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Emanon "Mr Holmes (they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!)" (Derbyshire)

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The Wit of Cricket 2
The Wit of Cricket 2
by Richie Benaud
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 14.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Failing to avoid the follow-on, 19 Jan 2010
This review is from: The Wit of Cricket 2 (Audio CD)
Another selection of pithy and amusing anecdotes from the strange world of cricket as told by those masters of the tall tale Brian Johnston and Henry Blofeld, ably assisted by the down-to-Earth observations of former test umpire Harold "Dickie" Bird. This time around the sharply observed and deadpan delivered broadcasting experiences of Richie Benaud and the memories of Fred Trueman are added to the mix, which makes it a more hit-and-miss affair than the previous selection, not least because the more "familiar" stories have already been told, and (ironically) the Trueman delivery leaves a little to be desired, but it is still a jolly enough way of passing 75 minutes with the masters of the game, and at the very least remains a very fine way of enjoying some fine and eloquent voices sometimes being quite amazingly rude (in the nicest possible way) and it remains a lot of fun.

Anyone who's ever had the pleasure of listening to the BBC's TEST MATCH SPECIAL will be familiar with the jolly banter that the inhabitants of the commentary box share with their listeners and this selection of stories gives a fair flavour of that and will give you great insight into the mysterious world of cricket broadcasting, the famous players and the slightly surreal universe surrounding this most fascinating of games.

Not, on the whole, as good as the first collection, but a fair second innings following on...

Doctor Who: Peladon Tales (The Curse of Peladon / The Monster of Peladon) [DVD]
Doctor Who: Peladon Tales (The Curse of Peladon / The Monster of Peladon) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jon Pertwee
Price: 11.00

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two visits to Peladon, 18 Jan 2010
After a fairly long absence, there's a sudden burst of Jon Pertwee stories getting released on DVD. After last year's rather excellent DALEK WAR set comes this collection of two stories set on the world of Peladon, separated by two years in production terms and fifty years in plot terms. THE CURSE OF PELADON is the second story of the 1972 series and finds the Doctor, (whilst still exiled to Earth) managing to get his TARDIS working just long enough to drag Jo Grant (Katy Manning) away from the prospect of a night out with Mike Yates and land her halfway up a mountain in a thunderstorm on an alien planet. Four episodes of political intrigue ensue on the rather feudal planet Peladon which still worships the furry terror that is Aggedor whilst being in negotiation for entry into the Galactic Federation, a situation that doesn't make certain members of the population very happy and is in absolutely no way reflecting a certain small nation's issues about entry into the "common market" that were happening at the same time. Ahem!

A range of alien ambassadors of various types (and successfulness) from the frankly disturbing face in a box called Arcturus to the rather endearing Alpha Centauri (who has to be seen to be believed) also have their own agendas, and a familiar set of foes from the Patrick Troughton era, the Ice Warriors are also along for the ride and this time around add a great deal of depth to a race of creatures raising their status to the realm of rather "classic" monsters. They are all given strong support by a fine set of character actors including Geoffrey Toone as the zealous High Priest Hepesh and a very young David Troughton as the nave young King Peladon of Peladon who takes a bit of a shine to Jo (and why not?). Along the way, Jon Pertwee gets to sing and have a big fight and play up to his role as an intergalactic gentleman, all part of the charm that he adds to his very special and fondly remembered portrayal of the Doctor.

We are returned to Peladon some fifty years later in Jon Pertwee's penultimate story, made in 1974 and called THE MONSTER OF PELADON which, happily, is also in this set. Six episodes this time around revolving around the battle over a source of valuable minerals and unrest amongst the workers in the mines. This does of course in absolutely no way reflect a certain small nation's issues about miner's strikes that were happening around the same time. Ahem!! The expanded episode count does make the story a bit slower this time around, but Alpha Centauri and the Ice Warriors both return, as does Aggedor and this time we get to see more of the "ordinary people" of Peladon, although there's nothing ordinary about their hair. Nina Thomas plays the Queen - the daughter of King Peladon - who is still having trouble with her latest High Priest (the excellent Frank Gatliff). Some chats about "women's lib" from Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen - here in her first series playing the part) soon put her right about a few things. Another fine set of character actors including Rex Robinson and Donald Gee give convincing performances again and Jon Pertwee's Doctor gets a right old kicking before heading off to his fateful visit to THE PLANET OF THE SPIDERS.

