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David Gee (Sussex, UK)

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Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica
Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica
by Matthew Parker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sex, snobbery and sadism, 21 Jun. 2015
'Sex, snobbery and sadism' were the key ingredients in a James Bond novel, according to a review of DR NO in the New Statesman in 1958. Yes, he was probably right, but the reviewer seems to have missed out the outlandish thrills that Ian Fleming could deliver along with some of the most colourful villains in the history of pulp fiction: Mr Big, Rosa Klebb, Dr. No, Goldfinger and, that toothsome twosome, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt!

Matthew Parker's lively new contribution to the 007 'canon' is a history of Fleming's long love-affair with pre- and post-Independence Jamaica, where he spent two months of every year from 1946 until his death in 1964 and where he wrote all the Bond books. At Goldeneye, the boxy little bungalow Fleming built on the north coast of the Caribbean island, he entertained the great and the good (including Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Eden and - of course - Sean Connery) together with a far from modest selection of married ladyfriends, one of whom, Viscount Rothermere's wife Ann, divorced her husband to marry Fleming. Ann had to put up with a "three-people marriage" when Fleming took another Jamaican expat as his long-term mistress. Tit for tat, Ann Fleming became Hugh Gaitskell's lover for the last years of his life.

Fascinating as this book is, it's filled with dislikeable characters. Fleming himself is a curmudgeon, sometimes genial, more often sulky. Ann is a snobbish pill-popping neurotic who dismisses her husband's novels (largely without reading them) as 'pornography'. Even Noel Coward comes across as little more than another of the old colonial bores. Fleming largely detested the idle rich and retired who made up most of his wife's social circle both on the island and in London, and yet, as the New Statesman observed, James Bond was very much a product of the supercilious 'imperialist' mindset.

Parker confirms what we have heard before, that there was a lot of Fleming in 007: the naval background, a love of fishing and snorkelling as well as lethal levels of smoking and drinking. From this account Fleming does not seem to have been a very happy man, but his books, however sniffy some of the critics, have brought pleasure to millions.

Fleming was toying with killing off 007 at the end of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE when (unlike in the movie) Rosa Klebb strikes home with the poisoned blade in her toecap. Luckily for us, this was Fleming's break-through book and he contrived a way to 'resurrect' Bond at the beginning of DR NO. Today, in real time, Bond would either be long since despatched to the rest home for old spies or, more likely given his alcohol and tobacco intake, would have made the trip to the crematorium which he narrowly escaped in the movie of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Despite the up-and-down quality of both the book and the movie franchise, long may he go on living!

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


The Fallen Angel
The Fallen Angel
by Daniel Silva
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Another murder at the Vatican, 9 Jun. 2015
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Gabriel Allon is back in the Vatican, restoring a priceless painting by Caravaggio. A female archaeologist is found dead beneath the gallery in the dome of St Peter's Basilica. The pope's private secretary asks Gabriel to investigate whether she jumped or was thrown to her death.

Since Gabriel is not just an art restorer but also a retired superspy-cum-hitman for the Israeli secret service, we can guess that the signorina did not commit suicide. And, as we always anticipate from Daniel Silva, solving her murder will uncover a planned terrorist outrage (another one!) against the Vatican and the State of Israel. The trail leads from Rome to Vienna and Jerusalem - the Pope is about to make a visit to the Holy Land.

OK, these are locations Mr Silva has guided us through before and the conspiracy is also something of a 'revamp' (with a bit of Dan Brown-style archaeology thrown into the stew), but Silva's writing is superior to most other thriller-writers and he always gives Zion's enemies (it's Hezbollah and the Iranians this time) a scarily plausible fanaticism. Pope Paul VII, Silva's imagined successor to the Polish prelate, appealingly combines characteristics of Benedict, Francis and John Paul.

THE FALLEN ANGEL builds its suspense up to a cinematic finale beneath the Temple Mount. A story that seems to be torn from tomorrow's headlines, this is another total 'humdinger' from one of today's best thriller-writers.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


Anno Dracula - Johnny Alucard
Anno Dracula - Johnny Alucard
by Kim Newman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Drac's back (a re-vamp!), 26 May 2015
Yes, it's Dracula spelt backward. The fourth volume of Kim Newman's imaginative sequels to Bram Stoker's chronicle finds the monster finally (excuse the pun) out for the count. A perennially teenage Romanian upstart, Ion Popescu, 'turned' by Dracula in 1944, is brought to New York in the 1970s by vampire journalist Kate Reed and sets about becoming a celebrity bloodsucker. Moving to Hollywood, he becomes a film producer and adopts the name Alucard in honour of his Master.

