Saturday, 10 December 2016

Stephen King is a literary genius

One of the greatest authors to emerge in the last 40 years, a writer of sublime literary prowess is without doubt Stephen King. From his first published work “Carrie” to his latest meaty collection of short works “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams” his talent and continued explosive output never ceases to amaze me.

To fully appreciate Doctor Sleep it is not important to have read “The Shining” but I think it helps to give a flow and continuation as we follow the life of Dan Torrance into adulthood. Dan has a gift he “shines” think of it as a form of telepathy or the transference of thoughts or feelings between two or more subjects. Not everyone has the gift of “shining” but for those who possess it they can communicate in a most wonderful way.

Dan works at a nursing home in New Hampshire, fighting alcoholism, and uses his shining power to give some peace and comfort to the dying, he thus acquires the title of Doctor Sleep. Through his spectacular gift he meets a fellow shiner Abra who is being haunted by a tribe of people known as The True Knot and their evil and colourful leader Rose the Hat. The story then follows a race against time as Dan sets out on his journey to battle for Abra’s soul and survival.

What I always find enthralling about Stephen King novels are the characters within and how they develop as the story advances. We are all a product of our childhood, the decisions that we take, the choices that we make, good or bad, as we grow into adulthood are what define us in later years. Dan Torrance had a weak mother Wendy and an alcoholic father Jack. As his father’s son he is desperate to shake his legacy of alcoholism and violence and Doctor Sleep is really about Dan’s journey of redemption and the story he has to tell. It is a truly brilliant novel, Stephen King looking deep into our human soul, and in the final analysis showing what really is important is “love and family”
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There is a scene towards the end when Dan and a group of friends are nearing the end of their quest and are entering the town of Boulder where coincidently Dan was born and he decides to visit his childhood home to relive both painful and happy memories.....”Dan went on looking at the building with the peeling green paint. Once a little boy had lived here ; once he had set on the very piece of curbing where Billy Freeman now stood munching his chicken footlong. A little boy waiting for his daddy to come home from his job interview at the Overlook Hotel. He had a balsa glider, that little boy, but the wing was busted. It was okay, though. When his daddy came home, he would fix it with tape and glue. Then maybe they would fly it together. His daddy had been a scary man, and how that little boy had loved him.”

I cannot recommend highly enough Stephen King is a literary genius!

The life of the Krays through the eyes of the Krays!

Reg and Ron Kray Our Story as presented by Fred Dinenage (presenter and broadcaster) is almost a “fly on the wall” journey through their violent and somewhat sad and most certainly wasted life. It is a real taste of London of the 60’s and a look into the lives of the crooks and gangsters who made a living by intimidation and murderous intent.

The greatest influence and love of their live was their mum Violet certainly not their dad Charlie who was akin to a James Beck (Dad’s Army) figure...a bit of a spiv and there is a lovely description of Charlie “ducking and diving” in the twins early years....”He was a small, dapper bloke who before the war, had been a pesterer – he’d travel round the better-class areas trying to persuade people to sell him their nicknacks, bits of gold and silver, even clothing, which he would then resell for a profit. He was very good at it. He wasn’t a fighting man, like the rest of the men in the family, but he was a hell of a drinker.

As teenagers all they cared about was boxing and so good were they that opponents stood little chance against them, often receiving publicity in the London papers...”So remorseless was Ron Kray that he sent Goodsell to the canvas no less than five times – the fifth time for keeps”

Ron and Reg saw themselves as a couple of tough lads who could handle themselves if anyone got stroppy or challenged them. This was fine if violence of this nature was controlled and more importantly used in a professional nature such as boxing but the twins loved fighting for fighting’s sake, they would not be told what do or accept any figure of authority.....”then he did a very silly thing-he held on to my arm and tried to stop me leaving. I turned round and smacked him hard on the end of his jaw. Like the young copper, he was in dreamland for a few minutes. And Reg and I were on our way home to Vallance Road for a nice cup of tea with our mother.” I love that final image the boys having a cup of tea with their mum!

For a short time during the 60’s they used the violence, influence, intimidation and most importantly their menacing presence to become the most powerful and feared gang leaders in London. They owned a number of successful clubs such as Esmerelda’s Barn where the rich and famous stars were happy to visit and be seen in the company of the two brothers. Judy Garland, Stubby Kaye, Barbara Windsor, Danny La Rue, Diana Dors, Alan Lake were often to be seen in their company and indeed the twins at one point were attempting to form a link with the Mafia. Unfortunately Ron and Reg began to believe in their own invincibility and should have heeded the words a Mafia boss Angelo Bruno once said to them....never do your own dirty work and never trust too many people.

