When the third part of a trilogy falls a little flat …

Something Nasty in the Woodshed by Kyril Bonfiglioli

mortdecai 3You may remember my enthusiasm for the reprints of the first two wickedly funny and totally non-PC Charlie Mortdecai books by Kyril Bonfiglioli last year; if you don’t, see my write-ups:

I loved them both; the second follows on directly from the first. Originally published in the 1970s, they sent everything up in a Raffles meets James Bond with a Jeeves and Wooster setting, through the adventures of aristo-art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, his manservant ‘thug’ Jock and Bond-girl type wife Johanna.

It’s such a shame then when the third volume in the original trilogy falls flat. (Bonfiglioli did leave another volume unfinished, now completed by Craig Brown, plus a novel of Charlie’s son’s adventures). That’s not to say that the third book wasn’t enjoyable – there were plenty of good jokes in it, but the action took two-thirds of the book to really get going – and in a 168 page novel, when it did happen, it was all quite rushed.  I’ll set the scene a little.

Charlie Mortdecai is sojourning on the island of Jersey, out of the way of those authorities on the British mainland that would otherwise be taking an interest in his affairs. He has rented a house and made friends with his two neighbours and their wives:

George’s Wife
is called Sonia, although her women-friends say that the name on her birth-certificate was probably Ruby… She is a slut and a bitch, every woman can tell this at a glance, so can most homosexuals. … Under a shellac-layer of cultivation and coffee-table books her manners and morals are those of a skilled whore who has succeeded in retiring early and now dedicates her craft to personal pleasure alone. She is very good at it indeed. I dare say.

Charlie, who as always narrates, takes the twenty pages of the first chapter to tell us about Jersey, his new friends, their wives, and the quaint system of policing on the island then. It is chapter two before anything happens, and when it does, it is rather nasty. Sonia is raped by a ‘beast’. The morning after, Charlie seems to be the last to know, Johanna tells him:

‘Course you know you won’t catch him, don’t you?’
I gaped.
‘Catch whom?’
‘The bloke who rogered Mrs Breakspear, of course. Silly bugger, he only had to say please, didn’t he?’

Oh dear… Soon Violet, wife of his other neighbour Sam, is similarly raped. Whereas Sonia takes it in her stride, so to speak, Violet is completely traumatised by the experience and is hospitalized. There are intimations of a satanic connection. Fearing that Johanna will be next – although Charlie knows she can look after herself – the three men and Jock set out to investigate and patrol the parish at night. They liaise with the local Centennier (volunteer Parish policeman) to find out about the local sex-maniacs. Charlie is telling Johanna about them:

‘And in St John’s,’ I ended, ‘there’s a well-respected man who does it with calves: what do you say to that?’
She rolled over onto all fours, her delightful bottom coquettishly raised.
‘Mooo?’ she asked hopefully.
‘Oh, very well.’

La Hougue Bie – Ancient passage grave under a mound which has a chapel built on top. As you can see, it was covered in scaffolding when I visited in 2013!

It then all gets very Bergerac meets Dennis Wheatley, and involves breaking into La Hougue Bie (right) and carrying out a Satanic mass in the de-consecrated half of the (still working) chapel on top which doesn’t end well. Afterwards, Charlie mopes around the house:

Nothing else of any note happened that day except the exquisite curry, throughout which I played records of Wagner: he goes beautifully with curry, the only use I’ve ever found for him.

Everything is eventually resolved, but it did leave a slightly nasty taste in the mouth this time. Lacking the cat and mouse antics of Charlie vs Inspector Martland of the first books, and with the violence being directed at seemingly unconnected people, it certainly wasn’t as much fun despite the jokes and that was a shame.

Those amongst you familiar with Stella Gibbons will recognise that the title comes from the pronouncements of the aged Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm.  This volume of the Mortdecai books was definitely the nastiest so far, but having all five on the shelves I am hoping that the comedy will pick up again in the fourth.   (7/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Don’t Point That Thing at me: The First Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 1)
After you with the pistol: The Second Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 2)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed: The Third Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 3)
All by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Penguin paperbacks – around 200 pages.

