The Exorcist (A book review)

Rating 4/5

The ExorcistIt’s seems every decade has had it Satanic panic, the 1960’s had it’s Manson murders, Rosemary’s baby, The First Church of Satan and the old Barbara Steel films. The 1970’s saw the rise of poltergeist mostly in the way of Enfield poltergeist, Damien of The Omen fame and of course William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist; often quoted by British film critic Mark Kermode as the greatest film ever made. The 1980’s saw the true Satanic Panic, cults on every street corner, any heavy metal album played backwards would enter you in to a pact with Old Nick to sell your very soul, except the records of christian heavy metal band Stryper for obvious reasons. The 1990’s again saw music being responsible with such acts as Marilyn Manson being held up as the poster boy for all that was unwholesome at the time.

Blatty’s Exorcist is for me the corner stone of all possession stories if you have read A Head full of Ghost. you will notice it is an uplift to Blatty’s 1970’s blue print. The story centers around Regan the daughter of a well heeled Hollywood actress, who happens to be working on her next project in Washington at the local Jesuit college.

It starts off slow, there are the usual bangs and knocking one would associate with a haunting. Stuff goes missing and appears in placing, there is an Ouija board too. Regan starts to become ill and traditional medicine has now answers so it’s to psychology and aliments of the mind becoming the reason of the illness. Enter priest Father Karras who happens to be both of the cloth and a physiologist, who is struggling with his own faith.

The story is a slow boil and is both a horror story and a physiological thriller, I am not sure by reading it, is Blatty  pro or against the Catholic church. it never crosses the line in to praise or scorn. Blatty’s style and prose is not straight forward either paragraphs switch between characters who may not even be in the same room.

“He walked up the stairs”

“While he was walking up the stairs across town she was boarding a bus”

It is an interesting style and does take some getting use to it maybe a detraction for some readers but after a while one gets to enjoy it. The real gem of the story is the brilliantly realized Kinderman , LT of detectives across between Columbo and Phillip Marlowe. A character that needs seeking out and devoured in the best sense.

Faith, loss, a mothers love are recurring themes through out the book Regan’s mother knows what happens to at least one person does she do the right thing?

It may be a little dated at times, but it works will and you can understand why the film always pops up in them 101 horror movies to see before you die lists. it is a slow boil but a lot of the best horror is. Read that then read A Head full Of Ghost the fitting homage to Blatty.

Grifter’s Game (Lawrence Block)

Rating 4/5

Grifter’s Game previously published as Mona cements my love of the noir genre, indeed Grifter's Gamethree out the last four books I have read have all fallen in to noir, if you look at my good reads profile (Markdini) you may notice a string noir novels to be read. So not only is The Hard Case Crime books a must for me there are a must for fans of detective fiction from the 1940’s up to the present day. I will go one further and name the out the last four book I have read including Grifter’s Game have all be from the Hard Case Crime label the moving tale of loss and the only Stephen King book I have enjoyed Joyland, The story of ex porn star come femme-fatale Angel Dare in Money Shot which is a solid modern tale of mobsters, the porn industry and money.

Exploring the femme-fatale theme Block’s Grifter’s game follows likable con man Joe Marlin, who hops from hotel to hotel stealing and grifting his way through life. Until he “borrows” the wrong mans suitcases. What’s more there is dame who is to Joe but will Joe do what is needed to keep Mona?

Block is a master of his genre Grifter’s Game is example of noir from the 60’s that holds well now. Joe Marlin develops through out the book and when the ending comes although you may not agree with Marlin you can understand how he got there. Block’s character development and story arc is tight the book weighs in at a mere 200 pages. Block writes with a rhythm akin to Elroy, in fact Block is somewhat darker than Elroy in places.

At he heart of Grifter’s Game is how far would a man go for love? And how far would someone go to be free? Despite it’s brevity Grifter’s game incorporates more in to it’s pages than most stories double the length can muster, a true testament to Block’s writing.

