Book Review – DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON by Tony Fletcher (1998/2005)

DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON by TONY FLETCHER (1998/2005, Omnibus, Paperback, 596pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Keith Moon was more than just rock’s greatest drummer, he was a phenomenal character and an extravagant hell raiser who – in a final, uncharacteristic act of grace – actually did die before he got old. This new edition includes a newly written After word that consiers Moon’s lasting legacy, the death of John Entwistle and The Who’s ongoing career in the new millennium. In this astonishing biography, Tony Fletcher questions the myths, avoids the time-honoured anecdotes and talks afresh to those who where closest to Moon including Kim, his wife of eight years, and Linda, his sister and Annette Walter-Lax, his main girlfriend of the final years. Also interviewed are Oliver Reed, Larry Hagman, David Putnam, Alice Cooper, Dave Edmunds, Jeff Beck, John Entwistle and many others who worked and partied with him. In interviewing over 100 people who knew Moon, Fletcher reveals the truth behind the ‘famous’ stunts that never occured – and the more outrageous ones that did! He also uncovers astonishing details about Moon’s outrageous extravagance which was financed by The Who’s American success.

Keith Moon was one of rock music’s most innovative drummers, but it was ultimately his lifestyle that created the legend. There are more myths surrounding Moon’s alcohol and drug fuelled adventures than surrounds any other rock ‘n roll legend. In his exhaustive and frank book, Tony Fletcher unravels the truth and in doing so creates one of the most absorbing biographical dissections of self-destruction ever written.

Moon’s death at a young age, he was only 32 when he died, was inevitable and yet throughout the pages here Fletcher also demonstrates his impressive capacity for survival. The constant diet of drink and drugs turned a natural eccentric – who was warm, funny and generous – into a wild and often uncontrollable force with a legendary track record in ritual destruction of hotel rooms, a chaotic home lifestyle and a 24-hour party mentality. There were also tragic events, which coloured his personality and brought out a dark side that contradicted his outward joviality and desire to make people laugh.

Tony Fletcher, a keen fan of The Who, is determined to present a balanced view on Moon’s life and doesn’t gloss over the more unsavoury aspects. He lets us in on the real Keith Moon through a series of frank interviews and extensive research. The band largely distanced themselves from the story with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend unwilling to be interviewed and quotes being restricted to archive material, but the book does not suffer because a greater objectivity is achieved as a result. This version, published in 2005, also contains an Afterword following new interviews that add further clarity(and in some cases uncertainty) to some of the key events in Moon’s life.

With today’s heavily corporate approach to rock music it is difficult for the current generation to understand that when rock was in its infancy it was at its most out of control. If any one book conveys the sheer scale of the wildness of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle in the 1960s and 1970s, then this book is it. If any one person conveys the chaos then it is Keith Moon.

Book Review – SET IN DARKNESS (2000) by Ian Rankin

SET IN DARKNESS by IAN RANKIN (2000, Orion, Paperback, 466pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Edinburgh is about to become the home of the first Scottish parliament in 300 years. As political passions run high, DI John Rebus is charged with liaison, thanks to the new parliament being resident in Queensbury House, bang in the middle of his patch. But Queensbury House has its own, dark past. Legend has it that a young man was roasted there on a spit by a madman. When the fireplace where the youth died is uncovered another more recent murder victim is found. Days later, in the gardens outside, there is another body and Rebus is under pressure to find instant answers. As the case proceeds, the Inspector finds himself face to face with one of Edinburgh’s most notorious criminals...

The eleventh book in Ian Rankin‘s Inspector Rebus series is an engrossing mystery, which weaves its various plot threads with masterly precision. Whilst the book starts slowly it allows time for Rankin to introduce his characters. The mysteries surrounding a politician’s murder, a 20-year old corpse and a serial rapist who targets singles clubs dovetail into a satisfying thriller in which Rebus’ unconventional methods continue to annoy his superiors. Then, we discover Rebus’ nemesis and Edinburgh’s Mr Big – Big Ger Cafferty – has been released from prison having been diagnosed with cancer. This sets up a tense head to head between Rebus and Cafferty which adds additional edge to the second half of the book. Rankin brings all these elements to the boil brilliantly and the finale is ironic, brutal and shocking and leaves the reader wanting more.

