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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Stephen King is on a roll with his Bill Hodges trilogy and this the second and middle book, following on directly from Mr Mercedes is another nail biter - I've gone through both books in a couple of weeks and to use the reviewer's cliche, I couldn't put the books down. This second volume, billed as another story about a fan obsessed with a writer claims to have shades of the author's earlier Misery, but the novel is a totally different beast to King's earlier novel. Where Misery was a tightly contained masterclass in suspense, Finders Keepers is a more sprawling work with far more threads to be tied into the whole. I loved Misery; it's one of my favourite King novels and I don't think it is helpful to compare the two novels as they are world's apart. In fact the only common factor they share is that they are both totally compelling works.

Finders Keeps is structured for the first act in two time frames - 1978 and the present day. Back in the Sensational Seventies we are introduced to petty criminal Morris Bellamy who just so happens to be a huge fan of reclusive writer, John Rothstein, who seems to be based somewhat on J. D. Salinger. Bellamy is furious at Rothstein for allowing his most famous character, Jimmy Gold (a symbol for teenage America) to sell out in the last book of his acclaimed Runner trilogy.

"Shit don't mean shit."

After the publication of the third Runner novel, Rothstein gave up public life and as far as his public knew he was no longer writing. However there have long been rumours that Rothstein is in fact writing but will not publish his work, and keeps it hidden away together with strict instructions that it be destroyed when he dies.

 So popular is the character of Jimmy Gold that his catchphrase, 'shit don't mean shit' sells millions of T-shirts.

“You created one of the greatest characters in American literature, then shit on him... A man who could do that doesn’t deserve to live,”

The above line comes from Morris Bellamy and is part of a blackly comical exchange between himself and the reclusive writer after he breaks into the writer's secluded home. Bellamy has two other men with him and after finding a considerable amount of cash, and better still a pile of notebooks containing everything Rothstein had written since retiring from publishing, Bellamy shoots the writer in the head. Afterwards he kills his two accomplaces and flees into the night....he's not interested in the money but looks forward to reading all the unpublished fiction, who knows, he figures, there may even be a new Runner novel amongst all the moleskin  notebooks he's stolen.

Morris buries the notebooks and cash in an old suitcase while he waits for the heat to die down, but unfortunately one drunken night leads to him being arrested for assualt and rape and being sentanced to life in prison. Thirty years later the suitcase is discovered by young Peter Saubers who uses the money to help his family - his dad was injured during the mercedes massacre which was the plotline of the previous book Mr Mercedes.

Of course these two story threads come together when Morris Bellamy is released from prison, still batshit crazy and looking forward to reading the stolen Rothstein notebooks. Cue the entrance of Bill Hodges, the wonderfully drawn, Holly and Jerome. The team who solved the Mr Mercedes case are back!

Finders Keeps, at 400 pages, is short by King's doorstopper standards and all the better for it - expertly plotted the book hurtles towards another thrilling conclusion. I especially liked the way we see the Mr Mercedes massacre again,-  this time from a different character's POV and after several years of avoiding Mr King I think I am firmly back in the King is the King camp. The third book (rumoured to be called The Suicide Prince or End of Watch)  will obviously feature the return of Brady Hartfield (the killer from Mr Mercedes) who appears several times in this book and seems to have developed some sort of supernatural power.

Both Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers have been straightforward crime thrillers and I do hope King doesn't go down the supernatural route for his next novel in the series. Whatever happens....I can't wait for the third novel and pray King doesn't go down the Rothstein route and lock the manuscript away unpublished.....because shit don't mean shit until I get the next book.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 22 Jun - 28 Jun 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits142991477569605865093
First Time Visits134941447363575662189
Returning Visits8532632294

Friday, 26 June 2015

The First Avenger - RIP Patrick Macnee

He was the quintessential English gentleman - forever associated with the bowler hat and umbrella, Patrick Macnee will for many people be remembered as John Steed in the cult TV shows,The Avengers and the New Avengers. Born in 1922, Macnee's life was as colourful as the characters he often played - expelled from Eton for selling pornography and running a bookmaker business. He served in the Royal Navy during world war II. He took up acting following the war and appeared uncredited in many films before getting a role as Jacob Marley in  Scrooge(1951).