George Cornell made the mistake of calling Ron Kray a “fat poof” and Ron strolled into The Blind Beggar public house in Whitechapel and shot him through the head with his Luger pistol. Jack “the hat” McVitie, a vicious thug himself, was stabbed repeatedly in the face, chest and stomach, by Reg, as part of a violent struggle at a party in Evering Road Stoke Newington.

The Kray twins were convicted of murder in 1969 and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years They believed that their life sentence was unjust and that after many years in custody they had fulfilled their duty to society and in their own words...”Ron and I killed one man each. Both of the men we killed were violent men, gangsters, One by his own admission, had already killed another man. The other had shot and wounded at least one man and would almost certainly have killed another- given the time and the chance he would have killed me. For that we have spent more than twenty years in captivity, often treated worse than wild animals.”

Ron and Reg Our Story allows the reader to feel part of an interview that is taking place between the author and the interviewees. It is a style of writing that works very well and presents the coherent facts in an easy to understand and intelligent manner. It gives a good insight into gangland in 60’s London and asks important questions about our judicial system.

Ron Kray passed away in Broadmoor Hospital in 1995. Reg was finally released on compassionate grounds in 2000 before losing his battle with cancer in October of that year.

This is how horror should be written, wonderful stuff Mr Taylor!

I have a confession to make, I was never aware of Bernard Taylor, horror author, until recently that was until I was introduced to his 1977 ghost story, Sweetheart Sweetheart which I understand was chosen by Charles L Grant as one of the 100 best horror novels. The 1970’s saw the emergence and growth of King, Koontz and Herbert with their astounding debuts of Carrie, The Rats and Demon Child (Koontz writing as Deanna Dwyer and this was really his first attempt at Gothic style horror) and yet Bernard Taylor in comparison accomplished no such commercial success....and that is unfortunate because Sweetheart, Sweetheart is one of the best written ghost stories (as distinct from horror) I have ever read.David Warwick lives in New York with his American wife Shelagh and in David’s own words “Her demands matched my own, mostly, and she never made me feel threatened by any sense of inadequacy.” David has a twin brother who lives in Hillingdon, London and he senses that Colin is in grave danger so purely on instinct he makes the long trip to “Gerald’s Hill” cottage in Hillingdon where he receives some unwelcome and sad news...Colin and his wife Helen have both died suddenly and David is the sole beneficiary of the cottage.....”It was beautiful. Far more beautiful than it had appeared in any of the photographs Colin had sent, and for a while I stayed quite still, relishing my first sight of it. It was all so complete, I thought-so right. There was the tall, steep, peg-tiled roof, with the moss growing in the crevices; there were the dormer windows, the stout stone walls, the roses that climbed the walls and grew in profusion over the gate’s arch; there all the colours of the garden that lay around the house and stretched out, away, beyond; and the very lines of the house itself- not one of them precision-straight-all of them showing the personal touch of the hand –the laying on of stone on tile.”

David cannot understand why he is the beneficiary of the cottage? He questions the mysterious death of Helen who it appears fell from the roof trying to rescue Girlie the cat..why should a pregnant woman attempt to carry out such a foolish act? and what is the reason that Colin drove his sports car so recklessly?....just look at the passion and force in this description...”But I would never see him now, He was dead, I said aloud....”DEAD” and wondered at the fragility of our bodies- and why death should be so final...Wounds, blood spilt, holes in flesh, organs torn –adding up to the ceasing of our being—so that we became just things, soulless, rotting flesh, clay....dead...” Who is the mysterious Jean Timpson who is determined to act as David’s cottage keeper and could Alan de Freyne have possibly been Helen’s secret lover?

This is a ghost story written with real style, panache, and pace and still as readable today almost 40 years later as it was on first publication in 1977.At it's heart is the chilly realization that David Warwick's journey is about sexual obsession with a ghostly ethereal being. Bernard Taylor shows his brilliance by expertly setting the scene, introducing wonderful diverse characters, creating the idyllic and then when you the reader feels it is safe....shattering your dreams. There is a review that refers to the “slow-rolling” story, this misses the point entirely as the pace is essential to the unravelling of this wonderful tale and allows for the author to indulge us, shock us with the unexpected and lead us to a terrific conclusion.A wonderful read a great example of how a horror story should be written and a real treat for anyone like me who has yet to be introduced to the horrific world of Bernard Taylor.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Tenebris by Tim Curran

Jim, Rita and Dinah driving down route 50 “The Loneliest Road in America” when out of nowhere they are attacked by a giant bird! Fatalities happen but our hero Jim with the help of Shiner and Pettis proprietors of “Cryptodesert.com” search out our prehistoric Thunderbird...and the scene is set for a final showdown...”Find out exactly what did happen on Route 50 that night. It became not only a passion but an obsession. One way or another, he was planning on getting answers.”