The commentary on the first story is interesting enough, with the production team of Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Chris D'Oyly-John alongside actress Katy Manning (and her numerous alternative voices...Hmmm...) being moderated by Toby Hadoke. Sadly two of these contributors have died since they made the recordings which makes their comments seem just a little bit more poignant. Half the world - including a group of enthusiastic professional fans in part four - seems to turn up for commentary duties on the second story, but that's a good thing as it keeps the chat rattling along without going over old ground too much.

The usual range of extras like photo galleries, pdf material and loosely related clips from other shows are included alongside a solid set of documentaries including a two part "making of", a brief look at the history of the Ice Warriors, a short piece called "Jon and Katy" - which rather decribes itself - and a rather excellent piece on the writings of Terrance Dicks which will hopefully go some way in raising his profile as one of the best writers of children's fiction that there has ever been.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 13, 2012 3:41 PM BST

The Nightmare Fair (Doctor Who: The Lost Stories)
The Nightmare Fair (Doctor Who: The Lost Stories)
by Graham Williams
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 14.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 25 years lost in time..., 5 Dec 2009
In 1985, during Colin Baker's first full season portraying the Doctor, the "powers that be", more powerful than any dalek, decided that the series needed a "much needed" rest, which led to the cancellation of the proposed next series of DOCTOR WHO and its eventual replacement with THE TRIAL OF A TIMELORD (available on DVD). On-screen, this meant the final scene of that season (the end of REVELATION OF THE DALEKS) had the Doctor cut off mid sentence and instead of stating the location of his next adventure, we got a mysterious "?"...

However, the proposed next season was already being planned and scripts were already written which were then cast aside and never used. Former Producer Graham Williams had been commissioned to write a set of scripts set in Blackpool and written a rematch between the Doctor and an adversary who had appeared way back in the 1960s with William Hartnell's Doctor, the Celestial Toymaker.

Fast forward 25 years and BIG FINISH Productions, who have done some sterling work creating new stories for previous Doctors on Audio, dust off these scripts, adapt them to work better in sound only, and release them in a new series called "The Lost Stories" so that this classic confrontation is finally available to be experienced by everybody. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are back recreating their roles as the Doctor and Peri, with David Bailie taking over duties as the sinister Toymaker. 2 CDs contain the two 45 minute episodes in much the same format as the TV series was using back in 1985 and the style is very much of that period in the show's history. How much you enjoy this story does rather depend then on how much you like that era of the series, but I found it an enjoyable yarn with 2 likeable characters recreating very well the essence of the characters as they were played back then. The Toymaker is played with sinister relish by David Bailie and makes for a suitably menacing foe and there are one or two nice references back to adventures from an earlier Doctor which are a nice touch.

Both discs have a lengthy "behind the scenes" piece at the end which gives a nice roundness to the project in these days of multitudinous extras but the first one can rather break the momentum of the story if you're trying to listen to just that.

All-in-all, then, a fairly enjoyable piece of typical mid-eighties DOCTOR WHO, and certainly worth trying, especially if you're any kind of television Who completist. As to whether the rest of the range as announced does, however, feel quite so essential, remains to be seen. MISSION TO MAGNUS, another shelved script from that same season, is next up, but after that, the source material gets more obscure.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 31, 2014 3:24 PM GMT

Who and Me
Who and Me
by Barry Letts
Edition: Audio CD

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A true gent has sadly left us, his memoir incomplete, 15 Oct 2009
This review is from: Who and Me (Audio CD)
Since the recent sad announcement of the passing of Barry Letts, I've been giving this 3 CD collection another listen, and what an excellent treat it is to hear the man himself telling the story of his life in such an avuncular and enjoyable manner. As Producer, Barry Letts oversaw 5 rather excellent years of DOCTOR WHO in the first half of the 1970s, but this is so much more than a dry "behind the scenes" piece and the many fond memories Mr Letts shares of his colleagues (including actors Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, Katy Manning and Roger Delgado as well has the early days of his working relationship with his Script Editor Terrance Dicks) shows truly what a friendly and committed bunch they were, dedicated to producing the best TV programme that they possibly could, sometimes under the most difficult of circumstances. There's precious little in the way of scandal to be found here - the odd minor criticism of his star and the odd row with his boss - which is as it should be. Barry comes across as having been a true gent and for him to have "spilled the beans" would have been unseemly.

