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Mark West (Kettering, Northants United Kingdom)

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Slaughter Beach
Slaughter Beach
by Benedict J Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.93

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A terrific gory shocker!, 19 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Slaughter Beach (Paperback)
Don Curtis runs a boat called The Ariadne out of an unnamed island somewhere in the tropics. When it’s rented by glamour photographer William Marshall for a photo-shoot on a remote island, it’s an offer too good for Curtis to turn down, with its promise of beautiful girls, beautiful scenery and a big payday. But the island hides a deadly secret, starting off a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that quickly sees the body count rise. Set sometime in the late 70s, this takes its cue from the fiction and films of that era and presents a gleefully straightforward shocker that doesn’t skimp on the sex or gore. Curtis makes a good, solid hero that you really root for and although some of the characterisation is perfunctory (a couple of characters get killed before you really get to know who they are), the rest of the cast are quickly filled in with clever brushstrokes that let you know just who to root for. The location is well described and well used - from the horrible sticky heat to the bugs, from the dense foliage of the jungle that doesn’t quite show you everything you want and the wide open spaces where you know something terrible is going happen - and because the timeline of the story is so brief, the novella cracks along at a rapid pace. With some terrific gore sequences (you can almost imagine some of them on lurid VHS covers), nicely worked suspense sequences and an ending that I really wasn’t expecting, this is a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


The naked light
The naked light
by James Moffatt
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyably pulpy, 16 Oct. 2015
This review is from: The naked light (Paperback)
Following a Black Mass ceremony-cum-orgy, Hollywood starlet Chloe Young is brutally murdered and the studio she’s contracted too - Mermaid Films - is worried because they have a couple of her films waiting release. They task ace publicist Lucy Christian with finding out the truth whilst trying to cover up the darker aspects of Young’s life to make her palatable for the movie-going public again.
Well, this is a genuinely odd little book (126 pages, small type). A real pulp paperback obviously ripped from the headlines (the Manson Murders were in late 1969), this seems to have the misfortune of being saddled with a writer who clearly wishes he was writing something else. Lucy is the main character, though there are chunks of the book where she doesn’t appear, a 33-year-old single girl (mentioned on several occasions), who’s very moral but also a bit wanton, not at all religious though she carries a cross (and during one discussion of abnormal sexuality gets strength from the ‘old-fashioned Gospel’) and an apparent nymphomanical prude - no, it didn’t make much sense to me either but that’s how Moffatt tells it. And Lucy is easily the most sympathetic character (and she’s not at all, on occasion).
Cynically constructed (Moffatt clearly believes in the ‘give the public what they want’ school of thought), he uses the text to extol his apparent dislike of modern Hollywood, the looseness of the women around it (whilst never missing a chance to mention jutting breasts and pubic hair), hippies, promiscuity and gay people (a gossip-radio-DJ called Mish-Mash comes in for some appalling abuse from the writer, the other characters seem to tolerate him okay), whilst telling a confusing tale that takes in ex-pat Brit movie stars, hoodlums, hookers, drug dealers and a poet who isn’t what he appears to be. Add into the mix a skirt-chasing police Captain who actually (I swear I’m not making this up) offers to adopt a child who’s given him some clues to the case (in the worst, syrupy, TV-movie-of-the-week style) and more refernces to the Salem witch trials than you can shake a stick at and the book becomes something I’m certain Moffatt never intended it to be. I also have no idea what the title refers to.
Arguably, you could say this is a product of its time (it was published in 1970) but equally you could argue that it’s badly written and contains pretty much every “-thropic” tendency you can think of, but it’s so formless, so wonderfully delirious, that it almost redeems itself. This isn’t a good book and I can’t imagine ever reading anything else Moffatt wrote, but I did quite enjoy it for all its sins. Not sure who I’d ever recommend it to though.