The Rebus series runs to 20 novels. I’ve read 13 of them and these are marked in bold in the list below. The early books lack the depth that Rankin would add to the series later by linking his plots to topical issues, but all are very readable:

  1. Knots and Crosses (1987) ∗∗∗
  2. Hide and Seek (1991) ∗∗∗
  3. Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ∗∗∗
  4. Strip Jack (1992)
  5. The Black Book (1993) ∗∗∗
  6. Mortal Causes (1994) ∗∗∗
  7. Let it Bleed (1996)
  8. Black and Blue (1997)
  9. The Hanging Garden (1998) ∗∗∗∗
  10. Dead Souls (1999)
  11. Set in Darkness (2000) ∗∗∗∗
  12. The Falls (2001)
  13. Resurrection Men (2002) ∗∗∗∗
  14. A Question of Blood (2003)
  15. Fleshmarket Close (published in the USA as Fleshmarket Alley) (2004) ∗∗∗∗
  16. The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ∗∗∗∗½
  17. Exit Music (2007) ∗∗∗∗
  18. Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ∗∗∗½
  19. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ∗∗∗
  20. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)

Book Review – ANY OTHER NAME (2014) by Craig Johnson

ANY OTHER NAME by CRAIG JOHNSON (2014, Penguin, Paperback, 320pp) ∗∗∗∗½
      Blurb: Sheriff Walt Longmire is sinking into a high-plains winter discontent when his former boss, Lucian Connally, asks him to take on a mercy case outside his jurisdiction. Detective Gerald Holman of neighbouring Campbell County is dead, and Lucian wants to know what drove his old friend, a by-the-book lawman with a wife and daughter, to take his own life. With the clock ticking on the birth of Walt’s first grandchild in Philadelphia, he enlists the help of undersheriff Vic Moretti, Henry Standing Bear, and Gillette policeman Corbin Dougherty and, looking for answers, reopens Holman’s last case. Before his mysterious death, Detective Holman was elbow-deep in a cold case involving three local women who’d gone missing with nothing to connect the disappearances–or so it seemed. The detective’s family and the Campbell County sheriff’s office beg Walt to drop the case. An open-and-shut suicide they say. But there’s a blood trail too hot to ignore, and it’s leading Walt in circles: from a casino in Deadwood, to a mysterious lodge in the snowy Black Hills of South Dakota, to a band of international hit men, to a shady strip club, and back again to the Campbell County sheriff’s office. Digging deeper, Walt will uncover a secret so dark it threatens to claim other lives before the sheriff can serve justice–Wyoming style.

51aXe1Jdy5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)Craig Johnson continues to produce novels of extremely high standard with his Longmire series, of which this is the tenth (eleventh if you count his novella Spirit of the Steamboat). Johnson has such a command of his characters and location that reading a new book in the series transports you immediately back to his Wyoming setting. The books are written in first person through the voice of Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire and his observations are delivered with great wit. The dialogue is priceless with the camaraderie between the leads (Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear, his under-sheriff Victoria Morettl and former boss, the crotchety and highly entertaining Lucian Connolly) beautifully portrayed.

The case here centres around an investigator’s suicide and the link it has to three missing girls. The plot is deftly played out and builds in suspense and excitement through to its race against time climax – including the sub-plot of Walt’s pregnant lawyer daughter, Cady, in a Philadephia hospital and about to give birth demanding his presence. The Longmire books are always a pure joy from start to finish and this is no exception. If you are looking to pick one up start at the beginning with The Cold Dish and work your way through what is one of the most consistently entertaining series of books I’ve ever read.

It’s also worth catching the Longmire TV series based on the books, which use the main characters but follow a different story arc.

Book Review – THE BONES BENEATH (2014) BY Mark Billingham

THE BONES BENEATH by MARK BILLINGHAM (2014, Sphere, Paperback, 474pp) ∗∗∗½
      Blurb: Tom Thorne is back in charge – but there’s a terrifying price to pay. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous psychopath he has ever put behind bars, promises to reveal the whereabouts of a body he buried twenty-five years before. But only if Thorne agrees to escort him. Unable to refuse, Thorne gathers a team and travels to a remote Welsh island, at the mercy of the weather and cut off from the mainland. Thorne is determined to get the job done and return home before Nicklin can outwit them. But Nicklin knows this island well and has had time to plan ahead. Soon, new bodies are added to the old, and Thorne finds himself facing the toughest decision he has ever had to make…

51obJnUpdkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This is more of a pyschological thriller than mystery, although there are mysterious elements to the tight tale. Billingham has constructed a magnetic storyline and an unusual location. The rugged and remote Bardsey Island is captured well in Billingham’s descriptive writing and the Thorne/Nicklin needling relationship forms the central theme. Although the book strectches over more than 450 pages, the pace doesn’t really slacken as we are taken inside Nicklin’s psyche.

Although the strands that are hanging through the book come together in the finale, though there are elements that remain unresolved. Despite the familiarity of some of the plot elements, the unusual setting and strong characters make this book is another entertaining read from one of Britain’s best series writers.

