Sunday, 30 June 2013

Book review: 666 Charing Cross Road

A standalone (although... not quite) novel from Paul Magrs of Brenda & Effie fame, 666 Charing Cross Road shares those novels' camp take on the supernatural, except this time in more of a cosmopolitan setting, with the first half of the novel set in New York and the second half in London. When ageing American ghost story fan Liza discovers a specialist Charing Cross bookshop that will deliver the most obscure old English ghost stories, she's an instant fan. But one of the shipments contains the real thing, a bloodsoaked grimoire that contains a trapped demon who possesses her niece's boyfriend and starts a vampire and zombie plague on New York.

This is another lot of good fun from Magrs (although he's perhaps overcompensating a bit with how many of the English characters are bad guys and the Americans good - I'm sure if he was trying for a more transatlantic audience they could have handled a bit more of an even spread of good and evil.) The evil-fighting team are a familiar combination, with a seemingly innocuous old lady with a badass past, a gay best friend and a terrifying monster who's actually one of the good guys. It certainly takes place in the same universe as the Brenda and Effie books and early on I was wondering if, like in To The Devil - A Diva! this book's characters might eventually end up crossing over into the other series; a reference near the end makes it look pretty much inevitable that they will.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Dick Twittington 15: "She is Friendship and Flowers."

This week on my Twitter feed I'm actually at home to watch The Apprentice and regale Twitter with my opinions on it. Also parts of The Voice final, although in practice I'm just commenting on the couple of seconds I managed to bear.

Tesco mobile has a poster ad in which Gina Yashere tells a joke that isn't funny. I think this is meant to be unusual.
4:02 PM - 19 Jun 13

"Some people are lesbian, some people are gay, some people are undead and just like necks." #apprentice
9:09 PM - 19 Jun 13

No surprise Jason's gone for over-50s dating after last week's flirty shenanigans #apprentice
9:12 PM - 19 Jun 13

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Dick Twittington 14: The evil corporate machine

This week on my Twitter feed I start a new job, where things are pretty quiet - presumably before the storm.

First day at the new job. So yes OBVIOUSLY there's a massive zit on my face.
8:00 AM - 12 Jun 13

Well that's my first day as part of the evil corporate machine.
5:48 PM - 12 Jun 13

I now have a company laptop to lug around with me everywhere. I'm nervous. And
6:24 PM - 12 Jun 13

Monday, 17 June 2013

Book review: Rush of Blood

Time for the latest Mark Billingham novel to make it to paperback, and it’s his second departure from the regular Tom Thorne series; and this time Thorne doesn’t even make a cameo appearance. Instead Rush of Blood goes for a different format entirely, following three British couples who met on holiday in Florida. Unlike most holiday friendships they actually follow through with the promise to keep in touch, and the book is structured around the dinner parties each couple hosts for the others over the course of a couple of months. The additional point of interest that keeps them together is that while in Florida, a mentally disabled teenage girl disappeared, later to be found dead. They think it’s just a gruesome anecdote but when a similar crime takes place in the UK it becomes apparent that one of them is responsible.

I really liked the format change here, I enjoy Billingham’s Thorne novels but it’s good for a writer to stretch himself and he’s done so successfully. There is a bit of a downside to having a plot that by its very nature means the reader has the suspects narrowed down to six right from the off, even if the detectives haven’t: With very good reasons to suspect everyone cropping up at various points in the story, inevitably the result feels like it was guessable. But he throws in a couple of sharp little twists around the reveal that make up for this, and the narrow field of suspects is balanced by getting more of a chance to get into all of their heads, as the couples discover that back at home they’ve got less in common than they thought, and see why people normally keep holiday friendships just there – and that’s before the police have got involved.

There’s also an interesting little touch to the glimpses we get into the investigation, as a trainee UK detective tries to make a name for herself by finding the British link to the case, but also seems to be developing a bit of a fixation on the American detective she’s never actually met. This plotline kind of fizzles out a bit disappointingly but does add a bit more texture to the investigations.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dick Twittington 13: Less cryptic than you think

This week is pretty quiet on my Twitter feed because I've been busy moving house and interviewing for a job (which I got.)

I hope the "CARAVAN CARAVAN CARAVAN!" bit in next week's preview is an #apprentice version of Yellow Car.
11:28 PM - 5 Jun 13

On my way to Watford for an interview. For a temp job. The job's in Canary Wharf. #wtf #brokenbritain
10:55 AM - 6 Jun 13

Got the job. It's only until September but it keeps me out of mischief for a while.
6:07 PM - 6 Jun 13

Friday, 7 June 2013

Book review: Soulless

It's a while since I read anything by US fantasy/horror author Christopher Golden, I've just been ploughing through what's on my kindle, but clearing out the flat I dug out his zombie novel Soulless, which I hadn't got round to reading yet. A daytime TV show's stunt of hosting a live séance goes wrong when the three psychics and two hosts all end up bonded together in a coma. The supernatural channel they open uses the broadcast to spread throughout New York State, which is overrun by the risen dead. It's a pretty standard zombie story with the usual disparate group getting together to fight off the monsters, with the additional focus of them trying to get to the TV studio to stop the invasion's origin point. There's not a lot of surprises and the morality of the climactic events is kind of dubious. But I did like Golden's attempts to rationalise the standard zombie tropes like the flesh-eating and the fact that their heads need to be destroyed to stop them.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Dick Twittington 12: Sorry, no autographs

This week on my Twitter feed I get recognised from my other blog, and start an inevitably heated discussion over who should be the next Doctor.

The casting call must have just said "Bring me cute actors with beards! Bring me more! Ahahahaha!" #intervaltweets
3:53 PM - 29 May 13

Spellcheck wants to change "Gandalf" to "Ugandan."
11:31 PM - 29 May 13

@Weez To be fair, I'm not a Saturday evening performance fan. Sometimes the audience have had a drink or two. *judges*
12:12 AM - 30 May 13

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Book review: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Michael Chabon's books took a while to end up available for kindle so I'm fairly behind with them. The Yiddish Policemen's Union is one of his best-regarded novels, a Chandleresque crime story set in a slightly alternate universe: After the Second World War, the Jewish homeland was set up not in Israel, but Alaska (apparently Franklin D. Roosevelt genuinely proposed this.) In addition, the Sitka district was established with a built-in expiration date of 60 years, and when the time is up (a deadline that's a couple of months away when the novel starts) America wants it back, and only a few of the residents will be allowed to stay on. So it's in the middle of an allegory for the Jewish experience of being forever unwanted and moved on that Chabon tells his story of Detective Landsman, likely to be out of a job when Reversion comes, and having to spend those remaining months working for his ex-wife, who's been promoted above him.

Landsman lives in a seedy hotel and when one of the other residents is found murdered in his room with a half-played chess game next to the body, he takes a personal interest in the case (despite, or perhaps because of, his own hatred for chess, so the case also makes him look into his own history.) Together with his half-Eskimo partner he ends up caught up in a slightly surreal world of Orthodox Jewish mobsters and an attempt to make the Messiah come to Earth through terrorism. I'm not a huge fan of the noir genre so this wasn't a natural fit for me; I enjoyed parts of it and its sometimes bizarre imagery, and there's a nicely haunting atmosphere to it, but it's very bleak - certainly a contrast to the blurb's suggestion that it's a funny book: There is dark, wry humour but it's not the prevailing tone of an extremely melancholy novel.