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Annabel’s Shelves: A is for …

Arnott, Jake – The Long Firm

Thank you to everyone who suggested authors beginning with ‘A’ for the first read of my Annabel’s Shelves project. Atwood was a very popular suggestion, and I’m sorry to disappoint you but I have read four of her novels already so didn’t choose her this time. Initially, I want to concentrate on new to me authors so I can more fully explore my bookshelves. The author that leapt out at me was Jake Arnott who has written half a dozen well-thought of novels – all of which I have, so he fully deserved a go!  I’d bought the first two of his books after spotting signed paperbacks in Waterstones – this after seeing the BBC’s 2004 adaptation of The Long Firm which starred Mark Strong. The TV mini-series was jolly good – would the book match it?

arnottThe Long Firm is set in ’60s London, and Soho is moving towards its peak of sleaze being full of seedy clubs, porn shops, prozzies, rent-boys and low-lifes. The infamous Kray twins may rule in the East End, but Harry Starks is one of the kings of the roost in the West End and Harry is dangerous. We know that from the opening lines:

‘You know the song, don’t you? “There’s no business like show business”?’ Harry gets the Ethel Merman intonation just right as he heats up a poker in the gas burner.

Yes, we open with a torture scene! Harry has a predilection for this style of justice – not for nothing is he known as the ‘Torture Gang Boss’. Cross him and you’re likely to get taught a lesson you won’t forget. Terry survives, and we’re taken back to the day he met Harry, the day he was chosen as Harry’s next live-in boyfriend. Harry doesn’t flaunt it, but is openly homosexual (not ‘gay’ he insists). Having taken a shine to Terry and installed him in his flat, he kits him out:

I was spoiled rotten. I got to know about haute couture. And that wardrobe was an essential part of the way that Harry operated. Being so well dressed was the cutting edge of intimidation. A sort of decorative violence in itself.

Harry owns the Stardust Club in Soho. The walls are covered in photos of him with minor celebrities, showbiz pals, boxers – he idolises Judy Garland. He rakes in protection money and is always on the look-out for opportunities to expand, whilst being careful not to annoy the Krays too much!

It is after Terry has the audacity to walk out on Harry after one his moods (Harry is bipolar) that Terry’s fate is sealed. Fooled into thinking that all was straight between them, Terry is employed by Harry as foreman at his electrical goods warehouse – it appears legit, but it’s all a scam, ‘a long firm’. Rather than be a patsy, Terry does a deal on the side, which is why he ends up tied to a chair …

Terry’s story is the first of five that make up the novel. Five people who have been involved with Harry each tell their tale.

The second segment is told by Lord Thursby, a new peer who is unhappily married, a closet homosexual and on his uppers. He is introduced to Harry by Tom Driberg (a former MP who in real life was an acquaintance of the Krays).

‘Harry,’ he said, ‘let me introduce you to Lord Thursby.’

His joined-up eyebrows raised as one. I could see he was impressed. Probably took me for full-blooded aristocracy instead of just a kicked-upstairs life peer. There’s a strange sort of bond between the lower-class tearaway and the upper-class bounder. A shared hatred of the middle classes I suppose. He shoved out his hard, adorned with chunky rings and a big gold wristwatch.

Thursby lets himself get flattered into being a consultant on a scheme to build a new town in Nigeria – and naturally it all goes pear-shaped. Along the way, we learn all about demurrage – the cost associated with storing things, and that there are scammers the whole world over. Thursby’s segment is told as diary entries and is blackly comic in tone.

Jack the Hat, a speed-addicted drug-dealer and Ruby Ryder, tart with a heart and wannabe actress, take on the third and fourth parts of the story by which time the character of the West End is beginning to change with the arrival of LSD and hippies, the old-style gangster is not so fashionable any more. Loyalties change and one other constant of this story – Mooney, the bent vice copper becomes a real problem. When other mobsters have to turn Queens Evidence, Harry is soon implicated and ends up in jail. The last section is told by Lenny – a sociology professor who meets Harry in jail where Harry is getting all the education he can to keep his grey matter functioning at the highest level.

Each of the five tales has its own style and each of the five narrators has a clear voice making their experience of dealing with Harry a distinct and personal story – yet the portrait of him is remarkably consistent throughout. Each will see his different moods – mercurial, philanthropic, violent, loving, romantic, thinking, manic and depressed, and ever the boss to be crossed at your peril. Arnott gets the language of each narrator just right – even down to Jack the Hat always getting his grammar wrong saying ‘should of’ not should have!