This memoir takes you from his early experiences as a jobbing actor, through his career changes at the BBC in the 1960s and onward through the first half of his period as DOCTOR WHO producer, ending this volume with his memories of co-writing and the troubled production of THE DAEMONS, with the promise of more to come. Sadly those stories will now remain untold and volume 2 will never appear, so this memoir will remain incomplete, although some of the tantalising glimpses that are mentioned have been covered in his thoughtful commentaries and appearances in the documentaries contained in the DOCTOR WHO DVD range.

If I have one (very minor) quibble, it is the occasional sting of "comedy" music to underscore an amusing anecdote which can be a little jarring at times, but it does help to break up the chapters, and, because he was a trained actor, Mr Letts reads the material very well and is a joy to listen to.

If you've ever been interested in finding out more about one of the earlier eras of the television phenomenon that was and is DOCTOR WHO, you could do far worse than sit yourself down with these CDs. They are an absolute joy.

"Doctor Who": The Krotons: (Classic TV Soundtrack) (BBC Audio)
"Doctor Who": The Krotons: (Classic TV Soundtrack) (BBC Audio)
by Robert Holmes
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 13.51

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In the soup with the Krotons, 10 Oct 2009
Way back around the time Peter Davison was about to become the Doctor, the BBC broadcast a few old DOCTOR WHO episodes and for many people this was the very first time they'd had a proper chance to see Patrick Troughton's Doctor in action. The story they chose to show was THE KROTONS, a four-part adventure from his final year in the part. Now, whilst it might not be the best example of his era, it remains a solid little story with much to enjoy. It is also one of the very few of his stories that does exist in its entirety (only 6 of 21) in the archives. All of the "lost" stories have now been released in this audio range, so these last few are slowly being added to the range, so that hopefully someday all of his stories may be enjoyed in this very effective audio format. This era of DOCTOR WHO has been particularly well served by this series of BBC Soundtrack releases, not least because some of the shortcomings of the visuals of 1960s television can be overlooked and the listener can concentrate on the story, the performances and the rather excellent dialogue written by the rather well regarded scriptwriter Robert Holmes whose first work for the series this is. Things like the rather shoddy opening shot of some doors not opening properly or the rather rubbish looking monsters are not an issue when the pictures are just the ones being created in your head.

The plot is straightforward enough, and it is a simple story, simply told. The Doctor (and a rather handy umbrella) arrive just in the nick of time to save a young Gond girl from a terrible fate. For centuries the largely unseen and parasitic Krotons have been selecting the brightest and the best of the Gond people in their efforts to reanimate themselves, and disposing of the "waste material" when they are done with them. The Krotons use "teaching machines" to educate the Gonds in very specific areas of science and choose to leave them in total ignorance of other things that they'd rather they didn't know, and let them live a life in constant fear of reprisals given their superior firepower. All pretty diabolical, really, but with a lot of relevance to certain aspects of cultural influence and state suppression that remain even to this day. When listening, you should try to remember that this story dates from simpler times when visions of the future were very different to what they are now, but the story still holds up and, with the help of a little bit of real science, our heroes are able to save the day.

Patrick Troughton as DOCTOR WHO was one of those all time great performances that somehow has managed to get itself chronically overshadowed by later eras of the programme. Maybe it's because they were made in black and white, or maybe television from the 1960s is nowadays considered to be unsophisticated or slow, but that's a great shame because there's a fabulous characterisation to be enjoyed here. Frazer Hines as Jamie and Wendy Padbury as Zoe are the companions this time around and the three leads share some lovely banter along the way. There are also a number of fine performances from the guest cast which includes a young Philip Madoc giving the first of his four performances in the show. Despite their reputation as fairly average monsters, the Kroton voices (an electronically modulated South African accent) come across exceedingly well on audio and make them much more of a threat.

