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Rowena Hoseason "Hooligween" (Kernow, Great Britain)

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Through a Mirror, Darkly
Through a Mirror, Darkly
by Kevin Lucia
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The unseen side of everyday America, 19 July 2016
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An ordinary town in modern-day America hides dark secrets and the stirring of ancient evil. In this collection of linked short stories, author Kevin Lucia quietly and methodically explores the porous zones, those weakened areas where human greed and human need allow Something Other to extend into our reality.

The result is an entertaining collection, an exploration both of social morality and situations with dark suggestions of Lovecroft-style creatures, scuttling just out of sight. There’s a very traditional feel to this collection; it’s old school ‘horror’ not modern spatter-shock. It echoes Stephen King, especially in its small-town setting, where young people on the cusp of adulthood encounter the creeping things which normally exist just out of sight.
Some of the stories are a little over-explained; the author could pare things back a little and trust his audience to join the dots, rather than googling demonic names and reciting entire wiki entries to tie up every loose end. But overall the writing is atmospheric and engrossing; genuinely unsettling at times, and with an authentic voice of its own. The introduction holds a particular power of its own, the insidious dread of a young man that the neurological condition which unravelled his father’s identity might already be eating away at his own faculties.
Then there’s the tale of a ten-time loser, a guy who can never hold down a job for more than a week, who holds a torch for a local beauty when she barely remembers his name – this story in particular is especially affecting. It suggests the possibility of redemption in the least likely places; an unusually uplifting sentiment for an anthology of insidious supernatural episodes.
At the end, you’re left with the sense that the door into the otherworld has only been opened by a tiny fraction. Things with tentacles and bad intentions slither, just out of sight. Hopefully, the author will return to explore them in more depth in future.

There's a longer version of this review over at

Collecting the Dead: A Novel
Collecting the Dead: A Novel
Price: £9.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Stalking a serial killers, 19 July 2016
Magnus ‘Steps’ Craig is no ordinary federal investigator. He’s a tracker par excellence, who can zero in on criminals with uncanny accuracy. That’s because he brings a touch of the paranormal to the party; a sixth sense, an ability to see people’s auras and the ‘shine’ they leave behind. If that sounds faintly fanciful then never fear – author Spencer Kope anchors this modern American police procedural firmly in the real world.

Kope delivers convincing detail about policing practices and inter-agency co-operation, giving this serial killer investigation authentic heft. Steps is inevitably unbalanced by the impact of his hidden ability, occasionally overwhelmed by its impact, unable to operate without analgesia.
There are echoes of Will Graham (from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon) about Steps, in the way that he sees and interprets a crime scene in exquisite, awful detail. Steps’ ‘gift’ is undoubtedly a burden and he rarely sleeps soundly, but Kope steers the atmosphere away from too much melancholic misery and the outright horror of Hannibal, back towards the nuts and bolts of witness statements, evidence collection, DNA and data analysis.
Kope’s writing is fluid and natural. It vividly describes the world as Steps sees it, saturated with swirling psychedelic shades and tell-tale textures, unique to every individual. He also brings an unsettling sense of menace to the woodland wilderness, and neatly nails the jargon, banter and slang common to policing agencies the world over.
The flow does stumble when Kope tries to lighten the tone. I wasn’t convinced that the comedy dog episode added anything to proceedings. Similarly, I wasn’t sure why the plot deviated midway to add some personal jeopardy to the mix – the narrative was belting along just fine, without a detour into ‘serial killer stalks detective’s family’ territory.

These glitches aside, this is a well written, carefully crafted detective story which introduces an intriguing protagonist. It would be easy to let a serial killer story with aspects of paranormal ability veer too far towards horror or fantasy. Instead Collecting The Dead delivers an entirely plausible plot, and a credible central character. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

There's more detail about this book in the full review at

A Hero in France
A Hero in France
by Alan Furst
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

3.0 out of 5 stars A strangely stilted spy story, 15 July 2016
This review is from: A Hero in France (Hardcover)
Alan Furst's spy stories of wartime resistance normally evoke an insidious atmosphere of paranoid oppression, offset in near-equal measure by extreme human endeavour and endurance. His characters are flawed examples of humanity, compelled by circumstance into acts of valour at the risk of paying the ultimate price. He writes with pinpoint historical accuracy and breath-taking dramatic flair.
At least, he used to.