It is a very violent world, full of sex, drugs … and Judy Garland, naturally Harry adores her. Real characters from the 1960s flit through the novel, other characters are fictional homages to figures such as Kenneth Williams. Together with all the period references, the 1960s is brought to life with tremendous seedy detail. This novel has it all – and I loved it. I’m glad to have read Arnott – he was the perfect start to my project. (10/10)

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Source: Annabel’s Shelves! To explore further on Amazon UK please click below (affiliate link):
The Long Firm by Jake Arnott. (1999) Sceptre paperback, 352 pages.
The Long Firm [DVD] [2004]

Now help me choose a ‘B’ book…

P1020488 (640x480)

I have two and a third shelves of authors beginning with B. Sorry, you probably can’t read them very clearly in the photo, but apart from Pat Barker, Nicola Barker and Christopher Brookmyre of whom I’ve read several, I’ve not read most of the others there. Suggestions welcome!

Scandi-crime time…

Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind

spring-tideOn Thursday 23rd April, it is World Book Night. Once again, I applied to be a ‘giver’. I picked a book from the list, and wrote my case for being awarded a batch of copies to give out. I was delighted to be accepted and even more pleased to get my first choice of book – Spring Tide – the first in a Scandi-crime series by the husband and wife scriptwriting team behind some of Swedish TV’s biggest hits (including adaptations of Martin Beck, Arne Dahl and Wallander).

I had the immense pleasure of meeting Cilla & Rolf Börjlind last summer at an event hosted by their UK publisher Hesperus, and somehow I didn’t get round to writing about it at the time. Cilla & Rolf were absolutely charming and despite my not having watched much of their TV work, they chatted about how they work together – if I remember correctly, they alternate chapters writing and editing, but also one of them will take the lead on a particular character.

Spring Tide is their first novel together and a second featuring the same team, Third Voice, was published last month and is waiting its turn to be read on my bedside table.

Needless to say, given the Börjlinds’ pedigree, Spring Tide arrives fully formed with a fascinating plot full of twists and turns and a pair of investigators that are totally original. But before we get to them, the novel begins back in 1987 with the spectacularly gruesome murder of a pregnant woman, who is buried up to her neck on a beach on the night of the spring tide – she essentially drowns. It’s witnessed by a boy hiding behind the rocks up the beach. It’s a bold start!

We then return to the present and meet Olivia Rönning. Olivia is a police student in Stockholm; her supervisor gives them all a project – to examine a cold case and report back. Olivia chooses the beach-murder – a case her late father had been in charge of; her supervisor isn’t surprised at her choice. It’s hard to get anywhere on the case though, as most of those involved are gone, dead or disappeared. If only Olivia could find Tom Stilton, her father’s colleague, a policeman who dropped out.Meanwhile, there has been spate of attacks on homeless people in Stockholm. The attacks are filmed and posted online. In the latest, they go too far and their victim, known as One-eyed Vera, dies. Her friend Jelle, a homeless man, vows to uncover her killers. Is there a link with Olivia’s case? Olivia, as you might expect, gets totally emotionally involved in the case and begins to investigate it, at great personal risk and we are taken on a roller-coaster ride through the less acceptable sides of Swedish life – from high-class prostitution and corrupt businessmen to the fate of the homeless.

There are certainly echoes of the Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö (my review of the first, Roseanna, here). The Martin Beck books are famed for their emphasis on justice and exposing the bourgeois underbelly of Swedish society. However, whereas Sjöwall & Wahlöö get their cases solved by dogged detective work the Börjlinds, with Olivia and Stilton (once she finds him) being outside the formal police system, are not bound by procedure and consequently the action moves at a greater speed and in a more exciting way, although being over 450 pages long. Rönning and Stilton make a fascinating coupling as an investigating team. Both are damaged in their own ways but are totally different to the usual maverick cops – very refreshing indeed.

Spring Tide was translated by Rod Bradbury who is well-known for translating the best-selling  The 100 year old man… and there was no jarring – I was hooked on this novel from the outset with the result that Spring Tide is probably the best Scandicrime novel I’ve read. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, and I can hand out my copies on World Book Night knowing that I loved reading it. (10/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind. Hesperus, 2014. Paperback, 476 pages.
Third Voice (Ronning & Stilton 2) – Hesperus, March 2015. Paperback, 464 pages.

The first in a long line of crime novels

Naked in Death by J.D.Robb

naked in deathLast week, Victoria over at Tales from the Reading Room wrote a post about Obsession in Death, the latest in J.D.Robb’s long-running crime series featuring detective Eve Dallas. In fact, it turns out that Obsession in Death is the fiftieth in the series! I knew that I had the first novel in the sequence somewhere on my shelves, and felt compelled to dig it out and see how Dallas began…

As Victoria said, Robb/Roberts is known for her philanthropy which is lovely. She is also known for being a writing machine, producing countless novels each year, romances as Roberts, crime as Robb. Naked in Death was published in 1995 – the first of fifty, so that’s two or three per year of this series alone.