Book Review – THE SILKWORM (2014) by Robert Galbraith

THE SILKWORM by ROBERT GALBRAITH (2014, Sphere, Paperback, 584pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
      But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.

51nAhDhrL8LBy now it’s a well-known fact that author Robert Galbraith, who wrote the well-received The Cuckoo Calling, is in fact J.K. Rowling. For her second book featuring Afghanistan vet turned private eye, Cormoran Strike, Rowling weaves a tight mystery plot around the murder of a controversial novelist. The literary world is one very familiar to Rowling and she has a great amount of fun painting colourful characters.

There is something reassuringly old-fashioned about the structure of this book, which broadly sticks to the multiple suspect formula of the genre. Where Rowling wins out is in her depiction of her roguish one-legged hero, his professional relationship with his assistant, Robin and in the almost caricature cast of suspects. The writing is easy and the managing of the plot clever.

Book Review – SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT (2013)

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2013, Penguin, Paperback, 146pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Sheriff Walt Longmire is in his office reading A Christmas Carol when he is interrupted by a ghost of Christmas past: a young woman with a hairline scar and more than a few questions about his predecessor, Lucian Connally. Walt’s on his own this Christmas Eve, so he agrees to help her. 
      At the Durant Home for Assisted Living, Lucian is several tumblers into his Pappy Van Winkle’s and swears he’s never clapped eyes on the woman before. Disappointed, she whispers “Steamboat” and begins a story that takes them all back to Christmas Eve 1988—a story that will thrill and delight the best-selling series’ devoted fans.

Spirit of SteamboatCraig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series of novels has gathered a loyal following over the years and spawned a successful TV series. Johnson initially intended this novella to be one of his seasonal short stories offered up free to his fans. The end result was something of more substantial length, but remains a fast-paced and thrilling read. Johnson has a splendid ear for banter driven dialogue and builds strong characters on the back of it.

There is no mystery in this tale, it is based around the selflessness of the main protagonists in trying to save the life of an infant (victim of a car crash) some 25 years earlier. The story goes through a series of setbacks and solutions as Walt and the old-sheriff Lucian, helped by Doc Isaac Bloomfield and co-pilot Julie Luehrman, use an old WWII bomber to fly their patient through a snowstorm to Denver. The story is also framed around references to Dickens’ Christmas Carol and is designed as a modern parable.

Witty dialogue and likeable characters who you want to spend more time with are the key to Johnson’s success. If you’ve not read any of the Longmire books I recommend you start straight away at the beginning (The Cold Dish) and you’ll be drawn into one of the very best series around.

Book Review – THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE (2014)

THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE by BENJAMIN BLACK (2014, Picador, Paperback, 290pp) ∗∗∗∗
      BlurbMaybe it was time I forgot about Nico Peterson, and his sister, and the Cahuilla Club, and Clare Cavendish. Clare? The rest would be easy to put out of my mind, but not the black-eyed blonde . . . It is the early 1950s. In Los Angeles, Private Detective Philip Marlowe is as restless and lonely as ever, and business is a little slow. Then a new client arrives: young, beautiful, and expensively dressed, Clare Cavendish wants Marlowe to find her former lover, a man named Nico Peterson. Soon Marlowe will find himself not only under the spell of the Black-Eyed Blonde; but tangling with one of Bay City’s richest families – and developing a singular appreciation for how far they will go to protect their fortune . . .

untitled-benjamin-black-7-marlowe-978144723670201John Banville, under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black, takes on the mantle of continuing the literary cases of Philip Marlowe. I’m a huge fan of Raymond Chandler and his iconic creation. Chandler added depth to his hero as the series progressed peaking with the extraordinary The Long Goodbye (1953). It is from that book that Black takes his lead here.

What starts out as a straight-forward mystery becomes linked to events in Marlowe’s past as he unravels the case surrounding the supposed death of a rich socialite’s lover. All is not as it seems and the mystery, which initially unfolds at a steady pace, gathers momentum in its closing chapters through to its surprise conclusion. Black proves himself to be a worthy successor to Chandler and Marlowe is in good hands.

Book Review – LINE OF DUTY (1974) by Ernest Tidyman

LINE OF DUTY by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1974, W.H. Allen, Hardback, 240pp) ∗∗∗½
      Blurb: Terror prowls the dark streets of a sprawling American city waiting for violence to break out. Some men sleep but others wait for it too, hiding in the shadows. One of them waits in a comfortless room lit by a single glaring bulb, seller of secrets of the organization that could pillage the metropolis. A second comes hunting him with a policeman’s badge shielding a ruthless assassin’s hunger for the kill.. And a third, a just and honest man, begins to know that his hands alone can stop the bloodbath that threatens to engulf his city. Violence is about to come thundering through the night. Before day dawns, a trail of death will be created in its wake.

