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Archive for December, 2010

London 1940, and Pyke, hero (of sorts) of this series is in debtors jail, having squandered his fortune.  His erstwhile friend Fitzroy Tilling – now a senior figure in the New Police, makes Pyke an offer – he will let him get out of prison early, if Pyke will investigate the murder of a mixed-race woman whose mutilated body has been found in one of the rougher areas of London.  A wealthy aristocrat has also been murdered and all of the Police Force’s energies are being used to solve that matter, hence the reason that Tilling has called Pyke in.

Pyke accepts the job, but quickly realises that there is far more to the case than it initially appears.  His investigation takes him from smog-filled London, to the beautiful plains of Jamaica, as he uses all of his cunning, intelligence, and often violence and threats, to unravel the story.

Meanwhile, Pyke’s son Felix is now 10 years old, but these days he seems to be resentful and rebellious towards his father, and Pyke desperately wants to repair their relationship.  A murder investigation can only hamper his efforts due to the amount of his time he invests, but he is determined to solve the mystery.

This is the third book in the Pyke series.  It isn’t necessary to have read the preceding two books, although it helps as Pyke’s character is developed throughout the stories.  Here, he is in a more contemplative mood as he gets older and considers the results that his actions may have on his son.  However, he has lost none of his tendency to violence and intimidation – but he does seem to have a more sharpened sense of right and wrong, and seems to judge himself more harshly.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but the second one was something of a disappointment (though still a good read) with it’s over-complicated story.  This book is a return to form.  While there are plenty of twists, turns, red herrings and dead ends, the story is a lot tighter than the events of ‘The Revenge of Captain Paine’ (book 2),and I found it a to be a great story.

As always, London’s atmosphere is brought to life, and I also enjoyed the description of the Jamaica plains.  The part of the story set in Jamaica was probably my favourite part – Pyke encounters hostility from the recently emancipated former black slaves, and finds himself questioning his own beliefs.  Andrew Pepper always seems able to provide plenty of description while never letting go of the story itself.  The ending of the story came as a real shock, and I certainly could not have predicted what would happen.

As well from Pyke himself, there are the usual dangerous underworld criminals, and Pyke’s family and friends.  He is the only really developed character, but the character of Felix is starting to grow nicely and I hope that he will feature in the ensuing books in the series.

Not one for the faint hearted, this is a fast moving and sometimes gruesome story which delves into the world of prostitution and illegal pornography.  There is a great murder mystery as the main thread of the book, and I would certainly recommend this book to fans of crime thrillers.

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William Heaney is a forger of antiquarian books – together with his friends Stinx and Jaz, he produces fake first edition novels by such authors as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, which he sells to greedy collectors.  He makes no money out of this scam, and gives all his proceeds to charity – namely GoPoint, a centre for the homeless run by his friend Antonia.

William is a man haunted by events in his past, for which he still feels guilty.  As a result, he refuses to allow himself to grow too close to people or to fall in love.  He can also see the demons that haunt people – not metaphorical demons such as drink or drugs, but actually living breathing demons.  Not everyone can see them, but William can – and he has a few of his own to deal with as well.

There are two timelines in this book – the story of what happened in William’s past to make him so closed off; and current events in his life – a growing friendship with a mysterious girl called Yasmin, which frightens him as much as it fascinates him; an encounter with a homeless ex-soldier; and his often troubled relationship with his ex-wife and their children.

I thought the book was a terrific read.  Although we learn right from the outset that William is a con-artist, it is hard not to feel something for his character – he seems to be a man searching for the way to right a wrong, and perhaps find a way out of his trapped existence.  He drinks far too much red wine and is probably bordering on alcoholism.  But he has a heart and feels compassion for others.

The story from William’s past was interesting (I’m not giving away any spoilers) and it was easy to see how such events could have a long lasting effect.  However, I preferred the narrative of the current day.

The characters were, in the main, well drawn especially William himself, his daughter Sarah, and Yasmin.  I was eager to find out if he would eventually find a way of conquering his demons, and had no idea how the story was going to end up.  Without giving anything away, I found the ending to be extremely satisfying with many of the threads throughout the book coming together.