My Life As A White Trash Zombie

Rating 3/5

 

I’ve made references to the zombie zeitgeist in my review of The Girl With All The Gifts, sMy Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowlando I wont cover the old ground in this review but the zombie genre isn’t going anywhere just yet.

Diana Rowland’s 1st in the White Trash Zombie series, My Life As A White Trash Zombie. Takes the zombie trope and presents it from the zombie’s perspective. The best use of this I have seen is the film, Wasting Away, low budget B movie comedy horror at it’s best.

Rowland’s White Trash Zombie, Angel Crawford is down on her luck, recently woken up in hospital, with no memory how she got there, a hunger for brains and a mysterious note with instructions on how to embark on a new job at the Coroner’s office. Angel is turning her life around with a job, a deadbeat father  and dropout boyfriend in tow. But someone is on the decapitation, killing the residents of Angel’s small tow

Angel’s assent in to a normal life albeit as a zombie comes across as rather slapdash in someways it reads as an addict trying to recover only to be replaced with another addiction. It is a vehicle that assists in  driving the story but sometimes it becomes over stated short of stating: “Braaaaaaaaiiiiiiins” on every page, Rowland makes sure the reader knows Angel is a zombie, she reminds us every page.

The white trash element of the story seems tacked on and Angel never really comes across as white trash in the true definition of the label. A high school dropout who purports not to be smart as an impressive vocabulary of someone who isn’t that well read with an ability to reason and apply logic that would  make most chess grand masters blush. This element could have been fleshed out (pardon the pun) . Living in a shack with beer cans in the garden doesn’t really explore the white trash condition. And as this is a key selling point of the story, the reader is somewhat sold short on this narrative, maybe I like my stereotypes too much.

The story unfolds as you would imagine and the plot is the standard murder mystery that is often found in the urban fantasy market, “someone is killing our kind” but it is good enough to keep the story on track, there is a bit of background on Angel and her life at home that helps build Angel in to sympathetic character.  Angel could have been a lot more sassy along the lines of Anita Blake but Rowland was clever in the writing of Angel and allows the reader to line their sympathy with her.

My Life As A White Trash Zombie paves the way for the series it makes some mistakes along the way and Angel isn’t a fully developed character, but if you are a fan of urban fantasy there would be no shame in giving this a read.

Joyland by Stephen King a book review

Ratting 4/5

So if you have read my review of Titanic Thompson the man who bet on everything.you will know I have an affinity for the grifter and con-man being interested in such matters, I also have a passing interested in carnivals (fun fairs if you are from UK like me). If you have been following this blog you will also know that I am a fan of noir as Money Shot by Christa Faust and The Moving Target will attest to, you may also might have noticed a like a good horror story along the lines of A Head full of Ghost. You might have also have read that me and Stephen King have not the best relationship Stephen King’s IT: A book that that I couldn’t finish. So if you take a Noir story set it at a carnival, with a ghost written by Stephen King, I am not going to know what to to, could I suffer another 280ish pages of King again?

Joyland at it’s heart is a murder story against a backdrop of a carnival the titular Joyland. Add a dying child in a wheelchair who has a gift (I believe the King fans will call the is the shining), mix  in a young man’s story of love that was lost, drop in a story of friendship, whisk then add a ghost. You have one of the most unique pieces of noir fiction released by the Hard Case Crime Publishing house.

It’s hard to review Joyland with out spoilers and it is a story that I want you discover on your own. I would be doing you a disservice if I told you too much.

Devin Jones, has just had his heart broken by a woman, he decides to get a summer job at Joyland to take his mind of things. The old timers of the carnival speak of a murder in the fun house, Devin decides to delve deeper, whats more there is talk of a ghost as well.

Now in his 60’s Devin tells his story of working  at Joyland way back in 1973. Devin’s story covers loss, love and untimely closure, King weaves his story with enough carny slang draw you in to the world of the carnival, he brings the emotions to table and sets out a truly moving story. That’s all you need to know before you pick this up, fans of Kings non horror will enjoy this, fans of noir will enjoy this too, it might not be the hard boiled we know but it works.