The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman: My Life As Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes
The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman: My Life As Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes
Price: £3.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Great read from a true professional!, 16 Oct. 2015
I’ve long been a fan of behind-the-scenes stuff on films and in the early 80s, thanks to “The Fall Guy” and a Harold Lloyd run on BBC2, I became fascinated with stunt men. Most were American but then I started to hear about this bloke called Vic Armstrong, who did a lot of work on the Indiana Jones films (which I loved) and I kept noticing his name on credits - a sure sign the action in the film would be good. This book is his collection of memories and it makes for fascinating reading. Following a cursory early biography, each film he worked on is allotted its own chapter (most are only a few pages long, they get more indepth as his career progresses) but rather than give us the nuts-and-bolts of the stuntwork (which I would have liked to see more of), he tells us about everything else - this reads, almost, like you’re sitting in the pub with him and he’s regaling you with anecdotes. In fact, the only time he gets into specifics is when he mentions inventing the fan descender (a device which allowed for much safer high falls, reducing the need - and attendant risk - for airbags) whilst making “Green Ice” in 1981 but there’s not a hint of gloating (though he does seem regretful he didn’t patent the equipment).
Along the way, he speaks quite frankly of the films, the crew and the cast but doesn’t stint on praise and whilst he clearly enjoys excellent friendships with the likes of Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise (all of whom come across very well), he seems to delight in the fact that actors are often really nice people, who remember him (or his wife, kids or horses) years later and it’s a lovely touch. Interspersed with the text are testimonials, from the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ford and Arnie, Martin Scorsese, Pierce Brosnan and Kenneth Branagh (amongst many others), all of whom highlight Armstrong’s friendly professionalism and simple approach to his craft. Spielberg and Lucas, who found a true creative ally for the Indy films, come across particularly very well, with George having given Armstrong his break on directing first unit with a Young Indy episode. He’s also not afraid to speak his mind - some of the disagreements with actors and directors are amusing - and his discovery of how shark ‘trainers’ operate (whilst making “Never Say Never Again”) clearly appals him - he’s a keen horseman (his Dad was a farrier for the Olympic team) and his concern for the welfare of people and animals is quite clear.
As mentioned, I’d have preferred a little more of an indepth biography (we don’t know why his first marriage collapsed and his son Bruce seems to disappear from the book long before the end) and Armstrong is poorly served by his writer at times (especially in the early section, when it appears Sellers simply transcribed interviews, with no attempt made to smooth out the answers so the natural repetition and “oh yes, I remember this happened…” moments you would hear are included in all their glory), but those niggles aside, this is a great read. Armstrong comes across well, as both a nice bloke and a very professional craftsman and it’s great to read about an English stuntman who has done so much to transform an exciting part of the film industry. Very much recommended.


James Bond For your eyes only (A Marvel movie special)
James Bond For your eyes only (A Marvel movie special)
by Larry Hama
Edition: Comic

4.0 out of 5 stars Good fun!, 16 Oct. 2015
Published in 1981, this is the Marvel adaption of the Bond film, written by Hama and drawn by Howard Chaykin and Vince Colletta (whose style seems quite similar, since there’s no real jolt where one ends and the other picks up). I assume this is the full version (I’ve also seen a version where it’s split over two comics) and whilst it remains relatively faithful to the film (to the extent that certain shots are reproduced), there are some interesting tangents. The film sees Bond and Melina in a superbly staged Citroen/Peugeot car chase through the olive trees, whilst the comic covers this in a page (plus there are no olive groves and the baddies go over a cliff at the end), Bond is much wittier here, especially when he’s in a tight spot (which reminded me of the Bullet comics I read as a kid), there’s no chase on the bob run, Ferrara is strangled and Bond smokes when he & Q are creating the photofit of Locque (though the Zamboni sequence makes more sense in this version). In addition, to round out the book, there’s a well-written and quite detailed account of the making of the film, which is thorough and good fun. Your enjoyment of this will depend on both your love of Bond movies and the way Marvel chooses to adapt them - I love the film and I really enjoyed this so I’d very much recommend it.


