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.
ABACAB (Charisma, 18 September 1981) – Album Score – 72%
Tony Banks – keyboards
Phil Collins – drums, vocals
Mike Rutherford – guitars, basses
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
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’)
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)
KILLER’S CHOICE (1958) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1986, 160pp (155pp)
First published in 1958 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1958
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.
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
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.
THE PUSHER (1956) ***½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 160pp (152pp)
First published by Perma in 1956 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1956
Blurb: A bitterly cold night offers up a body turned blue—not frozen, but swinging from a rope in a dank basement. The dead teen seems like a clear case of suicide, but Detective Steve Carella and Lieutenant Peter Byrnes find a few facts out of place, and an autopsy confirms their suspicions. The boy hadn’t hung himself but OD’d on heroin before an unknown companion strung him up to hide the true cause of death. The revelation dredges up enough muck to muddy the waters of what should’ve been an open-and-shut case. To find the answers to a life gone off the rails, Carella and Byrnes face a deep slog into the community of users and pushers—but a grim phone calls discloses that very community already has its claws in a cop’s son. A new pusher is staking a claim right under the 87th Precinct’s noses, and it’s up to Carella and Byrnes to snag the viper before it poisons their whole lives.
Comment: The third of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books is geared around a story that runs close to home for Lt. Pete Byrnes, head of the 87th Precinct’s detective squad, when his son is implicated in the murder of a drug pusher. By introducing a case with personal investment McBain gets to explore further the detective characters he has created. Byrne’s family life is fleshed out and we see more of the relationship he has with his squad – notably Detective Steve Carella, who is officially working on the case and is taken into Byrne’s trust. The book is full of McBain’s writing flourishes with snappy dialogue and his trademark prose. The plot is linear and follows the logical progression of the investigation without the need to resort to contrivances. Another solid book in the series.
THE MUGGER (1956) ***½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 160pp (152pp)
First published by Perma in 1956 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1956
Blurb: He preys on women, waiting in the darkness…then comes from behind, attacks them, and snatches their purses. He tells them not to scream and as they’re on the ground, reeling with pain and fear, he bows and nonchalantly says, “Clifford thanks you, madam.” But when he puts one victim in the hospital and the next in the morgue, the detectives of the 87th Precinct are not amused and will stop at nothing to bring him to justice. Dashing young patrolman Bert Kling is always there to help a friend. And when a friend’s sister-in-law is the mugger’s murder victim, Bert’s personal reasons to find the maniacal killer soon become a burning obsession…and it could easily get him killed.
Comment: The second of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books followed hot on the heels of Cop Hater and is similarly assured. This time the detectives are investigating a series of muggings which seem to be linked to the murder of 17-year-old Jeannie Page. The pace is quick and the dialogue snappy making for a fast an entertaining read. Having focused on Steve Carella in the first book, the second is geared around detective Hal Willis, patrolman Bert Kling and decoy Eileen Burke – Carella being absent on honeymoon following his wedding at the end of the first book. This gives McBain the opportunity to expand the cast of characters within the precinct. Kling becomes the core focus as he is asked by an old friend to assist with moody sister-in-law, Jeannie, who later turns up murdered – the apparent latest victim of a serial mugger going by the name of Clifford. The two plots are resolved rather quickly and and partly through happenstance – something McBain was keen to impress on his readers was that not all cases are solved through detection alone, luck is also a key element. This sets McBain apart from many of his peers who look to impress the readers with the intellect of their detective heroes. McBain is happy to show his detectives as fallible human beings who follow a process and are as likely to make mistakes as they are to skilfully unravel the mysteries they are presented with. McBain also explores the personal lives of his key characters – this time the focus is Kling and his burgeoning romance with student Claire Townsend. The Mugger repeats the successful formula of Cop Hater and concludes with Kling’s promotion to the detective division and Carella’s return from honeymoon. McBain was in prolific form and would produce his third 87th Precinct book to be published in the same year – The Pusher.
COP HATER (1956) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp (171pp)
First published by Perma in 1956 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1956
Blurb: As a cop with the city’s famed 87th Precinct, Steve Carella has seen it all. Or so he thinks. Because nothing can prepare him for the sight that greets him on a sweltering July night: fellow detective Mike Reardon’s dead body splayed across the sidewalk, his face blown away by a .45. Days later, Reardon’s partner is found dead, a .45-caliber bullet buried deep in his chest. Only a fool would call it a coincidence, and Carella’s no fool. He chalks the whole ugly mess up to a grudge killing…until a third murder shoots that theory to hell. Armed with only a single clue, Carella delves deep into the city’s underbelly, launching a grim search for answers that will lead him from a notorious brothel to the lair of a beautiful, dangerous widow. He won’t stop until he finds the truth—or until the next bullet finds him.