A Hero In France is almost none of the above. It crams in all the historical nitty-gritty you’d expect to find in a Furst novel, but it lacks his usual nails-down-chalkboard tension and grittily authentic atmosphere. It's an oddly flat and barely satisfying instalment in the ‘Night Soldiers’ series, one which struggles to stand comparison with the brilliant ‘Red Gold’ or ‘The Polish Officer’.
The plot contains all the usual components of an excellent espionage adventure – an impromptu protagonist, sacrificial cell members being stalked by the gestapo, an honourable opponent who doggedly pursues his prey – but it feels lacklustre and uninspired. There are a couple of the usual Furst flourishes, including a visit to the bullet-pocked Brasserie Heininger in Paris, yet even these feel like box-ticking exercises rather than an author revelling in his creation.

Readers who are new to Alan Furst shouldn’t start here: go back to one of his earlier books instead. They’re all stand-alones and don’t need to be read in any particular order (despite the publisher branding them as a series). Dedicated Furst fans may want to buy A Hero In France to complete the series – but they may also want to put it on the shelf and leave it there to avoid disappointment…

There's a more detailed version of this review at

The Signal [DVD]
The Signal [DVD]
Dvd ~ Laurence Fishburne
Price: £3.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Inside Area 51?, 13 July 2016
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This review is from: The Signal [DVD] (DVD)
A quirky, inventive and original low-budget 'what if?' flick which gets maximum value from an excellent performance by Laurence Fishburn. He's not the star of the story - instead it focuses on a trio of geek students, two of whom may have pushed a hacking rival too far.
The result soon spirals into X-Files territory, with a sinister deserted shack morphing into a disconcerting 'research centre' where nothing is quite what it seems. It could be a typical govt cover-up conspiracy, or it could be something rather more surreal.
Full of plot twists and surprising revelations which kept us guessing and entertained for the whole time. Laurence Fishburn really lifts the whole thing with a subtle, quietly weird delivery.
Not a film to think about in too much detail afterwards because the logic doesn't entirely stand up to scrutiny. The point of some scenes eluded us, too (the cow in particular).
But overall it was rewarding to watch something a little bit different and challenging. Well executed, tight filming. good script.

Return Run
Return Run
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Punchy short story, 11 July 2016
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This review is from: Return Run (Kindle Edition)
‘Return Run’ is a rapid read of old-fashioned thuggery and back-street skulduggery. Set in Northern Ireland it avoids any political intrigue and concentrates instead on traditional criminal activities – robbery, assault, conspiracy, betrayal – with a bad boy protagonist taking the lead. Blake is a professional thief, a loner typical of the genre, the kind of guy who rarely starts a fight but always finishes them.

But Blake’s far from heartless, as the second thread in this short story reveals. Blake learns that an ex-girlfriend is banged up inside on a murder charge. He can’t believe that she’s guilty and soon discovers that there’s more to her ‘self-defence’ story than meets the eye. But before he can figure out how to help her, his little bit of larceny turns out to be far from straightforward when one of his accomplices makes a grab for the cash…
This is a punchy tale, told plainly, with plenty of pace. Author Simon Maltman wraps two intriguing plots around each other and brings the whole thing to a satisfactory conclusion within the tight confines of a short story. There are a few typos and grammar glitches which tighter editing could’ve tidied up, but nothing which disrupts an hour’s easy reading. The violence isn’t graphic or described in explicit detail, so there’s nothing to turn a sensitive stomach.

We learn little about Blake in Return Run, but this has the flavour of an introductory episode so I suspect we’ll be hearing more from him in future.

There's a longer version of this review over at

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

3.0 out of 5 stars Showing its age, 10 July 2016
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Despite the fact that enjoyed this first time around, back in 1984, this time I found it ponderous and pompous, packed with cliches about the landed gentry and idiot guns-blazing colonial numpties. The filming *is* gorgeous, I give you that, but the apes seem somewhat ridiculous compared to today's effects.
And the story... is... so... slow. It has all the subtlety of a stampeding rhino. Most Pixar cartoons have more nuanced characters in them. So either films have gotten better in the past three decades, or I'm more discerning these days. (And I do have a decent attention span, I promise. 2001 is a fave and has worn extremely well. This... has not).
If you enjoy languid landscape cinematography and costume dramas then you might enjoy it. I kept waiting for the good bit to arrive.
It didn't.

