Book Review – KILLER’S WEDGE (1959) by Ed McBain

KILLER’S WEDGE (1959) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Allison & Busby, 2007, 242pp (233pp)
First published in 1958 (USA)
© The Estate of Ed McBain, 1958
ISBN: 978-0-749-08023-5
Book CoverBlurb: Her game was death – and her name was Virginia Dodge. She was out to put a bullet through Steve Carella’s brain, and she didn’t care if she has to kill all the boys in the 87th Precinct to do it. So Virginia, armed with gun and bottle of nitro-glycerine, spent a quiet afternoon in the precinct house, terrorizing Lieutenant Byrnes and his detectives with her clever little homemade bomb. They all sat there waiting for Steve Carella. Could all the men of the 87th, prisoners of one crazy broad, be powerless to save Carella from his rendezvous with death…?
Comment: This is the seventh of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels and here he takes a different approach by making the main plot a tense thriller and the sub-plot a mystery. The revenge plot in which Virginia Dodge holds the 87th squad captive at gunpoint with a jar of nitro is extremely well written by McBain as the tension escalates. He uses third person and first person perspectives to heighten the tension and frame the varying viewpoints of the characters. Meanwhile, Virginia’s intended target, Steve Carella, is investigating the death of a wealthy socialite found hanged in a locked room. The latter sub-plot follows a very traditional mystery path and is merely a supporting function to the main story. Suspense is heightened when Carella’s wife, Teddy, arrives at the squad room only to be confronted by the siege. A successful diversion for the series continuing McBain’s impressive run.

Film Review – ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948, USA) ***
Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal International Pictures (UI); d. Charles Barton; w. Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant; pr. Robert Arthur; ph. Charles Van Enger (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Frank Gross; ad. Hilyard M. Brown, Bernard Herzbrun; rel. 15 June 1948 (USA), August 1949 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 83m.
cast: Bud Abbott (Chick), Lou Costello (Wilbur), Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot / The Wolfman), Bela Lugosi (Dracula), Glenn Strange (Monster), Lenore Aubert (Sandra Mornay), Jane Randolph (Joan Raymond), Frank Ferguson (Mr. McDougal), Charles Bradstreet (Dr. Stevens).
Abbott and Costello play two hapless freight handlers who find themselves encountering Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man. Enjoyment of this horror comedy will depend on your tolerance of the antics of the comedy duo who lack the sophistication, inventiveness and dignity of Laurel & Hardy, but became immensely popular nonetheless. One or two amusing moments do surface, and it is great to see Lugosi, Chaney and co. in action again. Lugosi is particularly effective returning to his signature role of Count Dracula. Watch out for the final gag, which is the best of the production. In 2001, the Library of Congress selected this film for preservation in the National Film Registry. On screen title: BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. UK Title: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE GHOSTS.

Film Review – HOG WILD (1930)

HOG WILD (1930, USA) ****
Comedy
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), Jury Metro-Goldwyn (UK); pr co. Hal Roach Studios; d. James Parrott; w. H.M. Walker (dialogue) (based on a story by Stan Laurel and Leo McCarey (uncredited)); pr. Hal Roach (uncredited); ph. George Stevens (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. md. Marvin Hatley; ed. Richard C. Currier; rel. 31 May 1930 (USA), 25 August 1930 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 19m.
cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Dorothy Granger (Tillie – The Hardys’ Maid / Girl Lifting Her Skirt by Puddle (uncredited)), Fay Holderness (Mrs. Hardy (uncredited)), Charles McMurphy (Streetcar Conductor (uncredited)).
Vintage Laurel & Hardy short in which Mrs. Hardy insists that Oliver mount the radio aerial on the roof before he goes off gallivanting with his friend Stanley. Inventive slapstick sight gags abound, not least the hilarious closing gag involving L&H’s car becoming sandwiched between trams. Original UK title: AERIAL ANTICS.