Eve Dallas is thirty. She’s a Lieutenant in the NYPSD (the ‘S’ is for Security). At the start of the novel she is called out to a murder – it turns out to be the grand-daughter of a senator who is running for his party nomination on a ‘moral’ ticket. His grand-daughter in one of those f***-you type career choices has been working as a ‘licenced companion’ – a prostitute. The scene is grisly – she was killed with 3 bullets from a hand-gun. There’s a note under the body saying 1 of 6.

Naturally, the senator is all over the department wanting to keep things closed down, but Dallas knows there may be more deaths – and there will be.  The killer seems to be expert at bypassing security systems and leaving no trace, but in true psychopath style he sends Dallas videos.

One of the immediate suspects is Roarke, an Irishman. He’s a tycoon, he owns the building she was killed in, he collects guns – which are now antiques. He has to be a suspect – if only he wasn’t so sexy – because you just know that Dallas and him will end up in the sack for some truly purple prose – lancing spears and all that!

Enough of the plot, for it was entirely predictable, I guessed whodunnit halfway in, but the pieces didn’t fall into place until later.

You don’t really read series like this for the crimes. They’re incidental, you read them for the characters. You hope for some development – and reading between the lines in Victoria’s review I can surmise that apart from Dallas and Roarke ending up married, that little has changed in fifty books. However: Naked is set in 2058; Obsession is set in 2060. So these fifty books move forward just two years.  My – that’s a full case-book of murders for anyone!

Note that near-future timeline. In 2058, guns have been outlawed, become collectors items only. Prostitutes have become legal, licenced. Various gadgets make modern life easier, but as far as I could see offer no improvements in quality of life. None but the rich can afford real coffee. Roarke is planning a space resort – so Richard Branson may continue to dream on. Yet, it’s all too familiar – in a way it’s not futuristic enough in its detail. Apart from the guns, there seemed no need to set it in the future, and even now there are collectors of old firearms – the perp could have used contemporary collectibles.

What of Dallas and Roarke? Well she is of course a feisty superwoman, and Roarke may as well be a superman, not so much Clarke Kent, but Bruce Wayne – his money can buy him anything.  Dallas is damaged goods, abused as a child – holding it all in ever since. Roarke is a chancer who hit lucky and made enough money to go legit.  She is a good policewoman with the appropriate contempt for authority and is not afraid to bend the rules. He is just sickening – too handsome, too rich, too lovey, too much!

So there we have it. Naked in Death combines crime with a steamy romance.  I liked the crime part, and squirmed a bit with the romance. As a whole, I enjoyed reading Naked in Death in exactly the same way as I enjoyed reading The Da Vinci Code. With no expectations, it was very easy to read throwaway grisly fun. (5.5/10)

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Source: Own copy.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link – thank you):
Naked In Death: 1Glory In Death: 2 etc by J.D. Robb. Piatkus paperbacks, around 400 pages.

 

 

Jumping into a new to me crime series…

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

Murder-in-Pigalle-397x600

I usually like to read a series of crime novels from the beginning, to get any back-story in the right order and to see how the recurring characters develop. Sometimes, however, it’s good to jump into a series knowing that if you enjoy a later volume, that you may have the pleasure of reading all the earlier ones to come. This is what I did with Cara Black’s latest crime novel – her fourteenth featuring chic Parisian P.I. Aimée Leduc.

Leduc runs her own detective agency, aided by best friend René and computer hacker Saj. They appear to specialise in cyber-crime, but there’s not much going on at the moment for Aimée is five months pregnant.  Her lover, Melac, doesn’t know – he’s in Brittany near his ex-wife, and where his daughter lies in a coma. Aimée, who has obviously had parent issues of her own, is confused by her own impending motherhood – the baby is beginning to really kick.

A quiet life is not going to be for her though.  In Pigalle, the night-life heart of Paris, a serial rapist is following young girls home from school and raping them, and one has died.  Aimée has been helping Zazie, the young teenaged daughter of her favourite café owner with a school project, and one day she disappears.  Zazie’s mother enlists Aimée’s help as the les flics won’t respond until she’s been missing for 24hrs and awash with hormones Leduc flings herself into the case with a passion and zeal that will land her in big trouble.  It appears that Zazie has been shadowing a man whom she thought was the rapist…

With a sub-plot involving a robbery gone wrong by one of the girls in danger’s fathers, things get quite complicated quite quickly. Leduc finds that none of the parents of the raped girls are telling the full story – whether from guilt, shame or ignorance, and her blundering in puts her in danger too.