I have enjoyed this range for many years now, with the soundtracks of old stories enhanced by the addition of explanatory narration that successfully replaces the missing visuals, which might render them rather meaningless otherwise. Now that all the stories that are visually incomplete have been released, it was only natural that these stories that do exist in their entirety in the archive get similar treatment, and whilst some might think it a superfluous exercise, I think they make an interesting addition to the series.

Frazer Hines narrates very well in a style well suited to the pace of the adventure unfolding, and the 2nd CD contains a lengthy interview with him which covers a lot of ground including his regret at ever having left the show.

If you're interested in seeking out more Patrick Troughton, the other five stories that survive in full are TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN, THE MIND ROBBER, THE SEEDS OF DEATH and THE WAR GAMES all which already have DVD releases, and THE DOMINATORS which is, like this tale, still waiting for a DVD release, but can still be tracked down on video. THE INVASION is not a complete story, but has had its missing episodes restored with animation for its DVD release, and some episodes from incomplete stories can be found on the LOST IN TIME DVD set. Also, of course, all of the rest of his stories have been released in this rather excellent Audio CD range.

"Doctor Who": The Mind of Evil: (Classic TV Soundtrack)
"Doctor Who": The Mind of Evil: (Classic TV Soundtrack)
by Don Houghton
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 12.64

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Doctor Who in an "action packed" prison drama, 8 Oct 2009
Jon Pertwee's second year on DOCTOR WHO is generally less well regarded than his first, which is odd because it ends with a story which is widely regarded as something of a DOCTOR WHO classic - THE DAEMONS. Maybe the fact that the main villain in this year's run of stories is always the Master has something to do with it, but in THE MIND OF EVIL, that has yet to become the established form and so it remains a cracking story in its own right, stylistically rather a throwback to the more "adult" styles and themes developed in the previous year, and as it might be some time before this story does come out on DVD due to the amount of restoration work required, this is a very welcome audio release to have.

In story terms it would seem that about a year has passed since the events of the previous story, the season opener TERROR OF THE AUTONS and the Master (in the guise of one Professor Emil Keller) has set himself up as the inventor of a seemingly widely used "humane" alternative to capital punishment, the Keller Machine which is in reality an alien mind parasite that lives off the evil sucked from men's minds. Or something. Anyway, the Doctor wants to attend the demonstration of this machine at the notorious fortress prison at Stangmoor, which is where the story begins. Meanwhile, UNIT are trying to dispose of an illegal nerve gas missile whilst trying to keep things calm at a particularly delicate World Peace conference.

Over the course of these six episodes (squashed tightly onto 2 CDs) DOCTOR WHO shows its most action packed side with the plottings of the Master as he tries to juggle his dealings with the Keller machine to get control of Stangmoor in order to get his hands on the missile. Never one for a simple solution, that Master. There's plenty of action and more than one bizarre assassination along the way - men drowning in bare rooms or being scratched to death by imaginary rats (very Orwellian!) - and it all rattles along to a relatively sensible conclusion where the various story strands are woven together. Also, it's never handled in a particularly gruesome - or nightmare inducing - way and remains firmly within the boundaries of general acceptable taste that the programme always aspired to and the moral code the Doctor always maintained remains intact despite this unusual rather gritty "real world" intrusion into the series' style.

Some people find Jon Pertwee's Doctor to be hard work and it's true that he can be a bit blunt, authoritarian or even pompous at times, but his ability to take control over a situation and general air of anger at the stupidity on display by the human species is pretty strong stuff. People more used to more recent interpretations of the role might need to be reminded that, given time, you can warm to him, and his stories are never less than entertaining. For a lot of people of a certain age, he will always be fondly regarded as THEIR Doctor.