$(KGrHqVHJDUE63ZSCfoVBPqn7e!TGw~~60_57Ernest Tidyman’s Line of Duty was originally written as a screenplay titled The Inspector and its roots are apparent in the transition to a novel. The story of a cop gone bad, having become a killer for a major crime figure, is interesting and could have made for an intriguing movie. On the page, Tidyman allows his character to breathe giving all the major protagonists a voice. There is no snaking plot line or mystery. The enjoyment comes from seeing the characters react as the truth around Dempsey’s corruption emerges.

Tidyman’s dark humour is apparent throughout as is his knowledge of his home town. He even references a quote from his father Ben (a respected former crime journalist), to whom the book is dedicated: “There is only one reason this burg Cleveland exits. It’s a place to stop between New York and Chicago and piss in the river.”

 

Book Review – HOPE TO DIE (2001) by Lawrence Block

HOPE TO DIE by LAWRENCE BLOCK (2001, Orion, Paperback, 340pp) ∗∗∗½
      Blurb: Byrne and Susan Hollander stroll home from a concert on a fine summer?s evening in New York. Some hours later, their daughter Kristin arrives home to discover her parents brutally killed and the house ransacked. She also finds she is now a very young millionaire. A few days later the police trace the two killers to an apartment in Coney Island, and both are dead. One killed the other before turning the gun on himself ? at least that?s the way it looks. So that?s another case solved. But for Matt Scudder it’s only the beginning. The more he looks into it, the more things look wrong to him. There’s a murderer out there, and he’s just getting started. Pitted in a deadly game of cat and mouse, Scudder is up against the most resourceful and diabolical killer of his career.

isbn9781409130109-detailHaving recently watched and enjoyed the old-school thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson as Lawrence Block’s ex-alcoholic and part-time detective Matt Scudder, I remembered I had bought a copy of another of Block’s Scudder tales from the bargain bin at Asda some months ago and never got round to reading it. So I decided to catch up on what I had missed.

I found the first half of the book a little too ponderous after the initial set-up of the case. There’s a lot of pages devoted to exposition and a sub-plot featuring the death of Scudder’s ex-wife and his re-uniting with his two sons. We are also reminded that Scudder is a reformed alcoholic who still regularly attends AA meetings. Now older and wiser he finds solace in helping others. Whilst this adds depth to the character it tends to slow the pace of the story. But Block is an experienced and canny writer and he gradually homes in on the case in hand, which twists and turns in unexpected directions. The pace picks up in the last hundred pages and the conclusion is both shocking and surprising.

When I was reading Scudder’s dialogue I had a clear vision of Liam Neeson in mind, showing what a good piece of casting it was and a significant improvement over the previous film adaptation of Scudder – Eight Million Ways to Die (1986) – in which he was played by Jeff Bridges. I look forward to reading more Matt Scudder and also hope he returns to the screen soon.

Book Review – DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (1968) by Philip K. Dick

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by PHILIP K. DICK (1968, Gollancz/Orion Books Ltd., Paperback, 214pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Through the mean streets of a grim 21st century megalopolis, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, searching out the renegade andys who were his prey. But this assignment involved Nexus-6 targets and as a result Deckard quickly found himself involved in a nightmare kaleidoscope of violence and subterfuge – and the threat of death for the hunter rather than the hunted…

51JumXKRdEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I saw BLADE RUNNER on its first release, when it sank without a trace and I was one of those who was enthralled by the nightmare world it presented and championed the movie. The film has been re-edited and re-appraised since and is now regarded as an SF masterpiece. The book it is based on is a 1968 pulp novel by Philip K. Dick curiously entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Many of the elements of the book found their way into Ridley Scott’s film, but just as many were jettisoned. Dick’s novel is a mix of themes of spirituality and technophobia. Scott’s movie focused on the latter, ignoring the references to Mercerism (a kind og mystic religion) and keeping animals as pets to replace the fact no-one can have children. As a result the mix adopted in Dick’s novel gives the book a different feel to the movie. Here Deckard is in an unhappy marriage where mood machines are used to control people’s emotions. Deckard is a loner and a bounty hunter who starts to question his actions, as he seeks and “retires” six escaped Nexus-6 androids. He even has a dalliance with a female android, Rachael Rosen, whose creator is responsible for the Nexus-6 programme.

The emphasis of the book is on the contradictions of a post-nuclear life and the compromises made. It taps into an age of paranoia and is a thoughtful book that is thankfully not steeped in the cod-literacy that often dogs the genre. It is a quick read and recommended to anyone who wishes to explore Dick’s vision further.