It’s hard not to like Aimée.  Think of a pregnant and French V.I.Warshawski and you’re getting there with regard to her character, however she’s not as good a detective as Sara Paretsky’s V.I.  Like most Parisian women, she’s typically BCBG (Bon chic, bon genre) – well as a P.I. maybe less of the BG – but still wouldn’t dream of going anywhere under-dressed, (nearly) every item of clothing has its labels.

The Dior shirt stuck to her back. She had to change. In the back armoire she picked one of Saj’s gifts, a loose, Indian white-cotton shirt – the soft fabric breathed, thank God. She pulled her short jean jacket over it, stepped into an agnès b. cotton-flounced skirt with a drawstring waistband and slipped into a low-heeled pair of sandals.

Black clearly does her homework in Paris for these novels. The detail feels authentic, but using the odd French words and phrases scattered throughout feels a bit unnecessary – the police are nearly always les flics, a bloke is un mec, no-one ever says sorry – it’s always désolé and so on.  If it were a French novel translated into English a translator wouldn’t do this.

Thirteen year old Zazie, although better behaved in general and certainly less potty mouthed, has echoes of Raymond Queneau’s independent spirit of Zazie in the Metro from 1960 (my review here) – I don’t know if that was deliberate or a happy coincidence.

Of course, I missed some of the back-story in her friendship with the dwarf René, her love Melac and her Godfather Morbier a Commissaire in the police, but even without that, this mystery stood pretty well on its own. I don’t know whether I’ll read the whole of the rest of the series, but I will look out for some of the previous titles as it would be fun to get to know Aimée Leduc a little better. (7/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Murder in Pigalle: (Aimee Leduc Investigations) by Cara Black, pub Mar 2014 by Soho Press. Hardback, 310 pages.

Growing Old Disgracefully …

The Little Old Woman Who Broke All The Rules by Catharine Ingelman-Sundberg

the-little-old-lady-who-broke-all-the-rules-978144725061601Let’s get it out of the way. If you enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson as I did, (my review here), I’m certain that you will enjoy this novel.

This is primarily because the two books have the same translator, Rod Bradbury, and the English editions thus share the same writing style.

It is a shame however that the (different) publisher went for a lookalike cover for The LoL, as I shall call it, because that did make me think it was going to be a total cash-in on the 100 YOM’s success, and frankly I was almost put off by it. The LoL, despite initial similarities however, is different enough that I really enjoyed reading it.

The LoL is the story of five old folk, led by 79 year old Martha, who are being shabily treated by the penny-pinching staff of their residential home.  Being kept lightly sedated, virtual prisoners, fed plasticky meals and with coffee and biscuit rations ever decreasing, Martha decides to led a rebellion. To do that they need money. Martha thinks they could hold up a bank initially, but research shows that’s a non-starter.

The next day, while the guests, or the ‘clients’, as they were now called, at Diamond House were drinking their morning coffee in the lounge, Martha thought about what she should do. In her childhood home in Österlen, down in the south of Sweden, people didn’t just sit and wait for somebody else to take action. … The murmur of voices rose and fell all around her as she surveyed the rather shabby lounge. The smell was decidedly reminiscent of the Salvation Army and the furniture seemed to have come straight from the recycling depot. The old grey 1940s building, with its asbestos fibre cement cladding, was like a combination of an old school and a dentist’s waiting room. Surely this wasn’t where she was meant to finish her days, with a mug of weak instant coffee to go with a plastic meal? No, damn it, it certainly was not! Martha breathed deeply, pushed her coffee mug aside and leaned forward to talk to her group of friends.
‘You lot. Come with me,’ she said and gave a sign to her friends to follow her to her room. ‘I have something to talk to you about.’

Martha tells them her plans – and they’re all in!  The first thing is to escape the home though. This achieved, they hole up in a couple of suites in the Grand Hotel (just like the cons in the BBC’s Hustle), where they plan to rob the rich clientele. Having worked out that this won’t generate enough dosh, instead they hatch a clever plan to ransom a valuable painting or two from the city’s art museum. Everything is planned to the last detail; Derren Brown, who used a gang of OAPs to steal a painting in his TV special before Christmas this year would be proud of this lot.

They realise that they may end up in prison, they’ve seen on the telly that in prison they wouldn’t be treated any worse than in their home, and at their age … The caper proves to be so much fun, even when things don’t go totally according to plan, that they get a taste for it and decide to grow old disgracefully.