FIRST TERM AT TREBIZON
FIRST TERM AT TREBIZON

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable, 16 Oct. 2015
Fresh from her London comprehensive, twelve-year-old Rebecca Mason wonders how she’s going to fit in at Trebizon, the famous boarding school for girls, especially with people like Elizabeth Exton (who she immediately gets off on the wrong foot with) there. Will she ever make friends? Then, unwittingly, Rebecca sparks off a row that rocks the school and she finds that her new friends - Tish Anderson and Sue Murdoch, amongst others - are all on her side. Published in 1978, I must have been aware of this series at the time (certainly, the Trebizon bit rings a bell) but this is my first time of reading (I’d finished “Le Freak”, hadn’t taken another book on holiday with me and this was already in the cottage). Of its time, obviously and not a genre I’d read before (the only school-based books I read featured “Grange Hill”), this moved briskly, the locations were well described, there was a nicely melancholic air as Rebecca’s homesickness kicked in and the main characters - though it had too big a supporting cast, really, for the length of the book - all worked well. The teachers come across as human beings, the dastardly deed is nicely set up, Exton makes a decent villain (and her promise to get revenge is, I hope, played out in one of the later books - there are fourteen in the series) and along with an ending that celebrates friendship, this has a lot to like. I really quite enjoyed it.


Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny
by Nile Rodgers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 16 Oct. 2015
“You will hear a Nile Rodgers song today. It will make you happy…”
I was aware of Nile Rodgers from his Chic days (although slightly too young to catch the disco explosion, I caught up on it), then through his connections with Debbie Harry (he co-produced her “Koo Koo” album), David Bowie (I loved “Let’s Dance”) and finally INXS, with “Original Sin”. These career highlights, which might be enough for most producers, barely scratch the surface of Nile Gregory Rodgers’ creative life.
From his often harrowing beginnings - his 13-year-old Mum and stepfather were both bohemian junkies, he was asthmatic and shunted between relatives and institutions, often feeling unwanted and unloved - in the poorer neighbourhoods of New York (and later Los Angeles), with all that entailed, this doesn’t try to make sugar-coat anything and in leaving no stone unturned, it’s sometimes tough to read. His life was hard (the sequence with Bang Bang is particularly frightening) but a slowly developing love of music (fostered, ironically, by parents whose addictions took their abilities away from them) steered him from squalor (though he developed addictions early on), into hippie-dom, a stint in the Black Panthers and a gruelling circuit of gigging. About a third of the book details his childhood and teens (he has a very complicated family history) and then he meets Bernard Edwards, the two quickly becoming inseparable and incredibly supportive of each other. The Chic years (they take a while to make it) are dealt with much more briskly than I thought they would be, though with the bands story tied inextricably to the timeline of disco, Rodgers covers this time well (enjoying the excesses that were there, whilst being astonished that he was responsible for a significant part of it - the Rappers Delight business, for instance, is both amusing and surprising).
Unfortunately, as his career took off, so did his substance abuse and he deals with it frankly - he was at the centre of a musical movement, part of the inner circle of Studio 54 in the 70s (being turned away from the 1979 New Years Eve party with Edwards inspired them to write “Le Freak”) and more into the 80s. In fact, he perfectly captures a sense of the exuberance and excess of the early 80s because he was living it - even as a full-blown addict, he was a high performing one, with Chic, Bowie and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” all being produced during his period.
Through all of this, his delight with show business - and the people he deals with - is almost palpable and he comes across as a genuinely nice bloke, secure enough in himself and his abilities to only take on work with people he likes and respects (whilst sharing partying and shopping adventures with them).
Following his recovery (inspired, no less, by Keith Richards), the timeline fragments and the story effectively ends in 1996 (the book was published in 2011) with the death of Bernard Edwards, which is very touchingly dealt with. The epilogue jumps ahead fourteen years with a curt “it’s been a busy decade”, encompassing his work with his “We Are Family” foundation and the fundraising around 9/11 that I would have liked to have read in more detail. The same with the admission that he has cancer (he’s recently, as I write this, been given the all-clear), it seems like an odd place to leave a work that is, essentially, about hope and the triumph of his spirit.
I really enjoyed this, an inspiring story of a natural performer who overcame the odds to make it big, re-invented his career after the ‘Disco Sucks’ debacle and lived life to the absolute full. Very much recommended.