In 1961 Macnee took the role of John Steed in The Avengers, which was originally intended to be a vehicle for Ian Hendry who played Dr David Keel while Macnee was his sidekick. However Hendry left after the first series and the character of John Steed became the focus point. The series would run for six seasons with Macnee being partnered with a string of glamorous female assistants. This was the height of the James Bond/Spy mania and The Avengers became something of an odd  and very stylish, not to mention surreal 1960's masterpiece.

''So very sad to hear Pat MacNee has left us. We were mates from 1950s and I have so many happy memories of working with him. A true gent.'' Roger Moore

The show was brought back in 1976 as the New Avengers with Macnee partnered with Joanna Lumley as Purdey and Gareth Hunt as Gambit. The new series only ran for two seasons but these days is as fondly remembered as the groundbreaking earlier show.

In 1985 Macnee was back in the spy genre playing alongside Roger Moore in Moore's final Bond movie, A View to a Kill. The chemistry between the two actors is one of the high points of the movie. Macnee had of course previously appeared with Moore when he took on the role of Dr Watson to Moore's Sherlock Holmes in the terrible but oddly watchable  1976 TV movie, Sherlock Holmes in New York.

Macnee died aged 93 on June 25th 2016.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

Currently available as paperback, audiobook and eBook.

I first picked up this book in hardcover (as I do with most of Stephen King's books), but for some reason didn't get around to reading it until the eBook became available. I do love my Kindle and find it the only way to read fiction, but that's besides the point of this review. I still buy the physical books from author's I especially like and over recent years my shelves have become stocked with copies that will remain in mint condition as electronic ink becomes my medium of choice.

At just over 400 pages, it is a slim book by King's standards and all the better for it - the story is tighter, moves at a steady pace and held my attention for the few days it took me to read it. In fact I've not enjoyed a King novel so much as this one in a long, long time, and for once the ending (never King's strongest point) is absolutely rivetting. This then, the start of the Bill Hodges trilogy (the second, Finders Keepers has just come out in hardcover) is a  bloody good, no nonsense thriller that sees King at the top of his form.

Though King has always been a fucking fantastic writer, he has lost me a few times over the years (I could never dig the Dark Tower series for instance). He even on times bored me with the padding he tended to throw into each book. It got so bad that I morphed from one of his constant readers into an occassional reader,  but ever since 11,22, 63 (2011) he's been like an unstoppable rollercoaster delivering one great book after another, with the possible exception of that millionth  Dark Tower bookie, of course. One of the most accessible of his recent books, Joyland (2013) was almost a novella by King's standard and saw King swapping his crucifix for as snub nosed .38 as he crossed into the crime/thrlller genre. It's a genre he fits well and with  Mr Mercedes, King proves himself as much a master of it as he was with horror.

 The plot - Bill Hodges is a retired cop. He spends his days slumped in from of daytime TV series, and contemplates ending it all by chewing on the end of his revolver. One of the old cases Bill was unable to solve during his time on the job involved a maniac driving a mercedes into a crowd of job seekers outside a job fair. Hodges is unsettled into the mindless boredom of retirement when he gets a taunting letter from the maniac who turned the luxury car into a deadly weapon. It seems the object behind the letter is to push Hodges along the road to chewing on his gun but ironically the letter gives the retired cop a reason to go on.

Under the Blue Umbrella, is a social network where Hodges gets to chat with the maniac and slowly events turn, and before the reader know it they are fully invested in this excellent story. Of course King's grasp of character is awe aspiring and the reader really becomes involved in the characters that populate the book, the characters become so real that we almost feel as if we've know them our entire lives -  Holly for instance is a wonderful creation, as is Jerome, and I must own up to shedding a tear when a major character is snuffed out around the half way point - there's not many writers who can turn a cynical forty something old school male into a snivelling girl but King is one such writer.