EXILES: An Outsider Anthology
EXILES: An Outsider Anthology
Price: £2.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outsiders looking inwards, 9 July 2016
This collection of 26 stories is a little different to the average anthology. It weaves between fact and fiction, exploring those remote and lonely places on the periphery of human society. Each of the contributions is a substantial piece of writing – not one of them feels like a filler – and the combined effect of the authors’ different interpretations of the theme almost inevitably saturate the reader’s subconscious contemplations.

Exiles starts with an essay, a personal reflection on feelings of isolation abroad – a theme which is echoed throughout the anthology. ‘Eating The Dream’ deftly weaves an ancient mythological monster into the modern environment, with adroit observations on human society, like how people don’t care as much for their livers as they should (an important concern when you perceive people as ‘dinner’!)
One of the delights with this anthology is that it abruptly changes pace, style and setting with each new story. One moment you’re in the company of the supernatural: legends thought long dead which still stalk the modern world in isolated secrecy, and the next you’re grounded in cold, hard and bittersweet reality as a naive traveller comes an all too human cropper in a foreign land.
Some of the most entertaining stories are the fantastical ‘what if?’ tales. These are delightful moments where sadness and loneliness are transformed into wonder (as in We Are All Special Cases), or where the unreal is barely defined and hard to grasp. That’s the case with the surreal neo-noir of ‘Agent Ramiel Gets The Call’ where something semi-seen lurks in the psychological shadows.
But some of the most chilling tales are the real-world insights when a strange location and stressful circumstances reveal the gulf between couples or friends, when we find strangers where there should be someone familiar. There are also poignant moments where exiles reach out from their isolation to try to make contact with the rest of the world, chillingly less than successful in some cases…
Inevitably, a couple of the stories didn’t ring my bells – but this is an extensive anthology, not a whistlestop tour. Exiles allows many different voices to express their interpretation of the theme, and I’d say that I enjoyed at least 20 of them.

At the end of this anthology it’s worth going back to the beginning. The introduction speaks the ultimate truth: no matter how close you come in life to any other person, in truth we are all isolated. Alone. Exiles in our own existence.

There's a more detailed version of this review over at

You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future
You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future
Price: £14.14

4.0 out of 5 stars An unconventional over-view of an unconventional thinker, 5 July 2016
This isn't so much a biography of the radical thinker Buckminster Fuller, more a philosophical discussion of how the concepts which interested him have become themes and attributes of the modern world. If you're a material scientist, or if you are already well acquainted with the life, work and theories of Fuller, then it'll no doubt provide a fascinating launch-point for further debate and contemplation.

I picked it up with only scant knowledge of the man and while I found the 'fictionalised' biography of his life to be entertaining, it was also quite frustrating. It was very tricky to differentiate between Fuller's own aggrandising self-promotion and actual events. That may have been the purpose behind the author's decision to present Fuller in this way; demonstrating the ambiguity of his achievements, but it left me none the wiser.
The greater part of the books takes examples of mechanical and social engineering which Fuller espoused and shows how they have become commonplace, integrated into modern society. These include topics as diverse as cardboard shelters for civic emergencies to the role that war-gaming plays in many aspects of defence and development. I couldn't help feeling that some of these were a stretch - yes, the topics were related to some of Fuller's ideas but few seemed to be genuinely linked to his efforts. More likely these were 'ideas of their time' which matured during the 20th century.

Even so, I enjoyed much of the philosophical debate on a wide range of subjects. The text is considered and erudite yet perfectly easy to read - and naturally breaks into easily digested sections. It just didn't provide me with an overview of Fuller's life and works - a more conventional biography would be needed for that, I suspect.

