Book Review – LEONARD MALTIN’S MOVIE GUIDE 2015 (The Last Edition!)

LEONARD MALTIN’S 2015 MOVIE GUIDE edited by LEONARD MALTIN (2014, Signet, Paperback, 1612pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

9780698183612.225x225-75Every September I look forward to receiving the latest edition of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. Sure enough the 2015 edition thumped to the floor through my postbox this morning – actually it was hand delivered because it wouldn’t go through, which is a symptom of how its coverage has grown over the years.

The first page I always turn to is Maltin’s Introduction as it normally contains some interesting thoughts on developments in the movie and home entertainment world. But this year’s introduction started with the following sentence:

“This is the final edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide.

I must own around twenty film guides – most of which were on an annual release for a good period of time and each of which has their pros and cons. The internet has dealt a slow death to these guides with in recent years with Halliwell’s, Time Out, Virgin (TV Guide), Martin/Porter’s Video & DVD Guide all being discontinued. That left Radio Times, Maltin and Videohound as the three main sources with the breadth of coverage I look for. Maltin’s Guide was the longest standing of these, having debuted in 1969 as a competitor to Stephen H Scheuer’s Movies on TV, which disappeared in 1993. Maltin’s approach of using brief, user-friendly, capsule reviews meant the book could retain its handy size and also gave the reader a concise appraisals without the need for the lengthy analysis of works such as TV Guide’s, which covered about a sixth of the volume of titles. As such Maltin’s guide was the one I turned to most for a quick answer to question “Is it worth watching?” when considering that old 1942 western being shown on TCM.

I don’t always agree with Maltin and his team’s appraisals – he has stubbornly refused to re-assess Blade Runner for instance, which in my view is a landmark movie but Maltin finds it to have a “muddled script and main characters with no appeal whatsoever.” and awards the film one-and-a-half stars out of four. He did recently revisit Alien, however. But the vast majority of the time I agree with his assessments.

I will sadly miss this Guide, which I have been buying annually since the 1970s. It has a personality and a consistency that you can only get from a publication which is put together with such loving care as this.

Thanks Leonard Maltin for fuelling my enthusiasm for the movies in the 70s and for being a constant companion at them ever since.

Book Review – LAIDLAW (1977) by William McIlvanney

LAIDLAW by WILLIAM McILVANNEY (1977, Hodder & Stroughton / Cannongate Books Ltd., Paperback, 280pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Meet Jack Laidlaw, the original damaged detective. When a young woman is found brutally murdered on Glasgow Green, only Laidlaw stands a chance of finding her murderer from among the hard men, gangland villains and self-made moneymen who lurk in the city’s shadows.

LaidlawWilliam McIlvanney’s Laidlaw trilogy has found its way back into print courtesy of Cannongate. This is the first and introduces us to DI Jack Laidlaw, who is a maverick detective with more depth and heart than most. He is by no means perfect and has a troubled marriage, prolonged due to the deep love he has for his children. He is also involved in an affair with a hotel receptionist. He also has to blood in a new partner in DC Brian Harkness, whilst being involved in a feus with his colleague DI Milligan.

McIlvanney’s tale is simple, efficient, pacy and populated with characters of depth. He liberally uses Glaswegian slang in the dialogue, which adds a sense of place – although for non-Glaswegians, it can take some translating. The dialogue is also laced with a sardonic humour that nods to the noir classics of the past. As the various factions race-against-time to find the troubled murderer, Laidlaw finds time to lay down his heavy philosophies on Harkness and through this he earns a grudging respect.

This taut, well-written crime novel was highly influential on other Scottish crime and mystery writers such as Ian Rankin, Gordon Ferris and Craig Russell, whose works echo McIlvanney’s vision of the Scottish underworld. Highly recommended.

Book Review – THE DEVIL’S EDGE (2011) by Stephen Booth

THE DEVIL’S EDGE by STEPHEN BOOTH (2011, Little, Brown Book Group / Sphere, Paperback, 440pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: A series of brutal home invasions is terrorizing the Peak District. Until now the burglars haven’t left a clue. This time they’ve left a corpse. But as the death toll rises, two intrepid cops begin to suspect that the robberies – and the murders – are not what they seem.

The Devil's Edge (Stephen Booth) 2011This is the eleventh book in Booth’s Cooper and Fry series, but the first one I have read. Booth obviously has story arcs running through the series to retain continuity and a loyal reader base, but it is not essential to have read earlier books in the series. However, those having done so may have been drawn more quickly into the story.

I found the first part of the book a little slow, with long passages describing the setting (the Peak Districts and the village of Riddings) and little progression in the investigation. There was some detail around DS Ben Cooper’s engagement to Liz, a member of the SOCO team. Also we follow his partner, DS Diane Fry, who is attending a course on Implementing Strategic Change and resisting the advances of a randy colleague.

Meanwhile one of Riddings’ rich residents has been hospitalised in the latest in a spate of home invasions. Local wisdom points to a gang known as The Savages. Cooper has other ideas and as the plot unfolds we meet a wide array of village characters who could have strayed from an Agatha Christie or Midsomer Murders story.

As the tale progresses we are also introduced to a new DC in Carol Villiers, who has served in the military police in Afghanistan. She gives a potential future romantic triangle with Cooper and Liz as we are made aware they are old school friends.

The story may lack the harder of edge of many modern mysteries, but is an entertaining, if unsurprising read and should please fans of old-school mystery writing. Booth stays within the confines of his well-defined setting and overcomes the familiarity of his characters with a sturdy plot, which is helped by some late twists.

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