’s significant screen presence and charisma gave depth and likeability to a character carrying years of guilt about not having been able to prevent the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963.

Here, Jeff Maguire’s lean screenplay has been worked into a novel by popular pulp writer Max Allan Collins. The result is a book that is as slick as the movie. Collins’ prose style effectively captures the narrative drive of Petersen’s movie. It is told mainly from the perspective of the two protagonists – Frank Horrigan and wacko Mitch Leary, who is out to extract revenge on the US Government by killing the President. It is difficult to convey John Malkovich’s creepy performance as Leary on the printed page, but for anyone who has seen the movie the imprint of Eastwood and Malkovich will loom large over the crackling dialogue between the two characters as Leary leads Horrigan on a cat-and-mouse chase. There are one or two elements that vary from the final film presented on screen, presumably changes that had been made to Maguire’s screenplay on set, but overall this is a thoroughly entertaining and quick read that accurately captures the excitement of the movie.

Book Review – KILLER INTENT (2018) by Tony Kent

KILLER INTENT (2018) **½
by Tony Kent
Published by Elliott and Thompson Ltd., 2018, 530pp
ISBN: 978-1-78396-382-9

36570437Blurb: When an attempted assassination sparks a chain reaction of explosive events across London, Britain’s elite security forces seem powerless to stop the chaos threatening to overwhelm the government. As the dark and deadly conspiracy unfolds, three strangers find their fates entwined: Joe Dempsey, a deadly military intelligence officer; Sarah Truman, a CNN reporter determined to get her headline; and Michael Devlin, a Belfast-born criminal barrister with a secret past. As the circle of those they can trust grows ever smaller, Dempsey, Devlin and Truman are forced to work in the shadows, caught in a life-or-death race against the clock, before the terrible plot can consume them all.

Enjoyment of this book will depend pretty much on your willingness to buy into the increasingly implausible plot presented. The story has its twists and turns, but none of these came as a surprise and the motivation and actions of the chief villain of the piece increasingly defied logic. Kent has two strong heroes in Dempsey and Devlin and a gutsy heroine in Truman. However, the latter character takes an increasingly back-seat role, having been the conduit for the early action. The book then descends into a stereotypical chase with a hostage/shootout climax that is somehow unfulfilling.

The book could have been more tightly edited. There is not enough in terms of plot progression and characterisation to warrant a 530-page count. The motivations of the characters are drawn out and repeated through long monologues. The book is essentially pulp-fiction and in that genre quantity does not necessarily directly correlate with quality. Here, readers have too much time to think and absorb and that enables them to dwell on the plot’s incredulities. That said, there are moments of promise and Kent may well go on to refine his skills as the series progresses – there is a swift set-up for follow-up stories in this tale’s closing pages. He has a good handle on action scenes, which will ensure his writing remains popular with a like-minded readership.

Unfortunately, the moments of promise are undermined by its preposterous plot resulting in a book that both pleases and frustrates at the same time.

TV REVIEW – JACK RYAN – SEASON ONE (2018)

Image result for jack ryan season oneJack Ryan – Season One (2018; USA; Colour; 1 x 65m, 7 x 42m-51m) ****  pr. Nazrin Choudhury, José Luis Ecolar, Robert Phillips; d. Morten Tyldum, Daniel Sackheim, Patricia Riggen, Carlton Cuse; w. Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland, Stephen Kronish, Daria Polatin, Patrick Aison, Annie Jacobsen, Nazrin Choudhury, Nolan Dunbar; ph.  Richard Rutkowski, Checco Varese, Christopher Faloona; m. Ramin Djawadi.  Cast: John Krasinski, Abbie Cornish, Wendell Pierce, Ali Suliman, Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez, Dina Shihabi, Karim Zein, Nadia Affolter, Jordi Mollà, Arpy Ayvazian, Adam Bernett, Amir El-Masry, Goran Kostic, Eileen Li, Mena Massoud, Victoria Sanchez, Marie-Josée Croze, John Hoogenakker, Shadi Jahno, Zarif Kabier, Kevin Kent, Brittany Drisdelle, Shailene Garnett, Matt McCoy, Maxime Robin, Kenny Wong, Chadi Alhelou, Jonathan Bailey, Jamil Khoury, Stéphane Krau, Al Sapienza, Kareem Tristan Alleyne, Ron Canada, Michael Gaston, Matthew Kabwe, Yani Marin, Laurean Adrian Parau, Kaan Urgancioglu, Jessica Abruzzese, Numan Acar, Mehdi Aissaoui. When CIA analyst Jack Ryan stumbles upon a suspicious series of bank transfers his search for answers pulls him from the safety of his desk job and catapults him into a deadly game of cat and mouse throughout Europe and the Middle East, with a rising terrorist figurehead preparing for a massive attack against the US and her allies. Impressively mounted reworking of Tom Clancy’s hero as an ex-marine with a past thrown back into the field to hunt down the terrorist leader, whilst trying to protect the leader’s defecting wife and children. Action scenes are well handled and for the most part the script is both intelligent and suspenseful, only occasionally lapsing into genre conventions. Krasinski is good as the latest actor to take on the role of the eponymous hero with Pierce equally good as his superior. Suliman manages to convey menace with a deeper rooted motivation as the terrorist leader, making him a three-dimensional character.  Certain elements of the background stories are left unresolved signalling a second season will follow. [15]