The writing flowed very well and I found myself engrossed in the story.  I will certainly be looking out for more work by this author.  (It should be noted that William Heaney is a pseudonym for the author Graham Joyce.)  I’m uncertain as to exactly what genre I would put this book in – however, I would certainly recommend it as an absorbing read.

(Author’s website can be found here.  Author’s additional blog can be found here.)

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London 1835, and the wind of change is in the air.  Plans are afoot for two railways to be built, connecting London with various other parts of the country and the hope is that this will encourage trade and create jobs.  However, the navvies who are building the railway are being rallied into unionising and demanding better pay and safer working conditions.  The figure at the head of this movement is the mysterious Captain Paine – nobody seems to know who the captain is, or indeed even if he really exists.  The discontent stirred up in the workers seems likely to spill over into bloodshed…

Meanwhile, life has also changed for anti-hero Pyke.  Having married the wealthy Emily Blackwood, he now finds himself, as the co-manager of a successful bank, living in a huge mansion with a large staff and plenty of money.  However, while Pyke loves his wife and young son, he is not entirely comfortable with his new station in life.  So when his former acquaintance and sometime adversary Sir Robert Peel asks him to look into the murder of murdered man whose headless corpse has been dumped in Huntingdon, Pyke uses all the skill and cunning he employed in his former occupation as a Bow Street Runner.  However, as he starts to dig deeper into the circumstances surrounding the murder, he smells corruption.  The murder is part of a much bigger problem which threatens to destroy the lives of many, and even the future of the Royal Family.  But it is when things start to become dangerous for Pyke’s family that he really gets angry…

This is the second book in the series of Pyke mysteries.  The first one is called The Last Days of Newgate (which I enjoyed immensely), but while it may help to have read the previous book, it isn’t necessary to enjoy this one.

As before, the writing is terrific, with plenty of atmosphere, really putting the reader into 1830s London.  Pyke is a terrific anti-hero – he is ruthless, violent and not above making underhand deals.  He is also largely unrepentant for his actions, only caring about the possible consequences for himself and his family.  However, despite all of this, the author lets just enough of a more gentle side come through, which makes the character one to root for, despite everything.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot – and this was part of the problem with this book.  While I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next book in the series, the plot was just too convoluted.  On a number of occasions I had to flick back to remind myself who certain characters were and what their role in the story was.  There was a plot thread involving a former girlfriend of Pyke’s and events in her own history – I felt that this could all have been cut out, without losing any of the punchiness of the plot.

However, things were all made clearer by the end, and the ending itself was very satisfying; there were a couple of major plot twists which I did not see coming.

Overall, for fans of historic crime fiction this is a recommended read – but be warned that this is no gentle mystery.  There is violence and gore splattered throughout the pages.

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This review is about the 2009 animated version of A Christmas Carol, featuring the voices of Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth amongst others.

Christmas time means Christmas movies…and what better choice than a movie based on one of the most famous and popular novels celebrating Christmas – Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’?

This version of the story remains very truthful to the book – Ebenezer Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley, who tells him to expect visits from three further ghosts.  These ghosts – Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come, show Scrooge the error of his mean and penny pinching ways, and help him to secure a happier future both for himself and those around him.

I’ve read some negative reviews of this movie, but for my part I enjoyed it.  Although it is animated, Bob Cratchitt and nephew Fred do look like the actors that voiced the parts (Gary Oldman and Colin Firth respectively). Jim Carrey however is unrecognisable either by sight or voice, but he plays the part of Scrooge very well.  He also voices some of the other characters in the story, which I didn’t realise until after I had finished watching.

The story is, on the whole, very faithful to the book although there are a few special effects added in, which may not have been necessary, but did not detract from the story.  There were also a number of scenes with comic relief.

Some people complain that it does not have the heart and soul of other better known versions of the story (Alistair Sim’s version being probably the most popular).  That may be true, and it may possibly be due to the fact that it is animated, rather than having actual people appear on screen.  However, it was a highly enjoyable movie to watch curled up on the sofa on a lazy afternoon, with an inches thick covering of snow outside – which is exactly how I saw it!

A recommended movie for the season!

Year of release: 2009

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writers: Charles Dickens (book), Robert Zemeckis

Main cast: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth

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Click here for my review of the novel.