Nicholas Courtney as the rather avuncular Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart gets one of his finest scenes here as he disguises himself as a delivery man in order to gain access to a prison overrun by its inmates. Katy Manning who plays the Doctor's companion Jo Grant provides her usual sterling support and in fact Jo's character was rarely better served than in this her second story. Richard Franklin as Captain Yates and John Levene as Sgt Benton cement their respective places as popular supporting characters. There are also excellent guest performances from some television stalwarts like Neil McCarthy (who gives a lovely and rather touching performance as Barnum, one of the criminals sentenced to be a victim of the machine), Michael Sheard (as a rather likeable Doctor) and William Marlowe who, as Mailer plays one of the nastier characters that was ever to be seen in the series.

Richard Franklin performs the (sometimes quite complex) narration very well, helping to smooth over the more visual aspects of some of the strong action sequences, of which there are many, for this was the story that rather defined on-screen action in the series, an element which does sadly rather get lost in the audio format. Three episodes to a disc does mean that the enjoyable little interview with him is very brief and is tucked away in 2 short bursts at the end of each disc and doesn't tell you very much.

The audio format does generally serve this era of the series very well as it allows you to enjoy the strong stories without being distracted by the shortcomings of the studio production, but sadly the "action" aspect of this particular story does mean that it is less well served here, but as an introduction to early 1970s DOCTOR WHO, it's still quite a lot of fun and worth a go.

Doctor Who: Dalek War (Frontier in Space / Planet of the Daleks) [DVD] [1973]
Doctor Who: Dalek War (Frontier in Space / Planet of the Daleks) [DVD] [1973]
Dvd ~ Jon Pertwee
Price: 11.75

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Somewhere on this planet there are TEN THOUSAND Daleks!", 8 Oct 2009
There has been a lot of revisionist opinion spouted in recent times criticising Jon Pertwee's time on DOCTOR WHO, a great deal of it from people who weren't even born at the time, and that's a bit of a shame because when I was an eight year old, Jon Pertwee as DOCTOR WHO was, quite simply, the best thing ever. Many of the elements that still influence the modern version of the show came to prominence during this era - The Master, the Brigadier and UNIT, to name just a few. Also, there were some of my earliest televisual memories; Sea Devils, Giant Maggots and lovely old Bessie. UNIT was at the peak of its popularity and the feisty and foxy Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning) was the big sister you really wished you had.

So the arrival of the DALEK WAR BOX SET on DVD to bolster this sadly under-represented era of the series is an absolute joy and it completes the releases from 1973's Series 10, following directly on from CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS. Twelve episodes spread over 2 linked stories which show the series sometimes at its very best (the make up - especially on both the Draconians and the Ogrons - and some of the model work being as good as any seen in the show), sometimes at its most derivative (the dalek story riffing at length on its own mythology) and sometimes absolutely awful (stand up the monster on the Ogron's home planet - oh, you can't...). There are also lots of quarries on display, but then, well, it is DOCTOR WHO, isn't it?

FRONTIER IN SPACE is Malcolm Hulke's six part space opera which introduces the rather striking samurai-like Draconians who are being manipulated into a war with the human race by a "mysterious" third party - see the name of this box set for a bit of a clue - who are working in association with the Doctor's "best enemy" The Master, played here for the final time by Roger Delgado who died shortly after filming this story. As ever with Malcolm Hulke's scripts there's a bit of an underlying political theme going on which can make it a little slow going at times, but all in all there's a lot to like.

The story ends on a (fairly) thumping great cliffhanger which leads directly into the next story, which - happily enough - is also included in the set. PLANET OF THE DALEKS sees Terry Nation providing his first script for the series since his epic contribution to THE DALEK MASTER PLAN back in the William Hartnell era and in many ways the elements of this are a "greatest hits" package of his previous contributions - a deadly jungle, invisible monsters, caves of ice, super viruses, bonkers escape plans and the return of the Thals - but there's enough of a spin on these well used themes to keep things interesting and the underlying threat of the hidden army of Daleks being "somewhere" is effective enough to keep the plot moving along. Sometimes the budget doesn't quite stretch far enough - the TARDIS wardrobe and the miraculous cassette box being good examples here - but sometimes it's frankly brilliant (the jungle, the fungus) in an altogether bonkers way and Jo really does get to have her finest (half) hour...