Book Review – RIDING THE RAP (1995) by Elmore Leonard

RIDING THE RAP by ELMORE LEONARD (1995, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 326pp) ***

Riding the Rap by [Leonard, Elmore]Blurb: Palm Beach playboy Chip Ganz needs money – fast. He has spiralling debts, and his mother’s gravy-train has just derailed. So he has a plan: he’s going to find somebody rich, and take them hostage. With the help of an ex-con, a psycho gardener and the beautiful psychic Reverend Dawn, he chooses bookmaker Harry Arno as the lucky victim. The trouble is, Harry can scam with the best of them. And that’s not the only problem. US Marshal Raylan Givens is sleeping with Harry’s ex girlfriend, Joyce, and she wants Harry found. And when everyone’s got a gun, someone is going to get hurt …

Elmore Leonard’s second novel to feature Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens lacks the scope of the first, 1993’s Pronto. It is, however, still an entertaining read filled with Leonard’s trademark characters. The character of bookmaker Harry Arno returns from that book and plays a major part in the story here. The plot again is slight – revolving around a kidnapping scam where the victim is asked to pay for their own release. Raylan is quickly onto the gang and most of the book is spent on detailing how the gang unravel as personal greed and personality clashes take over. Leonard has a fantastic ear for dialogue and his writing style is as efficient as ever. Whilst Riding the Rap won’t sit high in his overall output, it further confirms the potential in his main protagonist, something that Leonard would explore further in his novella, Fire in the Hole and would be taken into the TV series Justified. This novel would be adapted into the third episode of the first season of the series with changes to characters.

Raylan Givens books by Elmore Leonard:
Pronto (1993) ***½
Riding the Rap (1995) ***
Fire in the Hole (novella) (2002) – the basis for Justified.
Raylan (2012) ***½

Film Review – KEY LARGO (1948)

Key Largo (1948; USA; B&W; 100m) ****  d. John Huston; w. Richard Brooks, John Huston; ph. Karl Freund; m. Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade. A man visits his old friend’s hotel and finds a gangster running things. As a hurricane approaches, the two end up confronting each other. Tense thriller extracts maximum impact from its strong cast who are well directed by Huston. Bogart and Robinson’s antagonistic interplay is electric, whilst Trevor also excels as Robinson’s alcoholic mistress. Bacall and Barrymore offer good support. Rousing Steiner score and effective photography from Freund give added atmosphere to the production, which at times betrays its static stage roots until its exciting climax on the fog bound ocean. Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson. [PG]

Film Review – DARK PASSAGE (1947)

Image result for dark passage 1947Dark Passage (1947; USA; B&W; 106m) ***½  d. Delmer Daves; w. Delmer Daves; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson. A man convicted of murdering his wife escapes from prison and works with a woman to try and prove his innocence. An overly contrived, if admittedly engrossing and entertaining, plot relying on too much coincidence is all but overcome by the strong cast and technical accomplishments. Using the camera as the protagonist’s point-of-view for over half its running time, the gimmick seems a little forced. Bogart doesn’t physically appear until over an hour into the story, but Bacall holds the screen well and their star chemistry is still apparent. Hickox’s photography using the San Francisco locations and dark streets is moodily effective. Daves directs his own screenplay adaptation with a sure hand and uses hand-held cameras to good effect. Moorehead stands out in the supporting cast as a schemer. Based on the novel by David Goodis. [PG]

Book Review – THE FALLEN (2017) by Ace Atkins

THE FALLEN by ACE ATKINS (2017, Corsair, 358pp) ****
Blurb: Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson had to admit he admired the bank robbers. A new bank was hit almost every week, and the robbers rushed in and out with such skill and precision it reminded him of raids he’d led back in Afghanistan and Iraq when he was an army ranger. In fact, it reminded him so much of the techniques in the Ranger Handbook that he couldn’t help wondering if the outlaws were former Rangers themselves. And that was definitely going to be a problem. If he stood any chance of catching them, he was going to need the help of old allies, new enemies, and a lot of luck. The enemies he had plenty of. It was the allies and the luck that were going to be in woefully short supply.

The seventh book in Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is a strong character driven entry. Its interesting to note that many TV series these days take on season long stories with arcs across their seasons. This was to give the TV series the feel of a novel and explore in depth character as well as plot and sub-plot. Well, we seem to have come full circle as Atkins’ series deftly transfers the concept of cross-season story arcs into his novel series, so with this book we are left on something of a cliffhanger, which leads us to look forward to the next instalment.

Atkins has grown in confidence with the series and this book, whilst it may be light on central plot, is driven by the many sub-plots that lie beneath. This allows him to invest time into his characters, with greater exploration of Colson’s reformed sister Caddy and the new owner of the lap-dancing bar, Fannie Hathcock, in particular. There is also a new love interest for Quinn in the form of Maggie Wilcox, who happens to have a direct link into the central plot as well. The book is also a turning point in the career of Quinn’s deputy, Liilie Virgil.

Atkins writes with great assurance and the dialogue is sparky and humorous; reminiscent of one of his heroes – Elmore Leonard. This then, is another excellent entry in a series that just gets better and better.

The Quinn Colson series:
The Ranger (2011) ***
The Lost Ones (2012) ***
The Broken Place (2013) ***
The Forsaken (2014) ***½
The Redeemers (2015) ****
The Innocents (2016) ***½
The Fallen (2017) ****
The Sinners (2018)