King doesn't go down the mystery thriller road and we, the readers, are introduced to the maniac, Mr Mercedes, or Brady very early in the story, and we spend much of the book walking around his inner life. And boy is his madness built up in a realitic and chilling way, nuerosis is piled on top of nuerosis as we begin to, if not emphasise then at least understand what could turn Brady into such a total bastard. Yep, this world we live in is a fucked up place.

An excellent crime thriller which Stephen King calls his first hard-boiled detective story, but I don't think it's especially hard-boiled since I usually associate the phrase hard-boiled with the paired back style of Chandler and authors of that ilk. King is much too verbose to be truly hard-boiled  but all the same the story is lean by King's usual standards.

Highly recommended.

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 15 Jun - 21 Jun 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits991086250981319063891
First Time Visits981026045951278861588
Returning Visits1625342233

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


I don't really watch TV these days, and yet strangely I am watching more quality television shows than I ever have.

 To make sense of that let me explain -  I never watch TV as it's broadcast, and tend to catch up on shows via DVD or streaming services like Netflix.

 Because of this I'm always behind but this has the advantage of me being able to binge on entire seasons and be far more selective with my viewing. For instance last year I watched every season of Breaking Bad, back to back over a three week period - and I doubt if the show would have had the same effect had I watched it on a weekly basis and then waited several months between seasons. When you watch entire story arcs over a short period you can better appreciate the way a story has been structured, the flaws though also become evident. Quite often I'll start a show and give up after a season or two, especially if the show runs out of steam but that's getting rare these days especially as I tend to gravitate towards shows that have gathered critical acclaim.

James Norton - best screen psycho in many a year
There are times though when I will pick on a show out of curiosity and discover an absolute gem. One such case was the six part, 2014 BBC crime thriller, Happy Valley. It was only that I saw the entire series on DVD in Tesco for a measly £7 that I took the plunge. I would never have picked up this show otherwise - after all it stars one time Coronation Street actress, Sarah Lancashire (an actress I associate with gentle TV drama designed for housewives) and simply didn't seem like the sort of show I'd enjoy.

 Still it was a crime drama, the disc was cheap and so I placed it in the player - I fully expected a twee crime drama, a cross between Juliet Bravo and Midsummer Murders  but what I got was a gritty and grim thriller, a kind of British Fargo but with the humour replaced with genuine nail biting tension.

Written by Sally Wainwright who also directed the pulse pounding fourth episode, Happy Valley centres on a group of people who find themselves involved in events they are unable to control. The initial trigger is accountant, Kevin Weatherhill who annoyed with his boss over his refusal of a pay rise mentions the idea of a kidnap to local drug dealer, Ashley Cowgill. Wetherhill dreampt up the idea on a whim after discovering Cowgill dealt drugs and from there things spiral out of control. First Cowgill enlists two of his workers, Lewis Whippey and Tommy Lee Royce. The latter character is played by James Norton and he gives us a performance of true depth and in doing so creates one of the most memorable screen psychos of all time.

It's all gritty stuff - opening with a theme song from the excellent Jake Bugg it soon becomes clear that this is a thriller with teeth, and boy does it bite.

It's an extemely violent show, unusually so for the BBC but the violence is justified and the effects of all this is explored in depth with the complex, well realised characters. I watched all six episodes over a two nights and although episodes five and six seemed like an epilogue that could have been tightened up into one episode the show kept my attention throughout. Still I suppose it is the kidnapping that drives the plot and once that was concluded at the climax of episode four, the pace slowed down considerably; almost feeling that the final two episodes were made to stretch the show out to six episodes to fit better into television scheduales.

That said this is a brilliant series that anyone who likes crime thrillers needs to catch up on. Sarah Lancashire's performance is absolutely extraordinary and the rest of the cast are uniformly excellent.

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 8 Jun - 14 Jun 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits7857466678794144564
First Time Visits7454446369763941960
Returning Visits4323932264