Saturday, 19 May 2018

Wot I'm reading: Life and death row

MICHAEL CONNELLY: Two Kinds of Truth

Episode Twenty in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch casebook. This author has never produced a dud and frequently, as with this one, he delivers an absolute cracker.

Harry, now in his sixties and working ‘cold cases’ for the San Fernando Police Department, is called to a ‘hot’ crime scene when Mexican father-and-son pharmacists are killed by suspected Russian hitmen. The murders are linked to a major racket involving prescription drugs and Harry takes a huge risk going undercover. This story has a life-and-death climax more worthy of an action-man movie than a semi-retired cop.

Titus Welliver plays Harry Bosch on Amazon Prime TV
There’s a parallel story involving a man who’s been on Death Row for 30 years, convicted on evidence found by Harry. New DNA evidence suggests that Harry and his partner must have framed the guy. How could this be? Harry’s half-brother Micky Haller (“the Lincoln Lawyer”) takes on the case which ends in a dramatic court scene that John Grisham would surely be happy to put his name to.

Crime and punishment and the scales of justice. Weighty themes which John Connolly makes as exciting as any adventure story. Another hard-to-put-down read from a master storyteller.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Wot I'm reading: Fifty Shades of Lavender

GORDON MERRICK: The Lord Won't Mind

Continuing my intermittent trawl through the ‘classics’ of gay fiction, I’ve just re-read this hideously titled novel (I’m tempted to say ‘novelette’, it’s so very gay!) from 1970, which is raunchier than most of its predecessors and must have seemed fairly ‘hardcore’ in the 70s. There is much sterner stuff out there now, making this more ‘semi-hardcore’ – a bit like Fifty Shades but minus the spanking and much better written.

Charlie Mills is in his twenties, gorgeous and talented (and seriously hung) when his grandmother introduces him to Peter, who is a bit younger, almost as gorgeous but a bit less talented and not (quite) so hung. They fall into bed and love – in that order. It’s Peter’s gay debut and he falls heavily. Charlie has been round the block before but doesn’t want to be thought of us ‘queer’, so their affair doesn't always run smoothly. But, as the songwriters would have us believe, the best part of breaking up is when you’re making up, so you sort of know where this boy-gets-boy/boy-loses-boy story is likely to end up. Charlie’s grandma is a figure out of Wilde; Hattie, the aspiring actress with whom he strays down the path of bisexuality, is cruelly presented. The New York gays who play supporting roles are surprisingly similar to today’s big-city queens.

Gordon Merrick 1916-1988
The writing sometimes evokes Henry James but more often Margaret Mitchell. There are so many endearments – ‘baby’, ‘darling’, ‘champ’ - that it feels a bit like a Gidget-era script at times. Mostly I found myself thinking of E.M.Forster’s Maurice – there’s a lot of intense dialogue about how much in love they are. Forster would probably not have written a sentence like ‘his whole body was shaken by the spasms of an enormous ejaculation’, but I could (almost) see Henry James (or do I mean E.L. James?) writing it.

I’ve only just found out that this is Part One of a 70s trilogy and have ordered the other two volumes (second-hand). The Lord Won’t Mind is turgid and occasionally terribly twee, but it’s also touching and sexy. It must have meant a lot to gay readers in 1970 even if today it reads like a risqué museum-piece.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Wot I'm reading: a town full of secrets


The third novel of John Hart’s that I’ve read, and it’s another humdinger. The Gothic element that featured strongly in The Last Child and Iron House is less evident here, but it’s a splendidly complex thriller. An ex-cop is freed after thirteen torturous years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. A female cop who idolised him is facing charges over the killing of two kidnappers. 

Teenagers play key roles: the kidnapped girl who loves the cop who rescued her more than her parents, and the son of the woman whose murder the ex-cop took the rap for. And the town, unnamed and in an unnamed state, is full of secrets – and killings - past and present. The ending is a tad hard to swallow but it goes on for fifty nerve-jangling pages. Redemption comes at a high price.

Mr Hart writes a richer prose than your average crime novelist. “Gideon’s father wore his days like a faded suit.” “She was alone on the road, just her and the wind and the last line of bruised sky as full night descended.” Quality writing, dense plotting, deeply damaged but believable characters: Hart is in the ‘pantheon’ of thriller writers. I shall wait impatiently for his next book.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

David at the movies: Guernsey's best exotic war story - and title!


From the producers of the Best Exotic Mari-gold Hotel movies comes another film with a bizarre (and overlong) title. Like the Best Exotic duo, it’s a crowd-pleaser. It pleased me!

The year is 1946. A newly successful author (Lily James) goes to Guernsey after a local farmer writes to her about the island’s weirdly named book club during the years of Nazi occupation. She slowly uncovers a secret wartime tragedy which hangs like a dark cloud over the club’s handful of members.

The story is a slight and sentimental one. Despite war and death, this is another feel-good movie, much like Finding Your Feet a few months back and with a similar ‘ensemble’ cast. Lily James just may be the new Julie Andrews, always a joy to see. Michiel Huisman, who plays the farmer, is a new name to me (I haven’t watched Game of Thrones), but he contributes a handsome central presence that reminded me of Alan Bates’s Farmer Gabriel in the 1967 Far from the Madding Crowd. Tom Courtenay is solid as always. Penelope Wilton is outstanding as the widow drowning in the grief of two world wars.

Slight and sentimental, yes, but very involving. I so wanted this movie to have a happy-ever-after Mills & Boon-style ending. Does it? Go and find out.


I tend now to avoid gut-churning horror movies (Saw and its siblings), but I’ve loved a good scary story since the Hammer Draculas and Frankensteins 
came out when I was a teenager. And I guess some of the scariest flicks have been the Alien series (though the latest additions have been a lot more earnest and a bit less scary).

A Quiet Place comes with CGI aliens that look like hideous clones of Sigourney Weaver’s intergalactic chums. There are stronger echoes of War of the Worlds. Eighteen months after an invasion by people-chomping monsters, we join a family of survivors living in rural America, Emily Blunt and her real-life husband John Krasinski (who also directs) and their three kids. The aliens are blind but super-sensitive to sound, so the family learns to live as silently as possible, talking in sign-language and whispers. The perils of noise are brought vividly home from time to time: a battery-operated toy or a dropped plate brings terrible retribution. Emily is pregnant, so you wonder how she is going to give birth in silence and produce a noiseless infant. These questions are answered in nerve-shredding scenes in the second half of the film.

Normally, when someone’s phone goes off in a cinema, you make noises of disapproval and long to belt them. When this happened yesterday I almost hit the deck!

A Quiet Place has the rustic unease of several of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies. You think the countryside is safer than the city? Think again.