TV Review – VIGIL (2021)

VIGIL (2021, UK) ***½
Crime, Drama

pr co. World Productions; net. BBC One; exec pr. Tom Edge, Jake Lushington, James Strong, Leslie Finlay, Simon Heath, Gaynor Holmes, Roderick Seligman; pr. Angie Daniell; d. Isabelle Sieb, James Strong; w. Tom Edge, Chandni Lakhani, Ed Macdonald (based on an original idea by George Aza-Selinger); ph. Matt Gray, Ruairí O’Brien; m. Glenn Gregory, Berenice Scott; ed. Chris Buckland, Nikki McChristie, Steven Worsley; pd. Tom Sayer; b/cast. 29 August-26 September 2021; r/t. 6 x 60m.

cast. Suranne Jones (Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva), Rose Leslie (Detective Sergeant Kirsten Longacre), Shaun Evans (Warrant Officer Elliot Glover), Martin Compston (Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke), Paterson Joseph (Commander Neil Newsome), Adam James (Lieutenant Commander Mark Prentice), Gary Lewis (Detective Superintendent Colin Robertson), Lauren Lyle (Jade Antoniak), Lolita Chakrabarti (Lieutenant Commander Erin Branning), Dan Li (Lieutenant Commander Hennessy), Lorne MacFadyen (Petty Officer Matthew Doward), Connor Swindells (Lieutenant Simon Hadlow), Lois Chimimba (Chief Petty Officer Tara Kierly), Daniel Portman (Chief Petty Officer Gary Walsh), Anjli Mohindra (Surgeon Lieutenant Tiffany Docherty), Anita Vettesse (Petty Officer Jackie Hamilton), Stephen Dillane (Rear Admiral Shaw).

This expansive and ambitious mix of crime mystery, conspiracy and international politics sees Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Jones) of the Scottish Police Service sent to HMS Vigil, a Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, to investigate a death on board, which takes place shortly after the mysterious disappearance of a Scottish fishing trawler. Her investigations, and those of her colleagues ashore, bring the police into conflict with the Royal Navy and MI5, the British Security Service. The plot is mixed with a tragic back story for Jones leading to her tentative relationship with Leslie. It is these domestic scenes that tend to slow an otherwise fats-paced and enjoyable thriller that plays on its audiences phobias and paranoia. The direction is strong and the script, though exceedingly complicated, has sufficient intrigue and character conflict to retain interest. The production design is excellent, although the submarine interiors seem larger than you might expect, likely to accommodate camera movement and shot framing. The denouement is a little protracted, but overall this is an often tense and enjoyable production.

Genesis – Manchester Arena, 24 September 2021

Well they may well all be over 70 now and Phil Collins not in the best of health, but Genesis still turned on the magic last night at the Manchester Arena. A delay of over an hour due to a generator failure only helped to add to the anticipation (maybe the puncture they had on the way up from Birmingham should have been a warning). The Mexican Wave even played its part in keeping the audience happy whilst the technical issue was addressed. There is a sense of finality about this tour and there was a distinct ambience of warmth, nostalgia and huge affection around the arena – this was at its height with the stirring performances of Afterglow and I Know What I Like which genuinely touched the emotions. The staging was quite simply stunning and the band were in great form musically. Yes, Phil’s vocals are not what they were in his heyday, but he found new ways to compensate and the addition of backing singers Patrick Smyth and Daniel Pearce helped considerably. A special word for Nic Collins, Phil’s son, on drums. You could see Phil’s pride as he watched Nic tackle the drum parts Phil himself had written, whilst adding his own muscular character. Phil was in excellent humour and there was good banter with the audience and Mike, Tony and Daryl along with Nic provided some really powerful musical moments. If, as I strongly suspect, this is the last time I see my favourite band then they are certainly going out on a high.
Tony Banks – Keyboards
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Tambourine
Mike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass
with:
Daryl Stuermer – Guitar, Bass
Nic Collins – Drums
Daniel Pearce – Backing Vocals, Percussion
Patrick Smyth – Backing Vocals
setlist:
Duke’s Intro
Turn It On Again
Mama
Land of Confusion
Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea
Fading Lights/The Cinema Show/Afterglow
That’s All (acoustic)
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (new arrangement)
Follow You Follow Me (acoustic)
Duchess
No Son of Mine
Firth of Fifth (instrumental)
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Domino
Throwing It All Away
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Invisible Touch
Encore:
I Can’t Dance
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight/The Carpet Crawlers