This is a short novella with a story that is mildly interesting but is able to hold the readers attention with the introduction of some interesting characters. Pettis and Skinner seek out unknown animals..... “At Cryptodesert.com our focus is the Nevada/Utah area, particularly the deserts of the Great Basin and Mojave. We collect regional tales and ephemera concerning things like killer bee swarms, giant beavers, cattle mutilators, the Bear Lake Monster, and, of course, Sasquatch.” Tim Curran provides a lovely description of Skinner “He was tall, jittery, and thin with hair so red it looked like it had rusted. He had bad teeth and a crooked smile, a gangly textbook nerd that even wore Coke-bottle glasses as if to accentuate the fact. He looked like he wanted to explode right out of his skin. He had a Bigfoot T-shirt on that read, Bigfoot Doesn’t Believe in You Either.”

There is one enjoyable scene when Pettis and Skinner insist that Jim meet Reese, a young lady who has had a similar experience with a “thunderbird”....her introduction adds a little colour and fun to a somewhat one dimensional story....”Then a young woman that he’d seen loitering over near the counter made a straight beeline to his table and sat down. Her hair was black as Dracula’s cape set with neon red streaks, black eyeliner laid thick as road tar around her dark eyes. She wore a red plaid skirt, blue nylons with fashionable holes, leather nut-busting boots, and a tight Punisher skull T-shirt with no bra beneath, her breasts jutting like warm, ripe grapefruits and her nipples standing out like pushpins. The lights gleamed off the multiple piercings in her nose, lips and eyebrows.”

It disappoints so much to find yet another kindle edition with grammatical errors when a simple proof reading could have corrected these mistakes:

“It still seemed impossible. Was that was his flirting with Nurse Koreshi was about? should read...It still seemed impossible. Was that what his flirting with Nurse Koreshi was about?

“If it hadn’t have been for Rita’s garden, he and vegetables would have been complete strangers” This sentence would be more grammatically correct if written “If it had not been for Rita’s garden, he and vegetables would have been complete strangers”

“He help up a hand as if used to silencing scepticism...should read “He held up a hand as if used to silencing scepticism”

“If they hadn’t been hanging onto one another, anchored by their combined weight, they would have went right over”...should read “If they hadn’t been hanging onto one another, anchored by their combined weight, they would have gone right over.”

I was given a free copy of Tenebris for an honest review and that is what I have written. The story was an easy read and quite enjoyable, I would have awarded 3 stars if more time, thought and care had been directed towards the kindle presentation.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Incurables by Jon Bassoff

Reading The Incurables is akin to being on the set of a wild west frontier town production movie possibly under the direction of one of the greatest directors of all times, John Ford and starring two of his favourite protagonists John Wayne and Victory McLaglen....”She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” comes to mind. Now if we add to this the language and character interplay in a Quentin Tarantino production such as Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta discussing the finer parts of a quarter pounder...”Do you know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Paris? They call it Royale with cheese”....then perhaps you have some idea just how just how colourful and direct this character driven novel by Jon Bassoff is.

Doctor Walter Freeman offers hope to the ill and insane with his transorbitol lobotomy and he should know as he has performed over 3000 successful operations. When however he is sacked from his job at the hospital and he travels to the town of Burnwood “a debauchery-filled meatpacking town with plenty of history but not much future.” with his faithful companion Edgar (himself a recipient of transorbitol lobotomy) his patience and his faith in his ability will be sorely tested.

In this Oklahoma backwater he meets an assortment of odd, demented and violent cast of characters; Durango the next Messiah driven by his god fearing father Stanton...”Stanton had made prophecies before and none of them had come true. But Durango couldn’t help but believe, just a little bit. Not because he thought him to be a prophet, but because he was his father.” Scent the local working girl “Scent and the fat man drove in his badly rusted, badly dented Ford truck toward the Lullaby Motel over on Front Street. His calloused hands rode up and down her leg and she didn’t try to stop him. The radio played static-filled doo-wop. And out on the streets a heaping of destitution and debauchery.”.....Grady, Vlad and Kaz murdering psychopathic brothers out for revenge, and all this set against a town captivated by the charismatic salesmanship of Dr Freeman.

Jon Bassoff creates characters that “crackle” with electricity they can almost be viewed in 3d as their bawdy and colourful temperaments consume the reader from the opening paragraph. His directness and style in many respects reminds me of the writing of Donald Ray Pollock (The Devil All The Time) I shall look forward to reading future publications by Mr Bassoff as I know his best work is still to be written.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Snowblind 2 The Killing Grounds by Michael Mcbride

I think it important to have read Snowblind before the sequel Snowblind 2 “The Killing Grounds” where the fate of William Coburn is granted respectful closure by Sheriff Wayne Dayton “He thought about William Coburn, the man who’d walked into the Alferd Packer Grill with his friend’s head under his jacket.”

