Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Wind and Wuthering.

     (From my sketchbook.)
Its the anniversary of my old chum Anthony today. Four years ago he left us and it seems like only yesterday. we were friends for such a long time and got under each others skin and way of thinking, despite being so different and disagreeing on so much, that I still frame so much of what I see and hear in the context of "what would Anthony think of that?"
          All my closest friends are different in their own ways, from sexual preferences to political outlooks, but our friendships are based on that most crucial of prisms to view things through;
          Friendship and good fellowship.
          We miss you Anthony. You went too soon.
          We were supposed to be those two old guys sitting in the corner of the pub arguing about all sorts of nonsense; Was the definitive Genesis line-up the one with Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins? Am I a lifelong Smiths fan or technically a Morrissey fan? Was Only Fools And Horses responsible for Brexit? How come David Bowie called to Bing Crosby's house to stand around the piano singing Little Drummer Boy? Did Alice Cooper live next door and he meant to call there? Could the world accept a Doctor Who from Ardoyne?
            Same night. Same chairs and table.
            Only the arguments change.
            Good Craic.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Top Of The Fireplace.

                             Took this photo of the books sitting on my old fireplace. I did
                                                      realise I was actually in it too.

The Sittaford Mystery

               An Isolated country house in the snow.
              A seance.
              A murder.
              A small village nearby where the murderer most likely hides in plain sight.
              This was an atmospheric thriller and murder mystery, replete with all the tropes that have made Agatha Christie so well loved and much read. There is no Poirot in this novel and there is no Ms Jane Marple. Just a loose ensemble of characters who may or may not be the leads. Indeed the investigation is driven by a character driven by the strong desire to protect someone who is too wily to see the danger they are in. Dartmoor; What a great location for such events as a chilling murder mystery (Well, I did say "in the snow", b'wah Hah!) with possible supernatural ingredients.
               It begins with a message from beyond the veil. When a playful seance becomes a precursor to a brutal slaying, when Captain Trevelyan (what a very Dartmoorish name.) is thumped over the head with a sandbag.
                Captain Trevelyan. In his study. With a sandbag.
                It all sounds very Cluedo does it not? Or is it that Cluedo sounds very Sittaford Mystery?
                Very enjoyable mystery. To think I wasted so many years not reading Agatha Christie because I foolishly believed them to written for old ladies with blue rinses in their hair.
                 Funny how times change. Now it is all the young ladies who have blue rinses in their hair.

The Big Bow Mystery.

A "Gaslight" crime novel, a murder mystery involving a murdered man, his throat cut, in a locked room with no sign of a killer or murder weapon and two startled witnesses of an impossible thing. This is the book which introduced a genre within a genre., written in the 1890s and serialized in a newspaper.  The Big Bow Mystery is a book which is 160 pages long but which somehow feels so much longer. Something to do with the style of writing, densely packed with witty insights and well written and lively character dialogue, that certainly felt very real to me. Not unlike Charles Dickens lovely period dialogue and yet a shade swarthier. I think the feeling of an extended page count has everything to do with how Israel Zangwill's writing off course and not the intricacies of the mystery of how a man got his throat cut in a room where he was alone and it not be a suicide.
               Anyway, the story is this; A well liked, respected and valued young man and as such there are few suspects. There are even less clues as to the identity of the killer or even the reason for the killing. It is a mystery, a proper Victorian gaslight mystery set in fog bound London, a city perched on the edge of the abyss. The characterization is so layered and a little hard to follow at times, the Olde Londone dialects being what they were (its even more Yoda-speak than Northern Irish English.) The whole tone of the novel is not unlike the episodes of The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes I have been lucky enough to find on Youtube. I Had never heard of Israel Zangwill before I discovered The Big Bow Mystery. Being thinly read and exercising little discretion in my choice of reading matter or even direction in book collecting I am constantly coming across authors and genres I am unfamiliar with. Sometimes this means I find gems and neglected treasures, other times...well, I do not.
              ..and in this case I am glad to say this was a wee treasure. I enjoyed these one hundred and sixty pages written by a writer some in his day called "The Jewish Dickens." He had recorded his experiences of having grown up a Jew in the Victorian era in his book "Children Of The Ghetto", a portrait of the East End Jewish community. I have nor read it but believe it was widely regarded as an accurate record of his life and times of that particular location and era. Perspective is all and yet sometimes it takes courage to record things as they actually are rather than how we wish them to be. A very modern problem for many journalists in our own era. Starvation, cold and homelessness were every day factors those who lived in this area of London faced on a daily basis. Nature itself is not kind and neither were the societal structures of that time.
              This was the age of gaslight crime stories, an era which covered the period between 1887 and the outbreak of The First World War which changed the world forever. Yet during this period dozens of weekly periodicals, publications and monthly magazines regularly featured crime stories and some enduring literary legends were born. A rich vein was unearthed that remains viable to this day as The Big Bow Mystery quite rightly proves.