Dead Leaves
Dead Leaves
by Andrew David Barker
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars "This Is England" for the Fango crowd!, 16 Oct. 2015
This review is from: Dead Leaves (Paperback)
It is October 1983 and the campaign against Video Nasties is really starting to bite. Three friends - Scott, Paul and Mark - are suddenly having to face change, from leaving school and hitting the dole, to future responsibilities and the realisation that however desperately they want to see The Evil Dead, the law (as well as some local louts) are up against them.
Based on its pedigree (Andrew David Barker wrote “The Electric”, which Boo Books published) and what I knew of the subject matter, I was expecting to read a horror novella but “Dead Leaves” is something altogether more beautiful. Yes, it is about horror and yes, it does have some unpleasant moments in it - and yes, your enjoyment may well depend on your tolerance for the nastier end of the horror film spectrum - but this novella is a coming-of-tale, set in a Midlands town around Halloween and I loved it. Scott (who narrates the tale) and his feckless friend Paul are fresh out of school and on the dole, slowly beginning to realise it’s not the lark it’s cracked up to be, beset by parents who want them to get a career and job centre staff who threaten to cut off their money if they don’t find gainful employment. Their friend Mark is eighteen, working on the building sites and already aware - from seeing much older colleagues - that he might be stuck doing this for the rest of his life, a realisation that causes friction with his old friends. Compounding that is his lovely girlfriend Lindsay, who has her own place and seems, to Scott, to be much more switched on than an eighteen-year-old ought to be. Spending their days drinking, watching horror films and listening to their beloved Heavy Metal, they keep checking at Ray’s Video Emporium, trying to scrape together the funds to buy a copy of “The Evil Dead”, the film they’re all desperate to see. Their pursuit of this is what fuels the story, two or three nights in darkest October, as things for all of them go from bad to worse.
The characterisation is effective and Scott holds the story well. Realising he’s going to get trapped, even as he rebels against his well-meaning parents, he discovers something over the course of the story that might give him a way out and there’s a lovely little throwaway comment, right at the end, which indicates it may have worked. Loyal to his friends, dependable and reasonable, he’s also the one who has potentially caused the most hurt and his realisation of this - and the fall-out - is played out pitch-perfect. You know he needs to make amends but you don’t want him to because if he does, he can’t go back. Paul is the annoying friend, aimless and obnoxious, that we all had and tolerated, whilst Mark provides the voice of reason for all three of them, even as he’d led into events he’d rather have avoided. Lindsay is very well realised, the only girl all the boys feel comfortable talking to, pretty and vivacious and self-aware, but also racked with doubts that are never quite articulated (and the scene with her and Scott in the pub is beautifully written).
The Derby of the story is not necessarily the Derby of 1983 reality and whilst Barker paints his hometown in loving, honest brushstrokes, it’s the streets, rundown precincts and dereliction that matter, which all of us can relate to. I like that he uses local lingo as part of the dialogue, with no attempt to explain or translate it, more I like that as a Northants-boy, it’s really enjoyable to see the phrases “gone out” (as in query or surprise) and “jitty” (for alley), which me and my friends all used, in a novella. The looming spectre of the future, of getting jobs and life moving on, is a dark shadow over the whole piece and echoes what most of us feel as we leave school and it ties in nicely with the Video Nasties bill, even if some of the spirited defence of the offending tapes does come across a bit preachy (especially from PC Spong).
I was fourteen in 1983, didn’t go out to pubs and I wasn’t a headbanger (what we called Heavy Metal fans around our way back then), so although my specifics were different, the general gist wasn’t. I read Starburst back then (and Fangoria, when I could get hold of it) and we talked at school (I distinctly remember a kid we called Bogie - can’t remember why now - regaling us all in PE once about “The Evil Dead” and mostly all I took from it was that a woman got her head chainsawed off, there was lots of blood and the trees raped someone). A friend of mine had a top-loader Betamax and we’d crowd into his house and watch whatever we could get our hands on - sometimes it was fairly innocuous, like “Poltergeist” (though I still maintain that’s a scary film), other times not so much, like the brutal “Dead & Buried” (I didn’t know who Stan Winston was at that time and when the photographer screams, we all jumped) and the very odd “Evilspeak” (“Is this really a video nasty?” I remember someone asking). It’s hard now to explain to someone just why “Nightmare On Elm Street” was so bloody scary, after the years of Freddy turning into a comedian and those dreadful remakes, but sitting in the dark, in your house (Dad had borrowed a VHS machine for the weekend) and having this unfold in front of you was simply terrifying. Barker manages to convey this sense superbly well through the novella, as the lads re-watch old favourites and moon over films they can’t wait to see (even if, you suspect, they already realise that most won’t match up to their promise).
I love coming-of-age tales, I love the 80s and I love horror - this was absolutely the perfect book for me and I thought it was a superb read, a paen to the teenage years of horror fans wherever they might have grown up, a “This Is England” for the Fango crowd. Very highly recommended.


