THE SECRET by KATERINA DIAMOND (2016, Avon, 404pp) ***
Blurb: When Bridget Reid wakes up in a locked room, terrifying memories come flooding back of blood, pain, and desperate fear. Her captor knows things she’s never told anyone. How can she escape someone who knows all of her secrets? As DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles search for Bridget, they uncover a horrifying web of abuse, betrayal and murder right under their noses in Exeter. And as the past comes back to haunt her, Grey must confront her own demons. Because she knows that it can be those closest to us who hurt us the most.
Diamond’s follow-up to The Teacher treads much of the same ground with its penchant for graphic body horror and sexual violence. Here we delve deeper into DS Imogen Grey’s past and the case that haunts her from two years earlier becomes entwined with her current investigation. Diamond’s plot calls on the reader to accept a lot of coincidental twists, which stretch the credibility of the narrative. If you can accept these, then the book will give you an absorbing read. Others may find these contrivances distracting from an otherwise well-written crime thriller from a talented writer. The book leaves enough room for Diamond to further explore her characters and a third book in the series, The Angel, was published last year.
Hell is a City (1960; UK; B&W; 98m) ***½ d. Val Guest; w. Val Guest; ph. Arthur Grant; m. Stanley Black. Cast: Stanley Baker, John Crawford, Donald Pleasence, Maxine Audley, Billie Whitelaw, Joseph Tomelty, George A. Cooper, Geoffrey Frederick, Vanda Godsell, Charles Houston. A police inspector pursues a dangerous jewel thief. Fast-paced and atmospheric crime thriller shot on location in and around Manchester. Baker is excellent as the driven detective on the hunt for Crawford. Director Guest works efficiently with a strong supporting cast (notably Pleasence as a tight-fisted bookmaker and Whitelaw as his promiscuous wife) and witty dialogue. Exciting rooftop climax adds to the suspense. Based on the novel by Maurice Procter. [PG]
Life (2017; USA; Colour; 104m) *** d. Daniel Espinosa; w. Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick; ph. Seamus McGarvey; m. Jon Ekstrand. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, Alexandre Nguyen. A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth. Derivative sci-fi horror adds nothing new to the genre but is a professional and competent chiller. The visual effects are excellent and the cast is strong, but there is little in the material for them to work with outside of the admittedly tense conventional thrills. If you’ve seen ALIEN, you’ll recognise the by-the-numbers plot mapping. 
THE TEACHER by KATERINA DIAMOND (2016, Avon, 396pp) ***
Blurb: You think you know who to trust? You think you know the difference between good and evil? You’re wrong … The body of the head teacher of an exclusive Devon school is found hanging from the rafters in the assembly hall. Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end. As Exeter suffers a rising count of gruesome deaths, troubled DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must solve the case and make their city safe again. But as they’re drawn into a network of corruption, lies and exploitation, every step brings them closer to grim secrets hidden at the heart of their community. And once they learn what’s motivating this killer, will they truly want to stop him?
Enjoyment of this book depends on how much you buy into Diamond’s dark and macabre world, where every character is tarnished by their past. The plot is highly implausible and at times stretches the reader’s commitment. The themes of abused childhood, torture, rape and the grisly deaths that result are designed to heighten the reader’s emotional commitment to these characters. On this level, it largely succeeds. I found myself continuing to turn the pages in fascination at the horrific nature of the story.
There are no real surprises… this book is not targeted as a mystery, instead it is described as a psychological crime thriller. It’s main theme of revenge applies to more than one of the characters. The heroes are a new detective duo – Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey – both of whom have their own hidden traumas to deal with and have to tangle with secrets within their own force.
It all sounds very bleak and by and large it is. But there are moments where the strong characters cut through and there is promise the duo of Grey and Miles could become an interesting combination for future books. The second in Diamond’s series is The Secret and I will be interested to see how she progresses these characters.
Bancroft (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 4 x 47m) ** pr. Phil Collinson; d. John Hayes; w. Kate Brooke; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Edmund Butt. Cast: Sarah Parish, Faye Marsay, Amara Karan, Adrian Edmondson, Linus Roache, Adam Long, Ryan McKen, Steve Evets, Charles Babalola, Anjli Mohindra, Lee Boardman, Art Malik, Lily Sacofsky. Detective Superintendent Elizabeth Bancroft (Parrish) is running an operation to against a vicious gang and adopts dubious methods to bring down the brothers who run it. Meanwhile, DS Katherine Stevens (Marsay) is assigned to a cold murder case and finds that there’s more to it than it seems – and that Bancroft has some secrets in her past that may prove difficult to hide. Over-the-top and lacking credibility, this crime drama is the latest in a long line of increasingly dark and contrived series to populate our TV screens. There is something compulsive about the performances of Parrish and Marsay that keeps the viewer going despite the implausibilities, but ultimately this is a cold experience with one twist too many and a finale that satisfies no-one with its calculated approach to demand a sequel. 