Comment: Along with Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft books, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels were the first adult books and crime fiction I ever read. I initially read them in retrospect and out of sequence and then bought the series with each new publication from Ice (1983) onward. Cop Hater was the first book in the series, published back in 1956, and re-reading it now it is obvious to see the influence the book not only had on crime fiction, but also TV police procedurals. McBain would establish himself as a master of the format over the next 49 years with 55 books in the series. Isola was a fictional city, but in reality it was a thinly disguised depiction of New York, its geography rotated on its access and its boroughs renamed. McBain prided himself on the detail to which he captured the procedure of police detection and there is much detail in this debut book to that effect. That does not mean to say the book is bogged down by minutiae. Far from it. The book is as efficient as they come, McBain having been schooled in pulp fiction. His natural use of dialogue, including the witty banter, was to become McBain’s key calling card along with his intricate plotting and ability to create believable characters. The plot here concerns a series of killings of detectives from the 87th Precinct with seemingly no motive. McBain highlights the process his detectives go through in following leads until they come to a dead end or to the killer. Steve Carella takes the lead here, as he would do in many of books in the series. We also get to see the detectives’ home and social lives making their characters fully rounded and human. McBain would keep the series at a consistently high standard throughout, which is incredible given the volume of books he wrote. Cop Hater may not be among the very best, but it does demonstrate many of the traits that would make the series so popular and as such holds an important place in crime literature history.
FOREVER AND A DAY (2018) ***½
by Anthony Horowitz
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2019, 304pp (283pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 2018
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. and The Ian Fleming Estate, 2018
Blurb: A British agent floats in the waters of the French Riviera, murdered by an unknown hand. Determined to uncover the truth, James Bond enters a world of fast cars, grand casinos and luxury yachts. But beneath the glamour, he soon encounters a dangerous network of organised crime. It’s time for Bond to earn his licence to kill. He must find those responsible and unravel their devastating plan – before he becomes their next victim…
Comment: This latest continuation James Bond novel sees Horowitz return after his modest effort on Trigger Mortis. Here he decides to set his story as a prequel to Fleming’s Casino Royale, establishing Bond’s appointment to the double-o section and his first mission. The mission sees Bond travel to Marseilles to look into the death of his predecessor, who was investigating a local gangster. There is much exposition and time is taken on giving depth to the major characters in the story – notably the enigmatic Madame Sixtine, with whom Bond forms an alliance and an emotional attachment. The villains are the multi-millionaire Irwin Wolfe, who produces film stock and the slimy Jean-Paul Scipio – a Corsican gangster. The pace is a little laboured with the odd interjection of action until the finale aboard Wolfe’s steamer, which gives the novel an exciting finish along with a coda that wraps the story up nicely. Not many surprises but fans of 007 will likely enjoy this addition to the Bond library.
SERENITY (2005, USA) ****
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures / Barry Mendel Productions; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; pr. Barry Mendel; ph. Jack N. Green (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), Digital (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9 : 1 anamorphic). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format). 2.35:1); m. David Newman; ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Daniel T. Dorrance; rel. 22 August 2005 (UK), 22 September 2005 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 119m.
cast: Nathan Fillion (Mal), Gina Torres (Zoë), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Morena Baccarin (Inara), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Sean Maher (Simon), Summer Glau (River), Ron Glass (Shepherd Book), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative), David Krumholtz (Mr. Universe), Michael Hitchcock (Dr. Mathias), Sarah Paulson (Dr. Caron), Yan Feldman (Mingo), Rafael Feldman (Fanty), Nectar Rose (Lenore), Tamara Taylor (Teacher), Glenn Howerton (Lilac Young Tough), Hunter Ansley Wryn (Young River).
A group of rebels led by war veteran Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship, Serenity, outside the reach of the Alliance, a sinister regime that controls most of the universe. After the crew takes in Simon (Maher) and his psychic sister, River (Glau), whom he has just rescued from Alliance forces, they find themselves being pursued by the Operative (Ejiofor), an Alliance agent who will stop at nothing to find them. The events of the film take place six months after the last episode of the Firefly (2002) TV series, which was cancelled prematurely by the network despite its loyal fan base. Here, Whedon attempts to tie-up some of the loose threads that resulted from the series being dropped. Whilst the movie may require its audience to be familiar with the series, there is still much to enjoy for newcomers. The action is ramped up and there is the witty character interaction that endeared the TV show to its audience leaving sufficient of the series’ spirit on show to make this a success. All the regulars return and there are shocks and surprises along the way. Whedon’s direction is fast-paced and the cast hit the ground running. It’s a shame the movie did not earn sufficient box office to warrant extending the franchise.