This is the best of Newman's sequels to his original ANNO DRACULA (1992) in which Vlad Tepes became Queen Victoria's second consort in a London where vampires were the highest in high society. Similarly outlandish, JOHNNY ALUCARD is full of delicious historical and cinematic anomalies. Characters from Bram Stoker's novel are real people in this adaptation: Harker, Mina, Van Helsing. Fact and fiction are wittily interwoven. John Lennon was murdered (with a silver bullet) by MISERY's Annie Wilkes.

Newman's women are his best creations. As well as Kate Reed (undead since the Victorian era), 565-year-old 'elder' Genevieve Dieudonne returns from previous episodes. She now lives in a chrome Airstream trailer, whose eclectic furnishings include "a tacky Mexican crucifix with light-up eyes that she kept on show just to prove that she wasn't one of those vampires". Vampires have careers like other girls: Genevieve is a private detective in LA, and later a CSI in Baltimore.

There are misses as well as hits in Newman's scattergun satire on the world of celebrities and movie-makers. A section in the New York of Andy Warhohl and Studio 54 falls slightly flat, but all the Hollywood scenes are elaborately zany: Alucard ventures into adult movie production with DEBBIE DOES DRACULA, featuring cast members from BOOGIE NIGHTS. Later our hero organises a global benefit for Transylvania - not so much Live Aid as Undead Aid.

Densely plotted with a Cecil B. De Mille-sized cast of extras, this richly inventive comedy is a fun read, well-written enough to be a good serious read.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]


An Officer and a Spy
An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Justice seen to be undone, 27 April 2015
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
Thriller-writer Robert Harris sets out to remind us of the infamous travesty of justice that was the Dreyfus Case in 1890s France. His central character is not Dreyfus but (real-life) army officer Georges Picquart who helped to make the flimsy case against Alfred Dreyfus on charges of espionage and witnessed the Jewish captain's trial and then his degradation in front of a baying crowd. Picquart reads the heavily censored letters exchanged between Dreyfus, imprisoned in solitary confinement on Devil's Island, and his wife. Dreyfus continues to protest his total innocence. Now working in military intelligence and on the trail of another spy in the army, Picquart comes to realise that Dreyfus was indeed innocent, but his superiors are not keen to see the case re-opened or even to see a further conviction. After an initial rush to misjudgement by one inept general, the army went to outrageous lengths to fabricate a stronger case against the poor captain. After a few years Picquart himself becomes a victim of injustice.

Real-life espionage is not conducted at the pace of a James Bond or Jason Bourne adventure, but at a snail's pace - something we already know from following the career of MI5 spymaster George Smiley. AN OFFICER AND A SPY is short on thrills and long on detail: it requires serious
concentration from the reader. The tension begins to build two-thirds of the way through, when the first of the re-trials takes place. There's some anachronistic language: 'lowlife' doesn't sound right for 1890. That apart, Harris generally writes with an elegance that rivals Le Carre, although he has chosen to write this book in the present tense, a device that has put me off reading Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels and which I found somewhat off-putting here. Still, I must concede that Robert Harris has brilliantly reconstructed a fascinating piece of history. And, as we see in the news every day, justice continues to be applied with a very uneven hand by regimes that we would like to call civilised as well as by those that we know to be barbarous.
[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]
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The Skin Collector: Lincoln Rhyme Book 11 (Lincoln Rhyme thrillers)
The Skin Collector: Lincoln Rhyme Book 11 (Lincoln Rhyme thrillers)
by Jeffery Deaver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Mega-creepy psycho killer, 1 April 2015
The title is obviously meant to remind us of THE BONE COLLECTOR, the horrific serial killer case that first introduced us (in 1997) to paraplegic criminal investigator Lincoln Rhyme and his foxy partner Amelia Sachs . Linc and Amelia's new case introduces a mega-creepy psychotic who tattoos cryptic messages onto his victims and may be a crazed 'disciple' of the Bone Collector. A gifted artist and a perfectionist, he takes care to leave no traces for the crime unit to find. Or does he?