Park Avenue Rustlers, The (TV) (1972; USA; Technicolor; 74m) *** d. Jack Arnold; w. Sy Salkowitz; ph. William Cronjager; m. Lee Holdridge. Cast: Dennis Weaver, J. D. Cannon, Eddie Albert, Roddy McDowall, Diana Muldaur, Brenda Vaccaro, Lloyd Bochner, Norman Fell, Terry Carter. A partner poses as McCloud’s lover to help him infiltrate a car-theft ring. Strong entry in NBC’s McCloud series, which formed part of the Mystery Movie wheel. Veteran Arnold directs with added vigour – notably during the climax involving a hair-raising helicopter stunt. Weaver is excellent, as ever, with his laconic charm and Cannon is a great foil as his world-weary superior. Weaver was actually dangling from the helicopter skid as it left the top of the 20-storey building, having missed the cue to be replaced by a stuntman. [PG]
Starsky and Hutch (TV) (1975; USA; Colour; 73m) *** d. Barry Shear; w. William Blinn; ph. Archie R. Dalzell; m. Lalo Schifrin. Cast: David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser, Michael Lerner, Morgan Sterne, Michael Conrad, Antonio Fargas, Richard Ward, Gilbert Green, Carole Ita White, Don Billett, Gordon Jump, Karen Lamm. The two detectives investigating a double homicide, discover that the man and women who died were mistakenly murdered – it was the detectives themselves who were the intended targets. Pilot movie is a success due to the on-screen chemistry between Glaser’s demonstrative Starsky and Soul’s laid-back Hutch. Plot is okay and there is a well-shot finale pumped along by Schifrin’s score. Grittier than the eventual series and showing its influences to the extent that a barroom interrogation scene is almost a direct lift from THE FRENCH CONNECTION. Followed by a TV series (1975-9) and a big screen adaptation in 2004. 
Passengers (2016; USA; Colour; 116m) **½ d. Morten Tyldum; w. Jon Spaihts; ph. Rodrigo Prieto; m. Thomas Newman. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Inder Kumar, Jamie Soricelli, Vince Foster, Julee Cerda, Robert Larriviere, Barbara Jones. A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. Visually impressive sci-fi thriller/love story pushes all the familiar buttons through its highly contrived plot, which often defies logic. Pratt and Lawrence are appealing enough, but both the romance and the thrills are strictly by the numbers. Also shot in 3-D. 
GET CARTER (formerly JACK’S RETURN HOME) by TED LEWIS (1970, Allison & Busby, 286pp) ****½
Blurb: Doncaster, and Jack Carter is home for a funeral – his brother Frank’s. Frank’s car was found at the bottom of a cliff, with Frank inside. He was not only dead drunk but dead as well. What could have made sensible Frank down a bottle of whisky and get behind the wheel? For Jack, his death doesn’t add up. So he decides to talk to a few people, do some sniffing around. He does, but is soon told to stop. By Gerald and Les, his bosses from the smoke. Not to mention the men who run things in Doncaster, who aren’t happy with Jack’s little holiday at home. They want him back in London, and fast. Now Frank was a mild man and did as he was told, but Jack’s not a bit like that …
Get Carter became a seminal British gangster film on its release in 1971. Few were aware of its source novel, Jack’s Return Home, written by Ted Lewis. The book was one of many violent pulp thrillers written in the sixties and seventies that capitalised on the increasing promiscuity of the time. Jack Carter is a fixer for a London mob returning to his northern hometown to bury his brother. The nature of his brother’s death – supposedly a car accident due to heavy drinking – does not sit with Carter, who knows his brother to be a decent man. His determination to find out the real reason for the death of Frank Carter drives Jack’s violent actions through the book. As he closes the net he seeks retribution on all involved. The book on the surface seems like a standard revenge thriller plot, but there is much to admire in the intricacies of Lewis’ writing and his gradual unravelling of the mystery. Written in the first person, it is testamant to Michael Caine’s portayal that it is his voice you hear. Whilst the movie changed some elements of Lewis’ novel – notably resetting the story in Newcastle and the nature of the climax – it retains the core plot progression and atmosphere. Lewis would write two prequels – Jack Carter’s Law and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pidgeon – but he would never better this prime example of British pulp.
Martian, The (2015; USA; Colour; 141m) **** d. Ridley Scott; w. Drew Goddard; ph. Dariusz Wolski; m. Harry Gregson-Williams. Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan, Mackenzie Davis, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Aksel Hennie, Mark O’Neal, Brian Caspe. An astronaut is stranded on Mars with only meagre supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Engrossing story with an excellent central performance from Damon along with a capable supporting cast. Whilst condensing an epic tale of endurance it may cut some corners, it has a spirit and sense of humour that keeps the viewer enthralled. Use of 1970s disco songs adds to the feel-good factor, which is heightened in true Hollywood fashion during the tense rescue attempt. Based on the novel by Andy Weir. Also shot in 3-D.