SUSPICION (1941, USA) ****
dist. RKO Radio Pictures; pr co. RKO Radio Pictures; d. Alfred Hitchcock; w. Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison, Alma Reville (based on the novel “Before the Fact” by Anthony Berkeley (as Francis Iles)); pr. Harry E. Edington; ph. Harry Stradling (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Franz Waxman; ed. William Hamilton; ad. Van Nest Polglase; rel. 9 November 1941 (USA), December 1941 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 99m.
cast: Cary Grant (Johnnie), Joan Fontaine (Lina), Cedric Hardwicke (General McLaidlaw), Nigel Bruce (Beaky), May Whitty (Mrs. McLaidlaw), Isabel Jeans (Mrs. Newsham), Heather Angel (Ethel [Maid]), Auriol Lee (Isobel Sedbusk), Reginald Sheffield (Reggie Wetherby), Leo G. Carroll (Captain Melbeck).
Grant plays the charming scoundrel Johnnie Aysgarth and woos the wealthy but plain Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine), who elopes with him despite the warnings of her disapproving father (Hardwicke). After their marriage, Johnnie’s risky financial ventures cause Lina to suspect he’s becoming involved in unscrupulous dealings. When his dear friend and business partner, Beaky (Bruce), dies under suspicious circumstances on a business trip, she fears her husband might kill her for her inheritance. Hitchcock deftly manages the light and dark tones of the story, as does Waxman’s score and Stradling’s photography. Grant is perfect for his role and convincing in portraying the ambiguity of the character. Fontaine’s performance may seem mannered today, but it was enough to win her a best actress Oscar. A good support cast is headed by the stern Hardwicke and the bumbling Bruce. Lee also scores as an Agatha Christie-styled mystery writer. The film builds in suspense toward its rushed climax, which the studio notoriously interfered in. Remade as a TV Movie in 1987.
AA: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Joan Fontaine)
AAN: Best Picture; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (Franz Waxman)
COLONEL SUN (1968) ***½
by Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham)
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 344pp (317pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1966
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1968
Introduction by Kingsley Amis (5pp)
Blurb: Lunch at Scott’s, a quiet game of golf, a routine social call on his chief M, convalescing in his Regency house in Berkshire – the life of secret agent James Bond has begun to fall into a pattern that threatens complacency … until the sunny afternoon when M is kidnapped and his house staff savagely murdered. The action ricochets across the globe to a volcanic Greek island where the glacial, malign Colonel Sun Liang-tan of the People’s Liberation Army of China collaborates with an ex-nazi atrocity expert in a world-menacing conspiracy. Stripped of all professional aids, Bond faces unarmed the monstrous devices of Colonel Sun in a test that brings him to the verge of his physical endurance.
Comment: This is the first continuation James Bond novel commissioned by Ian Fleming’s estate. Amis, a respected author in his own right (Lucky Jim, The Green Man, etc.), was a friend of Fleming’s and a fan of the series. He had written two books about the series – The James Bond Dossier and The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007 (using the pseudonym of M’s chief-of-staff, Lt-Col William (‘Bill’) Tanner). He was therefore a logical choice to continue the series. The book is very well written and provides a scenario which tests Bond to his physical limits. The torture scene in the book’s final act is more sadistic and unpleasant than anything Fleming conjured up. The Greek setting gives the tale a fresh feel too, but somehow lacks Fleming’s sense of place. The plot is simple in that M is kidnapped by the Chinese psychotic, Colonel Sun Liang-tan, who is supported by a former Nazi in a scheme to unsettle the international community by obliterating a Russian conference and leaving the bodies of M and Bond as framed culprits. Bond works with the Russians, in the form of female agent Ariadne Alexandrou with whom he becomes romantically involved, to track down Sun’s lair and rescue M. The action scenes are well-staged and Amis remains true to Fleming’s format and characterisations. Amis has Bond rely on his resilience and physical strength, rather than gimmicks, to overcome the odds. There is little in the way of back-reference to the events in the Fleming novels, so the story holds up well as a standalone. Ultimately, it makes for a solid thriller that would have sat within the mid-range of Fleming’s series.