The Master Of Callous.

Probably the biggest surprise for me last year from Big Finish was the War Master boxed Set. The surprise being how damn fine it was. I knew it was going to be good, with Derek Jacobi revisiting the role he occupied oh so briefly in the television episode Utopia, that of The Master. what I did not expect was how much I was to enjoy it and the magnificent shadow it threw over most Doctor Who related stuff released anywhere near it. Not that I enjoyed those stories, comics or books any less just was dazzled by the sheer cheek of the whole enterprise. They reached for the stars and reached them.
              Derek Jacobi and the rest of the cast of that first boxed set were just superb and the writing and production were just sublime.
              And by Jove, and a whole host of Olympians, they have done it again. The Time War exists at the darkest fringes of the shared Whoniverse and these stories would probably have been too dark for the particular time slot the television series favours. The subject matter requiring a degree of editorial bravery to rise to the challenge of telling the tales that would do justice to the most dreadful conflict of all. The War Doctor with John Hurt and Jaqueline Pearce were equally adept at achieving this, for slices of boxed perfection that blended seamlessly into the continuity set up in the Day Of The Doctor. Now, unbelievably, both gone, leaving a space on the stage it is hard to imagine ever being filled.
               Derek Jacobi, as The Master, with more room and time to breath, the character displays levels of a beguiling charm that is deadly and masks a demonically playful and cruel streak. In the way that The Doctor is the best friend we could wish for The Master is the frenemy we could do without. There are moments in Derek Jacobi's performance when you wish to believe that he has changed his ways, that he has the betterment of his fellow beings at heart. You listen as he enhances the life quality of of the inhabitants of Callous, their joy at the improvements he has brought into their difficult lives on this outpost mining planet. With a voice dripping with sincerity and good natured bonhomie he extols the dangers of believing in fairy tales and stories where the good always win. You have to remind yourself, as the listener, that in these stories we are not travelling with The Doctor, that even the happiest of endings is dripping with innocent blood. One of the mostb terrifying aspects of Derek Jacobi's turn as The Master is his ability to perform generous and even humane acts in order to draw the innocent and the desperate into his complex and dangerous webs of conspiracy. This makes the moments when he turns and discards all those who have trusted him and even come to depend upon him all the more shocking
             Two scripts by James Goss , two scripts by Guy Adams, seamlessly weilded together, although it has to be said the second pair of stories take the uncomfortable set up from the first two into nightmarishly exciting territories. The third part in particular emerges as a full on haunted house in space story for a very likeable character who finds themselves in a hopeless position. It is a gripping example of just how good Big Finish have become at providing atmospheric and powerful drama.
               I had expected four seperate tales in this boxed set. Stories that would have The Master tripping through space and time  being charming and deadly in equal measure. The Master Of Callous is so much more than that. It is one big tale , one that resonates like a Joseph Conrad novel, a trip down a dark river where a demented but genius level Kurtz sits waiting for us at the centre of a spider's web, where every thread we follow is poisoned and we realise too late that our trusted guide was a monster all along.

Missy Masterminds.

                               "What a conceited bunch those screechy little bad tempered pepper
                                          pots are. Like they would honestly know a Master Plan
                                                     if it came up and bumped against their
                                                               round little heads."

A Boy And His Dog At The End Of The World.

                                  This is an advanced reading copy, please be careful NOT
                                               to reveal its secrets to new readers.
..Oh yes, this is what it said on the cover of the proof copy of C.A.Fletcher's new book..Like a health warning on the side of a cigarette packet. By the way, both warnings are worth taking seriously. For very different reasons off course, both yielding very different outcomes. Everyone wins when a cigarette health warning is heeded. A spoiler free rewards forthcoming readers, so in order to respect this request this could prove to be a very short review. that said, here is some food for thought...
               Gris, the main character , is a young boy growing up with his family on a remote Scottish island, growing up in a world in which mankind had very narrowly scraped through an extinction level event; The Gelding. Mankind has stopped reproducing, or rather cannot reproduce. So over a relatively short but significant amount of time  mankind has for all intent stepped down from his place as the dominant species on the planet. A planet which does not miss us and which nature very quickly reclaims. reclaiming her territory and growing over everything it has taken mankind centuries to build, civilization reduced to a momentary hiccup.
                There is so much to recommend this novel, much of which cannot be said out of respect to C.A. Fletcher and his desire to entertain and excite the reader(Yep, the book is that good.) illuminating the storyline with great skill and in a manner  which elevates this novel to the list of must reads.
(Charlie Fletcher's Oversight trilogy is
also well worth picking up.)

Derby Days.

                                            Like I needed an excuse to wear a green derby.