At the start and conclusion of Snowblind 2 we meet Len Badgett who is cheating on his wife with the somewhat despicable and career minded Ashley Gale driving through the dangerous and snowbound Rockies in their SUV. I like the way that Michael McBride has used this illicit affair to bind this exciting and frightening horror story together and I am very pleased to note that Ashley is justly dealt with in the final pages by a very fair hand of fate :)

The “star” or the giver of pain in The Killing Grounds is a creature that is similar or has evolved from Bigfoot a large hairy bipedal humanoid! Sheriff Wayne Dayton has sent out a search party to discover the whereabouts of Michelle Jenkins the long lost girlfriend of John Avery who disappeared some 7 years ago on an outing with friends. It soon becomes clear that Dayton is dealing with a very intelligent foe...”The way they hunted. As a pack. Like it was a sport. Using the corpses as decoys, to lure them closer, to flush them into the open. They were as cunning as man and as fearsome as primates”.... and the hunters are in reality the hunted as fate draws them towards the pine wooden ranch where so many in the past have encountered a grisly and bloody conclusion.....”The building materialized from the storm and he recognized it immediately. He’d seen that abandoned ranch house before. In fact, he had a picture of it folded up in his pocket...”

The claustrophobic writing of Michael Mcbride in some ways reminds me of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley and her battles with an extraterrestrial lifeform, commonly referred to as the Alien or indeed Predator where a group of mercenary soldiers discover they are being hunted by creature with superhuman strength and the ability to disappear into its surroundings. The creatures in The Killing Grounds retain such characteristics and more both the ability to kill and the skill to blend silently and expertly into their surroundings.

As is only natural in a good horror story there is no happy conclusion and yet why should there be? We have a creature who has enjoyed relative survival, seclusion and contentment for many years only to have it suddenly interrupted by the unwanted incursion of man. A nice intelligent touch by the author perhaps portraying the creatures as protecting rather than destroying….for you the reader to decide! “How they survived. This was their killing grounds, and the reason no one lived long enough to betray the secret of their existence.”

A fantastic sequel to Snowblind and a worthy 5 star recommendation!!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Snowblind by Michael McBride

I love the way Michael McBride has left the door of this brilliant short novel open (even though that door is cold and there is snow coming in!!) for a sequel. I also found his notes informative and very useful for the enjoyment and progression of the story, in particular the subtleties in the naming of the “Alferd Packer Grill”

The use of landscape blended with unexpected and extreme weather conditions is a very powerful tool in the hands of an accomplished author. Who can ever forget Jack Torrance newly appointed caretaker at the isolated and snowbound Overlook Hotel and the sad events that followed. 
4 friends Coburn, Baumann, Shore and Vigil are once again embarking on their yearly elk hunting expedition to the aptly named and snowbound Mt Isolation. They are forced to seek refuge when Vigil suffers severe trauma and injury in a fall and are now along surrounded by the harsh elements of nature and something evil and unknown....the scene is set! “Someone or something was still out there. Watching them. Waiting”...

A horror story (to appreciate the full effects!) is best enjoyed alone and possibly with the aid of an alcoholic beverage as the silence and tension can be unbearable. I sometimes read very early in the morning and approaching winter, here in the UK, the wind may be howling accompanied by a little rain....and then I read the following....

“Coburn crept closer, prepared to grab the branch, toss it away from the house, and sprint back toward the open window. He had already loosened his grip on the rifle when his brain caught up with his eyes. It wasn’t a branch. It was a hand. A human hand at the end of a severed forearm.Tied to a bent, rusted nail in the door by a tendon. Swinging gently back and forth at the behest of the wind. The curled fingers raking the wood.Scratch.....Scratch....Scratch...”

An important element I use to judge a good story is....Do I think about it the following day? Where is the author going? Are the characters real? Can I sympathize with them?....more importantly in a horror story....does it scare the hell out of me?? Let me tell you dear readers of my review that I cycle to and from work each day (ok you say what has that got to do with it....hold on I will tell you!) My 12 mile route home in the evenings is dark and lonely with only me my bike and my little light for company...the mind plays funny things and “Snowblind” became my mental companion this week as I struggled through the darkness....what was that I began to see to my left and right....????

“A lone silhouette separated from the shadows. Large and hunched. Low to the ground. Was it a bear? He couldn’t....couldn’t quite tell. He tried to zero in on it through the scope- Another silhouette materialized from the woods to the right of the first...another to its left...”

Michael McBride has written a novel that blends all the elements of good horror writing to produce a masterpiece of tension and fear and one I will remember for a very long time. Highly recommended!