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When Jack Torrance is offered the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, high in the Colorado mountains, over the winter period when the hotel is closed, he thinks it might be just what he and his family need.  Jack and his wife Wendy have been experiencing problems in their marriage, due to his alcoholism and temper – which caused him to lose his previous job as a teacher – and their 5 year old son Danny is caught in the middle.

When they meet the hotel cook Dick Hallorann, Dick immediately recognises that like him, Danny has ‘the shine’ – a gift (or curse) that enables him to see what people are thinking and witness events that happened years earlier, or haven’t happened at all yet.

Stuck in the hotel with nobody but each other for company, the huge snowdrifts prevent anybody from getting in or out of The Overlook grounds.  But they soon find that there is a malevolent force at work – one that wants to hurt the family and won’t let them escape.  Will they get out with their sanity – or their lives?…

There’s no doubt that Stephen King can tell a good story.  He draws the reader in from the first page, and makes them always eager to know what’s going to happen next.  For the most part, there are only the three main characters in the book (except for the hotel itself, which does have a sinister and ominous presence).  This adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere, which keeps building throughout.

Jack and Wendy’s characters were well developed; Jack is a man struggling with his own demons, a recovering alcoholic and a man who struggles with his temper, albeit he loves his family very much.  Wendy is caught in a trap between the man she loves and doing what she thinks is right for her family and her anguish is well depicted.  Danny was less well drawn, although this did not detract from the story.

I didn’t find the book scary, but it was an absorbing read.  I couldn’t help feeling that if it had been perhaps 75 pages shorter, it might have been a ‘tighter’ read, but overall this was an enjoyable book.  If it was an author I was trying for the first time (it isn’t), I would be encouraged to read another book by them.  I would recommend this book, but only to fans of the author or the genre.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ and ‘More Tales of the Unexpected’ are packaged together in this volume.  It consists of 25 short stories (16 in ‘Tales’ and 9 in ‘More Tales’), which are humorous, dark, sinister, macabre and delightful – sometimes all at once.

Dahl clearly had a very vivid imagination, and some of the stories are really incredibly clever.  My personal favourite is Lamb to the Slaughter, which I feel duty bound not to spoil for anyone who has not read it yet!  Suffice to say that I first read this story perhaps twenty years ago, and have never forgotten it.  Reading it again – even when I knew the ending – was a pleasure.  Others which I particularly enjoyed were Skin, Nunc Dimittis, Parson’s Pleasure, William and Mary, The Sound Machine and Genesis and Catastrophe.  Most of the stories contain an unexpected and in some cases absurd twist, but Genesis and Catastrophe in particular made me think twice.  (Again, I feel that to give away any spoilers would be unfair to anyone who may read it in future.)

As with all short story collections, some did not work quite as well.  However, there were no stories in this collection which left me disappointed.  Definitely recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Less of a novel, this is really a set of seven short stories, all set in a mysterious 7th continent, which reflect events in the world we are more familiar with.  ‘Electricity’ provides a warning against obsession with and reliance upon gadgets and technology; ‘Talking Skull’ talks of a young man’s travels to America and then back to his father’s farm; ‘Sins and Virtues’ talks of art being desecrated for the sake of money…

I’m not entirely sure what I think of this book.  I understand the concept, but couldn’t help being relieved to finish the book.  Like all short story collections, some are better than others.  I quite enjoyed ‘Cross Country’ – the story of an outsider (from Canada) being challenged to an unfair race by a local who was jealous of the attention the newcomer received, and ‘Sins and Virtues’ was also an interesting read with a clear message.  My favourite story was probably ‘Electricity’, which tells of a small town being introduced to electricity for the first time.  They have previously considered electricity to be something almost magical, but a schoolteacher who lives in the village, warns them of the addictive nature of it.  When the village is finally ‘switched on’ a minor disaster makes them reconsider their fascination with it.

However, ‘On Heat’, even with its clever twist just left me cold, and the final story in the collection, ‘The Prospect from the Silver Hill’ was just confusing.

All of the stories seem to have a dreamlike quality about them, and while there’s no doubt that the writing is eloquent and in places rather lovely, I’m never too keen on books where I feel like I’m almost missing the point of the story.  An interesting read then, but unfortunately this is not an author I will be hurrying to explore more books by.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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