The LOL is gentler than The 100 YOM. There are no hilarious and ingeniously gory deaths, for instance.  It is also told all the in present, there are no flashbacks to earlier in the gang’s lives – they are rebooting their lives in the here and now.

There is plenty to chortle about, especially in all the character traits of the quintet. Martha, the bossy one, is the natural leader, Brains (real name Oscar) is the – er- brains of the outfit, and inventor.  Rake, a former seaman, is stylish and very much a lady’s man. Then there are her two lady friends, Anna-Greta who is very thin, very tall and very old and Christina, the youngest, who was used to high standards and needs to be persuaded they’re doing the right thing.  Add to them, the sadist Nurse Barbara, an assortment of other criminals, and the bungling police inspector, natch, and our rich cast is near complete.

The central caper was well thought out and great fun. The lasting memories of this novel though will be of five people who had been made geriatric before their time, rediscovering their joie de vivre, alongside a cautionary tale for those with relatives in a home to monitor the home’s performance as well as their loved ones’ well-being. (8/10)

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Source: Review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. Pub 2 Jan 2014 by Pan Books, paperback 438 pages.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Quercus paperback.

The Art of the Comb-over & American Hustle

American Hustle (15)

It is a brave film that spends its opening minutes with its overweight paunchy, balding superstar acting lead perfecting his comb-over.  Christian Bale put on 40 lbs to play Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time Bronx hustler who gets caught by the feds and offered immunity if he helps them in a big scam down in Atlantic City in the late 1970s.

american-hustle-poster-2Bale’s partner in crime is Sydney Prosser played by Amy Adams, who perfects a cut-glass accent as a British aristo with access to a good line of credit to haul in the marks on their get rich quick scheme. Amazingly Sydney falls for Irving – obviously not for his body, but his brain and ability to talk himself out of nearly anything.

The pair get trapped by agent DiMaso – Bradley Cooper in a poodle perm. Together the plan is to take on all the crooked politicians in Atlantic City, led by the likeable Robin-Hood of a Major (Jeremy Renner).

However the scheme gets out of hand when a) the Mafia get involved, and then later when b) Irving’s wife Rosalyn, (Jennifer Lawrence in blonde bombshell mode) can’t keep her mouth shut.

It gets good and twisty, and Irving has to work harder than he has ever done before to tread water and keep the sting alive. There is a magnificent uncredited cameo in the Mafia boss from Miami by … well I’m not going to spill the beans!

Adams and Lawrence are both magnificent – but Lawrence in the smaller part gets the amazing scene in which she is angrily cleaning her house in yellow gloves whilst singing along to Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die.

If hairdos are the main recurring visual (hair-rollers also feature big-time), the soundtrack is to die for – from Steely Dan’s Dirty Work over the opening credits, to Elton John, ELO, David Bowie, plus Horse with no name, White Rabbit, Delilah and I feel love and plenty of jazz too, I was singing along all the way through (I went to the afternoon showing this afternoon which had about 30 people in the big screen).

At 138 minutes it is a little long, and a little self-reverent,  but I revelled in the sheer late 1970s-ness of it, the level of detail was phenomenal, as was the on-going homage to Marty Scorsese. I never thought I’d want a fat, balding guy with a comb-over to survive what I thought would be the inevitable ending either, but by the end of it I did, Bale made Irving almost loveable.

For fans of the late 1970s and Scorsese, American Hustle was fab, and will doubtless get Oscar nominations for its stars.  I really, really enjoyed it.

The game’s afoot once again…

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The vogue for new writers keeping others’ literary characters alive has never been stronger. I would wager that no one character has continued to be written more about than Sherlock Holmes, although James Bond must be getting close.

Most of the non-Fleming Bond novels are, however, officially commissioned by the Fleming estate. This is not the case with Holmes, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily bad at all – Laurie R King’s Mary Russell books in which an ageing Holmes takes on a new female apprentice (my review of the first one here) are rather fab, but unauthorised.

house of silkWhich leads me to Anthony Horowitz’s novel The House of Silk which is fully sanctioned by the ‘Conan Doyle Estate Ltd’ – viz the red seal on the front cover of the hardback edition.

Horowitz will be mostly known to many as a writer of adventure novels for older children – The Alex Rider and Power of Five series are popular and, so I’m told, brilliant fun. He is also, however, the creator of two long-running TV detective series – The Midsomer Murders and the WWII-set Foyle’s War, and has long said that Sherlock Holmes has been his inspiration, so upon reflection – an ideal choice for continuing the Holmesian canon…

This was our November read for book group, and we discussed it last Monday over our Christmas curry outing. Despite a table laden with spicy delights, we did manage to talk a little about the book!