Joyland  does 3 things.

  1. questions what  exactly is noir
  2. Sets up enough emotion to move and hook the reader
  3. Achieves the status of being a Stephen King book I like

Not being a King fan in a world where most Horror readers are, I may be a minority but Joyland is one of Kings works to the Contrary.  Enough elements to keep everyone’s interest going. And not a demonic clown in sight.

Money Shot by Christa Faust a book review

Product DetailsRating: 4.5/5

Smut, when I was a lad in the early to mid 90’s porn was a taboo subject, Pammy and her sex tape was doing the rounds on VHS and for a young lad like me if you wanted boobs on the box, venture on to channel 5 late at night you would be treated to such films as Private Obsession, Lady in waiting or a whole host of Mills and Boone rejected titles. Other than that there was usually torn-up copy of readers wives in a bush somewhere.

Then the internet exploded: porn, blue movies smut, holiday snaps, party films; well they become main stream. The girls of porn went to Hollywood. Porn was no longer a taboo. With that in mind Christa Fuast’s Money Shot explores what happens when porn goes main stream, what happens to the stars when they are washed-up, all wrapped up in a neo-noir mid 2000’s tale. Of murder, sex trafficking and the somewhat sleazy side of L.A.

Faust introduces us to her reluctant fem-fettle Angel Dare by having our heroine locked in the trunk of a car. Angel’s story unfolds, now a retired porn star and owning her own talent agency. Angel is asked to do one more job, you know for old times sake, for a friend he will pay big and put her on the cover of the DVD too. How can she refuse?

And that is the set-up to one of the best noir stories i have read for a while, conjuring up Thompson, MacDonald and chandler all at once Faust creates a world that is a contrast of darkness and light. A contrast that runs alongside Dare throughout the book. It is a bit paint by numbers at times but that is why we read noir, it is familiar. Dare is both Sassy and vulnerable. Able to deliver lines such as :

“My brain had decided enough was enough. It had simply put on a hat picked up two suitcases, and fucked off to parts unknown.”

It is easy to take something as porn and turn it in to a postcard pastiche a carry-on film if you will. But Faust stays away from this, porn can be seedy and porn can take it’s toll on the body. Faust explains this but it never comes across as a hatchet job. The book at the time of writing is 9 years old, time moves fast in the digital world. Faust manages to catch the mid 2000’s porn scene and display it for all in the book. Now dear reader for a book about porn stars you may think this would be one of your full on, pre fifty shades novels, sex on every page, people reading it behind a copy of Cosmo. But no, you will need to get your thrills of that nature some where else.

The subject matter may turn some off (no pun intended) but this is a tightly plotted, action packed piece of noir that fans of the genre should embrace.

The Moving Target

Rating 3.5/5

Detective noir has always interested me ; from my first taste by reading James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, the total immersion that was in playing Rock star games L.A Noire or watching the Monroe’s first screen outing in The Asphalt Jungle and Jessica Alba’s performance in The killer inside me. You can forget your Law and Orders where although flawed the good guys always come out whiter than white and are never in any peril. True detective fiction for me was gum shoes from the 1930 to the 1950’s , well the genre has a whole. I like my detectives as I like my eggs hard boiled (Not sure if that has ever been used before so I am claiming it).

After my bold claims above it turns out I haven’t read any Ross MacDonald and I knew nothing about his ex cop come private dick Lew Archer. Archer embodies the genre as much as Spade and Marlow. MacDonald writes with the rhythm and pace that has become synonymous with noir.

And with his embodiment of both character and style MacDonald give us Archer’s first case. Moving target. Moving Target see our detective Archer on the case of the missing oil tycoon Ralph Sampson. Archer has his suspects Mrs Sampson, Ralph’s Daughter Maranda Sampson, Alan Tagget Sampson’s personal pilot and Maranda’s love interest and there is a fading movie star and psychic who could also be involved. There is even a cult leader who lives on a mountain.