The production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks are now regarded as some of the "high priests" of classic Who and yet their era seems to be less than loved in certain quarters, which is rather a shame really, as the Pertwee years really do have a lot to offer if you give them the chance. Certainly the moral stance that the Doctor takes during the coda to the Dalek story is enough to make the viewer stop and think - something this era attempts a lot - and that's something to be truly admired in a TV show aimed at a family audience.

4 discs means that there's a pretty hefty set of extras provided for both stories. Alongside the now obligatory PDF and photo collections, and an entertaining set of commentaries from members of the cast and production teams, there's a bumper crop of documentaries that range from the frankly wonderful (a marvelous tribute to Roger Delgado) to the utterly annoying (the "Zed's quest" pieces). Actually the "Zed" things are an attempt to put the televised stories in a contemporary social context and as an idea it's pretty sound, but the format chosen just irritates. There are two more comic strip documentaries of which the Dalek one is the pick and a bizarre couple of sequences about Dalek theft from BLUE PETER that have to be seen to be believed. The 2 "making of" pieces are hardly comprehensive, being little more than interview pieces and mostly had me wondering if Katy Manning is channeling TERRAHAWKS these days...

There is, of course, also the opportunity to see the rather splendid colour restoration job that's been done on episode 3 of PLANET - THE big selling point of this collection - and there's also a 10 minute documentary looking at how that was achieved.

The following story THE GREEN DEATH would see the departure of Jo Grant and the release of these two tales completes the tenth season releases of DOCTOR WHO on DVD, ironically meaning that Jon Pertwee now has a complete season available (which is more than some Doctors do) despite the relative rarity of releases from his era.

All-in-all then, a pretty good set. Not perfect, by any means, and if you don't love 1970's DOCTOR WHO, it's unlikely to change your mind, but it is certainly amongst the best releases in the range so far.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 29, 2009 4:46 PM GMT

The Monster of Florence
The Monster of Florence
by Douglas Preston
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of two halves, 7 Oct 2009
I had been looking forward to buying THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE ever since I first saw the hardback edition. The story of an elusive criminal carrying out a series of crimes between 1968 and 1984 in the surroundings of the beautiful city of Florence seemed to be a compelling and unmissable one, and yet, in the end, I found the book to be a bit of a let down, mostly because I found it to lose focus a lot of the time and actually became a book concerned more about being a critical indictment of the Italian legal process than about the crimes themselves. Now that's utterly fine, if that's what you want to read about, but somehow I don't think that's how it's being promoted and somewhere along the way, I feel, the point got rather lost.

The story is split into 2 parts. The first tells the story of the crimes themselves as researched by the journalist Mario Spezi and is as fine a piece of investigative journalism of its type as you would find anywhere. That the crimes remain unsolved just adds to the mystery and intrigue. The second tells the story of writer Douglas Preston's move to Italy and how he met Spezi and became intrigued by the story of the "Monster" quite a few years after the crimes were committed and tried to bring the story to a wider international audience.

So far, so good.

It is when Spezi and Preston themselves become embroiled in the investigation that it all takes an absurdist turn, and whilst that in itself becomes an almost farcical - if interesting - tale of Police and Judicial incompetence, and I did rather get the impression (rightly or wrongly) that there were one or two scores being settled here. I did find that the book started to seem a little flabby in these sections and I found it much easier to put down and much harder to return to from then on. The afterword, making connections with the Meredith Kercher case, seemed to be there simply to try to underscore the author's distrust of the Italian legal system again, rather than to give any new or significant insight, and the court proceedings against his former tormentor just seemed rather spiteful rather than anything more.

On the whole then, I found it to be a rather unsatisfying book. The first part is gripping and engaging, but it sags a little in the middle and in the end metamorphoses into something completely different to what it started out to be.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 24, 2012 8:17 PM BST

Death of a Murderer
Death of a Murderer
by Rupert Thomson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.43

4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to like, 24 Sep 2009
This review is from: Death of a Murderer (Paperback)
DEATH OF A MURDERER is a difficult book to like, dealing as it does with some very tough issues and using as its framing reference a real character whom many would rather not remember ever existed. Whenever she IS mentioned it is not to sensationalise her, nor it is to apologise for her, but just to hold up a mirror to our society and ponder on lives not lived and choices not made.