I won’t dwell on the plot suffice to say it is suitably complex, but clues are there, and you do get a sense of certain characters having a bad side to them. All the features you’d expect are present from the Baker Street Irregulars gang of urchins, to the peasouper fogs, opium dens, bent coppers, lots of nasty Victorian gents and murder.

The novel is narrated by Doctor Watson, as are all the Holmes stories.  After Holmes’ death at his home on the Downs, (not the Reichenbach Falls), Watson is recounting some of the stories he has not been able to tell so far, and had been kept in a vault for one hundred years – a neat little device to explain the new stories. (Yes, stories – apparently Horowitz is writing another.)

The book was easy to read, page-turning and thoroughly enjoyable, and everybody in our group liked it.  Indeed, it awakened an enthusiasm in several of us to read some of the originals (again). We would have liked a bit more Victorian detail in the locations, but that was a small quibble.

One thing we did discuss was whom we all envisaged our Holmes to be – you can’t help read a book whose lead character has been filmed so many times without a vision of one of these incarnations popping into your head. For some it was the ‘original’ Basil Rathbone, for others Jeremy Brett, for me Benedict Cumberbatch has superceded any other actor who may have played Sherlock in my mind; no-one went for Robert Downey-Jr.

So great fun and a good addition to the Holmes canon. (8.5/10)

Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel (Sherlock Holmes Novel 1)by Anthony Horowitz (2011), Orion paperback, 416 pages

Jazz Vampires – another case for Peter Grant

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the second novel in Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London‘ series of humorous police procedurals involving magical crimes in contemporary London. If you’ve not read the first volume Rivers of London – head over here to find out about it – for you won’t understand much of what’s going on in the second book otherwise.

moon over soho

Detective Constable Peter Grant is continuing his tutelage as the Metropolitan Police’s only trainee wizard under DCI Nightingale at ‘The Folly’ – the Met’s secret magical crimes unit in Bloomsbury.

He’s called out to look at the body of a saxophonist who dropped dead after a gig in a Soho jazz club – there’s a definite aura of magic, ‘vestigium‘ in the air, typified by riffs from jazz standard Body and soul.  Grant will find that a suspicious number of jazz musicians have died in past years.

Grant recognises the recording of Body and Soul, but can’t place it and heads off to his parents flat.  His father used to be a great trumpet player, but had to stop. No longer able to play his horn, even though he’s retired, Richard ‘Lord’ Grant has turned to keyboards and is contemplating making another comeback.

Then there is a particularly gruesome murder in one of the Soho Clubs, again reeking of magic. They have a suspect but she’s going to be hard to catch. Grant enlists the help of Ash – one of the tributary river-Gods to follow her – but she twigs and Ash nearly ends up like her other victims, but Grant is able to get him back to the river in time by hijacking an ambulance – something that will get him in big trouble.  The murderer gets away though and soon news of another brutal killing comes through …

My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you’re born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train’s pulled into Piccadilly Circus they’ve become a Londoner. He said there were others, some of whom were born within the sound of Bow Bells, who spend their whole life dreaming of an escape. When they do go, they almost always head for Norfolk, where the skies are big, the land is flat and the demographics are full of creamy white goodness. It is, says my dad, the poor man’s alternative to Australia, now that South Africa has gone all multicultural.

Jerry Johnson was one of the latter type of non-Londoner, born in Finchley in 1940 by the grace of God and died in a bungalow on the outskirts of Norwich with his penis bitten off. That last detail explaining why me and the scariest police officer in the Met, her beard and two motorcycle outriders were doing a steady ton plus change up the M11.

Highlight the text above for the full goriness of Johnson’s murder if you dare.

All these elements will tie up in the end, and DCI Nightingale and Grant, aided by pathologist Dr Walid and DC Stephanopoulis will have their work cut out to solve the mystery.  Eventually they get a concrete lead – from a seedy agent cum pimp who is scared of the magic he thinks he saw.

‘At least, I think I saw it,’ said Mith, and he seemed to shrink down into the collar of his shirt. ‘You’re not going to believe me.’
‘I’m not going to believe you,’ said Stephanopoulos. ‘But Constable Grant here is actually paid to believe in this stuff. He also has to believe in faeries and wizards and hobgoblins.’
‘And hobbitses,’ I said.

I love all the throwaway one-liners.