Rhyme and Sachs and their team, as always, piece together the teeniest clues to track down this monster. There is no mystery here: the author introduces us to the killer, Billy Haven, in Chapter 2. As he often does, Jeffrey Deaver offers readers not so much a Whodunnit as a Can-they-stop-it. We kind of know they will, of course, but Deaver is brilliant at keeping his readers on the edge of their seats. THE SKIN COLLECTOR moves at a faster pace than most police investigations.

Amelia has a run-in with Billy on Day Two of the case, and there's a fresh kill every day. The plot, a tad preposterous but a total page-turner, develops an 'apocalypse' dimension which, together with the tattooed messages, gives this a Dan Brown element. There's a clever tie-in with a previous adversary of Rhyme's, the 'Watchmaker'. And there are a number of grisly surprises and a few gross-out moments that Hannibal Lecter would be happy to put his signature to.


The Charioteer: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
The Charioteer: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
by Mary Renault
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gay un-lib, 12 Mar. 2015
My dog-eared 1959 paperback of this gay 'classic' has a startling front cover blurb: "Three men plunged into a struggle with their unnatural love." Probably not the pitch they're using in the current re-issue.

It's 1940. Laurie Odell has been repatriated with other wounded servicemen from Dunkirk. In a military hospital in the West Country he develops a crush on Andrew, a shy young conscientious objector consigned to ward orderly duties as an alternative to prison. At a louche party (men dancing with each other: quick, bring smelling salts!) Laurie is reunited with injured sailor Ralph, on whom he had a crush at boarding school; Ralph was expelled from their school for misbehaviour that is only hinted at.

Rather a lot is only hinted at as, in the midst of war, a gay 'love-triangle' develops.There's a lot of talk and no 'action'. A single chaste kiss; a couple of sex-scenes that take place off the page (like those in Gone With the Wind and most novels of the '40s and '50s). The book's best chapter is the wedding when Laurie's mother's remarries, full of precision-honed awkwardness. Of the three men, Laurie is still firmly closeted; Ralph is 'out', at least to his friends; Andrew doesn't know enough to think of it as a closet.

Words like 'rent' and 'queen' and 'cottage' were already in use in the 1940s, although 'gay' is not used in the sense we have for it now. When Renault describes the room in which the party is taking place, the furnishings include 'various poufs', which clearly would be edited out if it was being written today.

THE CHARIOTEER, which first came out, so to speak, in 1953, is painfully slow, very dated and more than a little 'twee', similar in many respects to Forster's Edwardian-era MAURICE. Nevertheless (again like MAURICE) it is an important and deeply felt novel about homosexual love. It was daring in its day and clearly sent out a plea for understanding and tolerance. The men in the story are living with the ever-present threat of what happened to Alan Turing: exposure, shame, arrest and the choice between imprisonment and chemical castration.


Some Like It Hot [DVD] [1959]
Some Like It Hot [DVD] [1959]
Dvd ~ Tony Curtis
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: £4.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Movie perfection., 28 Feb. 2015
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What I can say that hasn't said before? Every few years they publish a new list of the Best Films of All Time. SOME LIKE IT HOT is always in the Top Ten. It always has been - and always will be, I'm sure - Number One in my personal list. Movie perfection.


Red Dragon [DVD] [2002]
Red Dragon [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Anthony Hopkins
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.20

4.0 out of 5 stars Better than MANHUNTER? I don't think so., 28 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Red Dragon [DVD] [2002] (DVD)
Second and third viewings of this movie underline my feeling that it's not really an improvement on MANHUNTER, the first version of this story directed by Michael Mann, with Brian Cox in chilling form as everyone's favourite cannibal. The extension of the ending, as in the novel, is gratifying, and I like the dinner party at the beginning, which I don't think was part of the novel. As in HANNIBAL, Anthony Hopkins slightly camps up his performance as Hannibal Lecter, making him almost a pantomime villain. The 'Tooth Fairy; is an even more unsettling killer than 'Buffalo Bill' in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, but Tom Noonan in MANHUNTER was creepier than Ralph Fiennes. LAMBS is still the best of the movies, although HANNIBAL is my personal favourite oif Thomas Harris's books - Gothic on an epic scale!


Unconditional Love [DVD] [2002]
Unconditional Love [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Kathy Bates
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £3.71

4.0 out of 5 stars Daft but fun, 28 Feb. 2015
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Sligjhtly daft movie, but very appealing.


Roberta Flack - Live [2000] [DVD]
Roberta Flack - Live [2000] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Roberta Flack
Price: £6.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Obe of the true greats, 28 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A lovely reminder of one of the great voices of the last century.


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