However, she is a highly appropriate figure upon which to hang this story as all of the episodes that are referenced in the narrative relate in some way or another to childhood and its many inherent possible difficulties and horrors or just to a sense of a loss of innocence.

There are often many parallels that we can find in our own lives when major news stories break near to where we live. The reader is given a sharp sense of that unsettling feeling we all get when we find out that places we know and are familiar with have been witness to infamous or notorious events. There has also the issue of the long lasting influence that such an unspeakable crime had on the lives of a generation that were growing up when that story became known.

Both of these themes are touched upon in this story and give it a vividly mournful sense of place throughout, despite the events of the book taking place in many locations. There are strong feelings and reactions evoked even to this day by the mere mention of certain place names and events, and that this book can elicit such a reaction from its reader is testament to the craftsmanship of the writing.

It is a slim volume, but a very readable one, and, as a reflection on the many faces of evil that can influence even the most ordinary of lives, a very interesting one too. I read it in a very short time because I found it to be a very compelling narrative which held on to me throughout, and I was not disappointed by this very satisfactory novel.

by Erik Larson
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Lightning DOESN'T strike twice, 24 Sep 2009
This review is from: Thunderstruck (Paperback)
In THUNDERSTRUCK, Erik Larson tries to repeat the successful formula that made his previous book THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY so compelling. One again he tries to tell two parallel stories that intersect at one Earth-shattering point in history and this time it is the downfall of the notorious Doctor Hawley Crippen in 1910 by the invention (or at least practical application) of wireless telegraphy by Guglielmo Marconi.

On the whole this is a successful formula as both stories are fairly interesting in themselves, although the life of Marconi doesn't generally come across as being all that compelling, and Crippen is actually a rather less interesting and more pathetic figure than might previously have been thought (given his rather high profile in Madame Tussaud's for example) the alleged murder being possibly the most interesting (and - of course - completely unacceptable) event from an otherwise fairly dull life. In this way the stories just don't take off in the way they did in THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, but that might just be because the stories of Crippen and Marconi are less surprising and more widely known, or maybe just less totally horrifying (although we should still be horrified) than in the previous work.

Another problem is that the timelines are not as concurrent as they were in the previous book, but the book still persists for the most part in alternating chapters between the two stories, so that events in 1910 are followed by events in 1902, so the book seems less seamless than its predessessor. Structurally, however, I can see this is all very well - that Crippen's fate is sealed before he lifts a finger by events happening 8 years earlier is very ironic - but it does tend to upset the flow, and just when you are getting involved in one storyline you then hit a full stop and have to leap into the other for a while. THUNDERSTRUCK really doesn't get into its stride until it concentrates solely on the story of the pursuit of Doctor Crippen and his companion Ethel Le Neve across the high seas in the latter stages of the narrative, and in many ways the alternating story of events on the two ships involved is the more successful one.

Other slight disappointments are that Marconi's problems with the mysterious physics of his system are built up throughout the text but never really get a satisfactory conclusion within the book itself. I'm sure you can go off and find out more about the workings of Wireless if you want to, but the payoff within the book itself is slightly unsatisfying. Equally, Miss Le Neve's long life after her acquittal gets a scant couple of pages, and whilst it is probably not hugely relevant to the stories being told here - and again you can go off and find out more if you so wish - with the amount of detail the rest of the book has, just a little more would have seemed richer.

On the whole, though, this is an extremely good and well written, well researched and compelling book. The tragedy that is the life of Crippen is evoked extremely well, and his fate - and whether there really was enough evidence to support it - tells us more about the times he lived in than much else written about that era. Marconi however, comes across less sympathetically on the page, but then again, so do many of his colleagues and rivals, and with the level of pre-war hostility towards all things "foreign", perhaps the flaws in his character are more understandable.

The level of research required to produce a work such as this is incredible and gives it an overall richness that makes it very difficult to put down when you get involved with it. Sadly, it just falls short of being truly great, but it was always going to have a lot to live up to as a follow up to the previous book. Lightning still - alas - doesn't strike twice in the same place after all.

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