Book Review – KILLER’S PAYOFF (1958) by Ed McBain

KILLER’S PAYOFF (1958) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 160pp
First published in 1958 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1958
ISBN: 978-0-140-02119-6
Blurb: He appeared to be a decent, upright, honest citizen….And yet appearances can be more than deceiving in the world of blackmail and extortion. The shocking gangland-style murder of known blackmailer Sy Kramer begs the question: which of Kramer’s marks had given him his very last payoff? A politician’s beautiful wife with a deadly secret? An overly interested ex-con? A wealthy soft-drinks executive? Or the mystery person who had fattened Kramer’s wallet by the thousands? The detectives of the 87th Precinct must break the chain that links the dead man’s associates and single out a killer — before someone else cashes it in.
Comment: This is the sixth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books and it is clear that the author has found his rhythm. This is a tight mystery that introduces a wide range of characters as murder suspects – the victim being a dislikeable extortionist. Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes take the lead in the investigation and McBain has fun developing Hawes’ character – making him something of a lothario. The dialogue is as snappy as ever and the investigation moves along in a logical and procedural fashion. However it is instinct that leads to a resolution, demonstrating the need for human proactivity. Another highly enjoyable read in this influential series.

Book Review – GENESIS – 1975 TO 2021: THE PHIL COLLINS YEARS (2021)

GENESIS – 1975 TO 2021: THE PHIL COLLINS YEARS (2021) ***½
by Mario Giammetti
This paperback edition published by Kingmaker Publishing, 2021, 290pp
© Mario Giammetti, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-838491-80-2

Blurb: The definitive biography of the later years of one of the world’s greatest bands. The book contains numerous exclusive interviews with band members and all of the important personalities who were part of the story of Genesis from 1975 onwards (including Ray Wilson who fronted the band for 1997’s Calling All Stations album and subsequent tour before the return of Phil Collins in 2007). The book covers the full story of the band extensively, taking readers through each album and tour. Additionally it features a number of previously unpublished photographs.

Comment:  This is the follow-up to Mario Giammetti’s Genesis: 1967 to 1975 – The Peter Gabriel Years published the previous year. I was hugely impressed with that first volume, which provided much new information on that period of the band’s history through the author’s interviews with band members and offered well-rounded assessments of the band’s output. That this new book is less successful than its predecessor may not be surprising to those familiar with the author’s love of the Gabriel era of the band. Genesis fans are often split into two camps – those who grew up with or preferred listening to the band’s progressive recordings and those who caught up with the band when they became a trio and started having hits. Whilst Giammetti recognises the strengths of much of the material from the latter period, he does not hide his disdain for certain aspects of the band’s success in the mid-80s. He has a particular dislike of 1986’s Invisible Touch album, which he describes as “the weakest album in the history of Genesis”. He laments that the album was the band at its commercial peak and disliked their use of studio electronics and new musical equipment. Whilst I have some sympathy with his case against synthetic drums (the awful Simmons kits of the day lacked player expression), I challenge his view that the songs on the album were sub-standard – he states “there isn’t a single song that is exceptional”. The album produced five top 5 singles in the US and stayed on the UK album charts for over a year. An album with that much success cannot be written off with the casualness it is here. No-one complains that The Beatles’ pop songs were poor because they were commercial hits, yet with Genesis their later albums are seen as a betrayal by fans who wanted them to carry on producing songs in the way they had done in the 70s.  This seeming prejudice aside, Giammetti does acknowledge the band could not sustain itself in a changing musical landscape by clinging to old musical philosophies and accepts the simplification of their sound as a necessity. He is much fairer, and clearer, in his assessment of albums such as Duke and We Can’t Dance. However, it is also obvious the author has personally less to say about the songs from this period in general than he did in his first volume and he leaves most of the words to the band members themselves. A lot of what they say is very interesting and there are again new things to be learned from interviews conducted directly with the author and other sources close to him. The book as a whole is generally a good companion to the earlier volume and is both informative and enlightening through those band interviews. What made the first volume so successful, however, was the marriage of the band’s views with the analysis of the author. Here, though, there is an obvious gap between Giammetti’s view of the material and that of the band. Not a bad thing in itself, but the author’s contrary views are often restricted to a couple of sentences without any real substantive analysis or insight to qualify those sentences. It sounds like I have been harsh on this book because I do not always agree with the author’s view. There is an oft-quoted saying that “opinions are like a**holes – everybody has one.” I would also add that everybody is entitled to one – an opinion that is. I would just like to see those views better expressed and rationalised. In its layout, the book follows the same template as the first volume and the sections covering the tours and the evolving set lists are well laid out. There is also exploration of the music scene and its trends to contrast with the band’s albums. This is a book then that completes Giammetti’s overview of the band and one that is welcome for that, but perhaps the definitive assessment of the band’s career, and in particular the so-called “Collins era”, is still to be written. (Note: Despite the title, Giammetti also covers Ray Wilson’s brief tenure with the band following Collins’ departure in 1996).