The Man Upstairs
The Man Upstairs
by Mark L Fowler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An existential detective, 4 July 2016
This review is from: The Man Upstairs (Paperback)
Frank Miller is a golden age gumshoe, the archetypal hardboiled private investigator. Armed with a cynical wit, a world-weary attitude and a smart-ass delivery, he’s just the right man to investigate shady goings-on involving sexed-up care-workers, suspicious deaths and a nefarious elected official. But hang on. Frank Miller is not a normal fictional detective...
…for one thing, Frank knows that he’s fictional.

In this inventive exploration of the self, author Mark Fowler doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as obliterate it. He gives his protagonist self-awareness and the ability to challenge events as they unfold. It becomes apparent that ‘the man upstairs’, the writer pulling Frank’s strings, has completely lost the plot. Exploiting this cunning conceit, Fowler pays faithful homage to genre traditions without falling into pastiche or parody.
The Man Upstairs reads like a love-letter to the heroes of hardboiled pulp fiction. Fowler nails the lingo; almost every page has a brilliant bon mot worthy of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. There’s plenty of black humour in a book which blends the authentic tone and character of pulp fiction noir with entirely up to date existential angst.
It might’ve had greater impact if Fowler had kept the story to a sharper novella and trimmed some of the repeated skulking sessions. There’s more than one moment when Miller gathers his resolve – be it to tackle the corrupt mayor, or to confront TMU – then ambles off for an extended session of self-indulgent navel-gazing instead. A definite less / more moment.
Yet the ending packs a real punch. Frank Miller, now effectively writing his own future, discovers a previously unimagined moral core. He’s been bludgeoned, beaten and blackmailed – in the final showdown, will the citizens of Chapeltown give him the strength to confront the corruption infesting their society?
Mark Fowler has an acerbically enjoyable writing style, and skilfully balances the more surreal aspects of this story with backstreet grit. Generally, I dislike thrillers where the protagonist is a writer or journalist. In this instance Fowler sneaked past my prejudice with no little ability, delivering some extremely adroit observations about long-running crime series – the conflicts which can confound a successful author from a demanding publisher to an audience whose attention is starting to wander…

This is a risky creative venture – and a rollicking good read. You rarely get both things in one book.

There's more details and a longer version of this review over at

Season 4: The Final Chapter
Season 4: The Final Chapter
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy conclusion, 3 July 2016
This final set of three 90 minutes films is the hardest one to like of the English-language interpretation. If you prefer either of the Scandinavian versions to Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the Swedish detective then you definitely won’t enjoy this one.
If, however, you’re a fan of Branagh’s acting and have enjoyed the three previous BBC series, then these are worth watching – not just for a sense of completion, but because they artfully portray the sense of bleak poignancy that sums up the end of Wallander’s career.

These three stories are barely ‘criminal investigations’ at all. Instead they are a subtle exploration of coming to terms with morality, captured in a nuanced and moving performance from KB and enhanced by some stunning cinematography and a haunting, melancholic soundtrack.
‘The White Lioness’ is the weakest of the trio. It removes the central character from his natural environment and the glaring, scorched wasteland of South African slums is at odds with the series’ themes. The plot feels clumsily outdated and portrays African society, politics and the police as inevitably corrupt and inefficient. These clichés are not comfortable viewing.
The other two episodes are much, much stronger and see Wallander back on home turf, struggling through confusion and denial firstly to find a missing girl and then secondly to resolve a much older mystery, close to home. You need to watch them in order as the two storylines do overlap.
Alzheimer’s disease is a difficult subject to accurately portray and Branagh handles it with sensitivity – but it’s not easy viewing. The dramatic purpose of this storyline is to show how a man who has relied upon his intuition and intellect to make incisive, revelatory leaps of detection, subsequently shrinks in stature and capability. In TV-land, it all happens quite quickly which gives it all the more emotional impact, especially when set against the windswept seascapes of southern Sweden.
Amid all that back-story, ‘The Troubled Man’ also tells a ripping yarn, of Cold War politics and espionage which erupts into present day betrayal and brutality. It’s easily the best of the three films; often stark in its depiction of human isolation.

I think that if you’re going to enjoy these final films then you’ll need to have watched all the earlier Branagh episodes, to have come to terms with this depiction of the character. Like I say, Scandi crime enthusiasts probably won’t find much to appreciate here. But there are depths to Branagh’s interpretation of Mankell’s creation which are worthy of exploration and appreciation.

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