Licence to Kill (James Bond)
Licence to Kill (James Bond)
by John Gardner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great novelisation, 16 Oct. 2015
What starts as a joyous celebration - the wedding of his old friend Felix Leiter - becomes a nightmare which takes James Bond on a path of revenge against the evil billionaire drug lord Franz Sanchez. 007 is prepared to ignore Secret Service orders and even sacrifice his licence to kill to avenge his enemies. This novelisation (the first of two by the then-current James Bond writer, John Gardner, who also had fourteen original 007 novels to his name) sticks fairly close to the film screenplay (by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum) but pads out certain elements and gives us a little more backstory to characters like Pam, the CIA pilot and Heller, the ex-CIA security chief. One amusing aspect is that to make this fit into the official timeline, it made explaining Felix’s injuries (the sequence where he’s attacked by the shark came from “Live & Let Die”) more difficult than it should have been - “how could the same thing happen to a man?” asks Bond a few times and even the chapter is called “Lightning Sometimes Strikes Twice”. Gardner’s Bond is more amusing than Timothy Dalton made him (though all of the films one-liners make an appearance) but not quite as tough, interestingly and he seems to recoil in horror at a few things. I enjoyed it, it had a good pace, and it was good fun - even if it cut short the fuel tanker sequence, which was so gloriously mounted in the film. If you’re a Bond fan in general, or of this particular film (much under-rated, in my opinion), then you’ll enjoy this novelisation. Recommended.


Closing In
Closing In
by Sue Fortin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great work, 16 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Closing In (Paperback)
When Helen Matthews gathers up the courage to walk out on her abusive boyfriend Toby, she leaves everything behind - her home, family, even her name. As Ellen Newman, after a short stint working abroad, she moves to the Sussex seaside town of Felpham, working as the nanny for a criminal psychologist called Donovan. She thinks she’s about to start building a new life, she thinks she’s safe, but then the incidents begin… This is the first romantic thriller I’ve read and, on this basis, it won’t be the last. The romantic sections were believable and well-written, the thriller sections were gripping and suspenseful and as a novel it held together well. The characterisation was a key part of this - Ellen is a great lead, determined and strong if a little unsure of herself at times and she’s ably supported by the attractive, charismatic Donovan and his wonderful eight year old daughter Izzy. Thrown into the mix are his ex-wife Amanda, who seems to be angling for something and Lampard, a local criminal who might or might not have attacked a woman in her own home and who might, or might not, be angling for revenge on Donovan. The location is well realised, as is the use of a wintry season, there are some clever set-pieces (the cat in the garden, the car in the lane) and the pace doesn’t flag at all. With several red herrings thrown in for good measure, this is great fun and a damned good read. Very much recommended.


Starfishing
Starfishing
by Nicola Monaghan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Captures the late 90s hedonism, 16 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Starfishing (Paperback)
In 1997, hard-living party girl Francesca “Frankie” Cavanagh starts working on the LIFFE exchange under the supervision of Tom. Showing a natural aptitude (and a smart attitude), she quickly progresses through the ranks, gets her jacket and engages in an affair with her married boss. Throwing herself headlong into the stress-filled financial world, whilst also enjoying everything the drug-fuelled club culture can give her, she tries to clear away her past life and the darkness that lingers there. But as the affair goes on and the lovers seek out more dangerous thrills, Frank slowly begins to lose her grip. Starting as it means to go on, this is a bracing novel that grips you even when it appears nothing is happening (such as when Frankie and her widowed father are watching TV), pushing you through a well-realised 1997/98 and the attendant financial fury and hedonistic raves. Rising to the challenge of making basically unlikeable characters palatable - the reader empathises with Frankie almost immediately - and giving enough detail of the exchange to let the reader know what’s happening without swamping them, this has a sure grip on its time and place and builds nicely, as the life Frankie has been building up is slowly taken apart. As the realisation of what the affair might mean for her, as well as news the exchange is in trouble, things take a much darker turn and the last chapter - brisk and well-paced - is almost a slap in the face. Brutal, elegant, crude and literary, this is a superbly well-written novel and I’d very much recommend it.


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