Genesis’ Abacab at 40

18 September 2021 is the 40th anniversary of the release of Genesis’ watershed album Abacab. It was the band’s eleventh studio album and their third as a trio The album saw Genesis deliberately steer themselves into a post-new wave direction by rejecting any material they wrote which they felt was treading old ground or adopting what they considered to be group clichés. Gone were the extended solos, long journey songs and elaborate harmonies and arrangements to be replaced by a stark sonic landscape, shorter and more concise songs and a heightened emphasis on Phil Collins’ drums, building on the sound he created with engineer Hugh Padgham on Peter Gabriel’s third album the year before. Padgham was asked to work on Abacab as engineer to help the band establish a new sound. The album was therefore the band’s most stylistically experimental and challenging since 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I remember buying this album on release and being disappointed after the monumental Duke. Now, I can look back on the album and enjoy for its very willingness to surprise and the band’s determination to progress and adapt their approach to songwriting.
The album opener ‘Abacab’ signals the new direction with its raw energy and Collins’ abrasive vocal. The closing jam was indeed an unedited session that relies on spontaneity and eschews composition. ‘No Reply at All’ is a funky song supported by the Earth, Wind and Fire horn section who had worked on Collins’ solo album Face Value, released as the band were writing Abacab. ‘Me and Sarah Jane’ has a more traditional Genesis feel in its two-part structure, but delves into new influences of reggae. ‘Keep it Dark’ motors along on a repeated guitar riff with Banks holding back on synth harmonies until the chorus. ‘Dodo/Lurker’ is the standout track on the album and blends old and new Genesis perfectly with dramatic sweeps and quirky synth lines. ‘Who Dunnit?’ stirred strong emotions amongst old-school fans for its punkish and tuneless approach and can wear a bit thin after repeated listens. ‘Man on the Corner’ was a wistful Collins written song that relied on its sparse arrangement and drum machine pattern for its atmosphere and maybe a little too close to his ‘In the Air Tonight’ in execution. ‘Like it or Not’ is a plodding Rutherford ballad and ‘Another Record’ tails away after a splendidly atmospheric opening. The songs then were a mixed bag, which could perhaps be expected with the band members eager to experiment. The band indeed had sufficient material for a double album and I think that would have been a way to go to fully appreciate the breadth of material Genesis explored in the sessions. Of the tracks excluded from the album the poppy ‘Paperlate’ and romantic ‘You Might Recall’ were unlucky not to make the cut. ‘Naminanu’ and ‘Submarine’ are interesting instrumentals that were initially considered for a longer suite to be based around ‘Dodo/Lurker’. ‘Me and Virgil’ is the weakest song from the sessions – an unsuccessful attempt to emulate The Band’s western rock formula and containing one of Collins’ weakest lyrical contributions. Abacab is not the band’s best album, but it is perhaps their bravest and forty years on it stands up as a key moment in Genesis history.