All the tropes are there Archer encounters heavies, men with secrets, thugs and where would a hard boiled detective be without the femme_fatale? Archer encounters enough of them.

This isn’t your down-town L.A story Archer moves around suburban L.A visiting dive bars and seedy hotels. MacDonald keeps his detective away from the hustle and bustle of the bright lights, proving that suburban L.A can be just as dangerous,

Archer is a likeable character and MacDonald is not scared to have his Character knocked out, shot at or worse.

The story may be formulaic but MacDonald and Archer keeps the reader gripped enough through the story. With enough twist and changes in direction to keep the story fresh with out being confusing , but at the end of it and the dust settles it is a kidnapping story and they can only turn out a few ways.

With the above said it is a worth wile read. Archer has the right balance of forthrightness , flaws and sarcasm to be enjoyable.

The Name Of The Wind

It’s Fantasy Jim, But Not as we know it

 

Rating 3.5/5

 

I confess I haven’t read a lot of fantasy in fact you can cant my Fantasy read list on both your hands and still have a finger left over (minds out the gutter); The Hobbit, Lord of the rings , A Song Of Ice And fire up to a feast of Crows for you out there that only watches TV that’s Game Of Thrones.

Now I did enjoy The Hobbit , the bag-master doing his thing with a ring (minds out the gutter). Lord Of The Rings had an enjoyable first book and the third book was ok, the second book….

On the other hand A Game Of Thrones ,I George R.R Martins rich and diverse world, with flawed characters on both sides. Kept me going

So my third foray in to the lands of dragons, magic and knights was Patrick Rothuss’ The Name Of The Wind. The first book in the King killer chronicles. If you have been on book tube there is high praise for Rothuss’s tome Apparently this took over a decade to write and it does come in as a weighty tome. Racking up over 672 pages the second book in the series is even weightier at 1008 pages, a lot of story for or maybe there is a lot of filler?

The Name Of The Wind follows our hero Kvothe sitting down in his pub, telling his story to the chronicler. Essentialy autobiography set in a land far away, Kvothe tells a story of loss, love and over coming adversity a true hero of our times.

Rothuss is clever with his prose, he creates a complex world. Explaing aspects of the monetary systems, how the passage of time is marked, a creation myth, a magic system, a political system. He even explains how the loan sharks work.

The problem is not the systems and world building it is that Kvothe is perfect in every way and he lets you know. Plays the lute like a cross between Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen , he can perform magic (know in the world as symphony) like a cross between Houdini and Derren Brown, he is a master Actor and scholar, chemist, seamstress, jockey you name it can do it. Except get the girl.

“I was playing my lute and a string broke so I changed from minor to major and every one applauded”

But Kvothe has a problem with the opposite sex ,even when the ladies are practically asking to have their bodices ripped open and ravaged. Kvothe does nothing. The he pines for the love he has just lost. A bit like the middle of The Vampire Lestat where Lestat keeps harping on about Louis.

And that’s the plot, Guy who is brilliant at everything except picking up women, talks about how he was down on his luck but that was ok because he was clever, how he went to university and broke all the rules but people liked him and he was clever so out smarted everyone. Some people didn’t like him but he got his own back. Rinse and repeat.

672 pages of “Look how great I am!” As a plot device, it never puts Kvothe in any danger. So the reader will know that any peril that Kvothe is put in he will so be ok.

Considering how boring this sounds and grating, Rothuss manges to write the world and keep it enjoyable. Like an old friend who tells you how great they are but deep down you know they are good person and would help you out if you was on hard times.

The protagonist is annoying, the world is vast. Yet the read was a fun journey. Maybe it was the hope that Kvothe would gets his comeuppance.

If you enjoy the genre then this has all the tropes and clichés that you will find comfort in.
After all my complaining regarding Kvothe, I am invested in his story, I want to know what happens next. Most of all I want to Know if he stops being so smug.