Although lacking the impact of discovering the author’s magical world for the first time, Moon over Soho shows an author who loves London, and is keen to show us how messy life in the great metropolis can be.  The main plot is quite transparent, but we have great fun in getting to the denouement.  The recurring characters are all built upon from volume one, and I’m desperate to see how PC Lesley May does in the third novel, having been relegated to supporting in vol two due to having nearly died in the first.  It was lovely to meet Peter’s father, jazz fan and vinyl afficionado, (l.p.s – doncha miss them?).

Some might quibble about the series-aspects of this novel – it doesn’t stand alone, but not me.  These books would make a wonderful TV series – it would be wonderful to see what the Sherlock team could make of them for instance, (Sherlock is back on New Year’s Day – yay!).

So read the first book first, then if you like it (I hope you do), you’ll enjoy the second too.  I can’t wait to get stuck into the next two now.  (8.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London 2) by Ben Aaronovitch (2011), Gollancz paperback, 375 pages.

Introducing Bernie Rhodenbarr

Lawrence-Block-author-photo-croppedIt’s some years since I read one of Lawrence Block’s crime novels, and then I’ve only read the first twelve of his seventeen Matt Scudder books. In this series alcoholic ex-cop turned private investigator Scudder plies his trade around the shady joints of NYC. Scudder is a very likeable PI, but the books are quite dark.

Block has several other series, but apart from Scudder is mostly known for his ten novels featuring the gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, who also lives and works in NYC. The Rhodenbarr books are much lighter fare than Scudder, and Bernie is very much a modern day Raffles (see my Raffles review here).

The first in the series is Burglars can’t be choosers.  Bernie can’t believe his luck when he is offered five grand to lift a blue leather box from a  desk in a posh apartment by a chap who won’t give his name but seems strangely familiar.

Rhodenbarr 1I rode to the fourth floor, poked around until I found the stairway, and walked down a flight. I almost always do this and I sometimes wonder why. I think someone must have done it in a movie once and I was evidently impressed, bit it’s really waste of time, especially when the elevator in question is self-service. The one thing it does is fix in your mind where the stairs are, should you later need them in a hurry, but you ought to be able to locate stairs without scampering up or down them.

On the third floor, I found my way to Apartment 311 at the front of the building. I stood for a moment, letting my ears do the walking, and then I gave the bell a thorough ring and waited thirty seconds before ringing it again.

And that, let me assure you, is not a waste of time. Public institutions throughout the fifty states provide food and clothing and shelter for lads who don’t ring the bell first. And it’s not enough just poking the silly thing. A couple of years back I rang the bell diligently enough at the Park Avenue co-op of a charming couple named Sandoval, poked the little button until my finger throbbed, and wound up going directly to jail without passing Go. The bell was out of order, the Sandovals were home scoffing toasted English muffins in the breakfast nook, and Bernard G. Rhodenbarr soon found himself in a little room with bars in the windows.

Applying his lock-picking skills, Bernie is soon through the door, but there’s no box. Then two policemen burst in. Bernie is old friends with one, and has come prepared with ‘walkaway money’. The other younger cop isn’t so sure but takes the bribe, and goes to the bathroom only to come out shouting there’s a body in the bedroom and it’s still warm, or words to that effect, before fainting. Bernie runs, thinking he’s been framed.

He ends up at an acquaintance’s apartment. Rod, an actor, is away on an acting job, and once in Bernie prepares to lie low for a bit. However he is awoken by someone knocking over the plant by his bedside. She introduces herself as Ruth, come to water Rod’s plants.  Ere long, Bernie has involved Ruth in his plans to clear his name, and the two also hit it off in the bedroom. The mystery turns out to be quite convoluted – I’d have never solved it. But Bernie sorts it all out in the end.

The crime isn’t the main thing in this novel however – it’s introducing Bernie. We get to know that he’s been in prison when younger, and that he doesn’t plan to go back. He does just enough jobs to finance his lifestyle, but is addicted to the thrill of the heist. I also have a feeling that he’ll have a different girl in every book.

Personally, I much prefer Scudder who is an essentially honest guy, but is more fallible with his own demons to fight too. Bernie is fundamentally dishonest – a slick thief who has a way with the ladies and is good at comic one-liners. He does have a redeeming feature though that I’ve yet to encounter … In the third book in the series, he takes over a bookshop, which he then keeps afloat with funds from his burglaries.  That will keep me reading!  (7/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Burglars Can’t be Choosers (Bernie Rhodenbarr Mystery) by Lawrence Block, 1977. Currently o/p but s/h copies available.