GENESIS
ABACAB (Charisma, 18 September 1981) – Album Score – 72%
Tony Banks – keyboards
Phil Collins – drums, vocals
Mike Rutherford – guitars, basses
Additional musicians:
EWF Horns – horns on ‘No Reply at All’ (and ‘Paperlate’)
Thomas “Tom Tom 84” Washington – horn arrangement on ‘No Reply at All’ (and ‘Paperlate’)
Produced by Genesis
Engineered by Hugh Padgham
Recorded at The Farm, Surrey, March–June 1981
2006 remix by Nick Davis assisted by Tom Mitchell and Geoff Callingham
Album Cover by Bill Smith
Sleeve adaptation by Chris Payton for The Redroom

TRACK SCORES
1. Abacab (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (6:57) **** (A-side single 17/8/81)
2. No Reply at All (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:33) ***
3. Me and Sarah Jane (Banks) (6:02) ****
4. Keep it Dark (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:32) **** (A-side single 26/10/81)
5. Dodo/Lurker (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (7:31) *****
6. Who Dunnit? (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (3:24) **
7. Man on the Corner (Collins) (4:27) *** (A-side single 8/3/82)
8. Like it or Not (Rutherford) (4:58) ***
9. Another Record (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:38) *** (B-side to ‘Abacab’)

Non-album tracks:
1. Naminanu (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (3:54) *** (B-side to ‘Keep it Dark’)
2. Submarine (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:37) *** (B-side to ‘Man on the Corner’)
3. Paperlate (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (3:25) **** (‘3×3’ EP 17/5/82)
4. You Might Recall (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (5:35) **** (‘3×3’ EP)
5. Me and Virgil (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (6:19) ** (‘3×3’ EP)

 

Book Review – KILLER’S CHOICE (1958) by Ed McBain

KILLER’S CHOICE (1958) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1986, 160pp (155pp)
First published in 1958 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1958
ISBN: 978-0-140-01972-3
Blurb: Someone killed Annie Boone, but was she an innocent victim or the target of a hit? As Detectives Carella and Kling of the 87th precinct pick up the pieces of her interrupted life, they move relentlessly closer to some answers yet farther from others. Struggling to find the weak link, the detectives find themselves facing a cold, hard truth they’d prefer not to know.
Comment: This is the fifth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books and it is the most assured to date. McBain weaves a whodunnit plot around a complex victim and a number of suspects through which the detectives of the 87th are required to navigate their way. The team are led down a number of blind alleys as they discover Annie Boone, the victim of a murder in a liquor store, led different lives according to the men she attracted. Throw in a divorced husband and a custody fight for the couple’s daughter with the victim’s mother and there is plenty to keep the reader interested. McBain is as assured as ever and has his characters feel very real through their interactions and dialogue. The wrap up again feels a little rushed, but once a case breaks the resolution almost takes care of itself.

Book Review – THE CON MAN (1957) by Ed McBain

THE CON MAN (1957) ***½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 174pp (168pp)
First published in 1957 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1957
ISBN: 978-0-140-01971-1
Blurb: A con man is plying his trade on the streets of Isola: conning a domestic for pocket change, businessmen for thousands, and even ladies in exchange for a little bit of love. You can see the world, meet a lot of nice people, imbibe some unique drinks, and make a ton money…all by conning them for their cash. The question is: How far is he willing to go? When a young woman’s body washes up in the Harb River, the answer to that question becomes tragically clear. Now Detective Steve Carella races against time to find him before another con turns deadly. The only clue he has to go on is the mysterious tattoo on the young woman’s hand—but it’s enough. Carella takes to the streets, searching its darkest corners for a man who cons his victims out of their money…and their lives.
Comment: This is the fourth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books and it continues with the successful formula established in the trio of 1956 titles. This time there are two independent plots involving confidence tricksters, the latter of which is the meatier of the two and also leads to a serial killer. McBain has nicely honed his easy-going writing style, interlaced with witty dialogue and conversational description. Here again, each plot is resolved in ways impacted by happenstance, demonstrating the detectives’ reliance on luck as well as their skilful use of procedure. Carella’s deaf-mute wife, Teddy becomes involved in the murder plot, which leads to a tense and thrilling climax in which McBain interweaves short scenes involving the protagonists in a way that emulates a tightly-cut movie. This makes for a satisfying conclusion to a book that continues to demonstrate McBain’s exceptional talent whilst, as yet, not reaching the heights  the series would go on to achieve.