Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: The Violated

The Violated The Violated by Bill Pronzini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellently constructed, multi-level narrative utilising a wide range of points of view and narrative strands. A simple crime builds in complexity and consequence, and the red herrings that constitute the secondary narrative are perfectly weighted and timed to create suspense and confusion. A slightly weak ending and reveal do not diminish the satisfaction.

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Review: Red Harvest

Red Harvest Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolute classic featuring the most literate and technically clever of the classic American noir-crime authors at the very peak of his powers. Enough betrayal, double-crosses, machinations and hard men doing hard things to satisfy any crime fan, and all interwoven with Hammet's beautiful, sparse prose. A deserved classic.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue

Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donoghue by Dennis Perrin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining, but on reflection superficial, examination of an author who was a major influence in the establishment of both National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. There were obviously worms underneath the psyche of O'Donoghue, but as portrayed by Perrin, he comes across as a massively talented adolescent with the emotional control of an angry toddler. There's a frustrating lack of depth or analysis. The acknowledgements page betrays a possible reason-- despite O'Donoghue's life touching a cast of thousands across both the Lampoon and SNL, as well as the rest of his varied career, only O'Donoghue's wife Cheryl Hardwicke stands out, as well as Tony Hendra, Matty Simmons and Lorne Michaels for glimpses of their own works about the man. While the likes of Chevy Chase and Anne Beats discuss him in passing, the opportunity to really dig through the memories of those who knew him best seems to be shied away from.

The book is an entertaining read, and it skims across the major points of a complex and driven artistic soul, but it's hard not to feel that the opportunity for a major examination of O'Donoghue's influence on his contemporaries and industry has been missed, here. In all probability, this was the only chance, and it's now been missed. Try as he might, Perrin never gets beyond the image of O'Donoghue as a tortured enfant terrible, leaving us with only glimpses of what might exist beyond that role.

It's a book to treasure for those of us who were, and remain, fans, but it's a bittersweet fandom: we never really get to know the man, just the image.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 - 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3

The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 - 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3 The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 - 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3 by Norman Sherry
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The first two volumes of Sherry's biography of Greene skirted hero worship by dint of sheer volume of reportage-- Greene's life was filled with momentous happenings, and simply relating them kept Sherry's over-ripe familiarity mostly at bay. Here, unfortunately, as the subject's life begins to wind down, there are no such brakes-- what has been, until now, a mildly cringing sycophancy devolves into full blow toadying. Anyone who is apposite to Greene is portrayed as deluded, jealous, or outright wrong. Greene himself is a warrior for truth, a noble of unsurpassable grandeur, Sherry's personal hero. The author even begins to insert himself into the narrative in an effort to tie himself to his famous subject. This is the weakest, and most tedious, volume in the series, deeply flawed and worthwhile only for a sense of completism, because Sherry has committed the cardinal sin of the biographer: he has fallen in love with his subject.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fine piece of investigative journalism by Michelle McNamara into the identity of the East Area Rapist and the connections between him and other, unsolved crimes attributed to other personae. Unfortunately, as has been well documented, McNamara died before the book could be completed, and the text has been completed using a composite of notes, transcripts, and commentary by her husband and fellow amateur sleuths who occupied the message boards she frequented. The result is a patchwork narrative of wildly varying quality, and while the depth and rigorousness of McNamara's pursuit shines through, the book as a whole feels like exactly what it is: a cobbled-together, unfinished work.

Had McNamara lived to complete the work-- especially, had she lived to see the recent arrest of Joseph DeAngelo on DNA evidence-- there's no doubt that this book would have been a superb account of the piecing together of the jigsaw trail leading to him. As it is, it remains frustratingly raw and incomplete, a glimpse of the book we might have had, and have to be content with. Three stars for McNamara's superb job, but no further because the book, ultimately, does not go the rest of the way.

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Review: Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely stunning combination of artwork, non-traditional and traditional fantasy tropes, sexual politics, and quest narrative that hits the mark at every available opportunity. Looks utterly beautiful, is complex in both its character motivations and story, and just excels in every way it is possible for a comic book to do so. Books like this are the reason why the comic book format exists: to tell a story that cannot be encompassed by text or image alone, but by both forms combined. A wonderful and wondrous work.

View all my reviews

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939

The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939 The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939 by Norman Sherry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dense and exhausting tome covering the first 35 years of Greene's life, from birth to the dawn of WWII. Sherry delves deeply into not only Greene's own memories, but interviews with those who knew him at the time and a mass of collected documentation-- sometimes too deeply, as after fascinating accounts of his schooling and University day, a long and tedious picking apart of love letters with his first wife Vivien when courting threaten to derail the reading experience. Thankfully, the narrative regains its momentum when the minutiae of a very ordinary courtship are over and the book returns to detailing the extraordinary course of Greene's life, closing with his solitary journey through a savagely Anti-Catholic Mexico and returning to England to find war preparations very much afoot.

Although Sherry can't resist the occasional moment of hero-worship and self-aggrandisement, he generally lets Greene's life speak for itself, and the result is an impressively collated and thoroughly enjoyable examination of the insipirations and influences on one of the most important literary figures of the 20th Century.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Review: X-Men Legacy: Legion: Omnibus

X-Men Legacy: Legion: Omnibus X-Men Legacy: Legion: Omnibus by Simon Spurrier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunning extension of the graphic novel art that is reminiscent of the high points of Vertigo's initial burst of creativity and experimentation. Superhero tropes are deliberately inverted, then examined and shown to be the ridiculous soap-operas we know they are. The ongoing X-plots and wider Marvel world are confronted and dismissed as irrelevant and trifling. And the book moves beyond them to explore deeper issues of individuality, personality, psychology and conformity through the lens of a potentially all-powerful mind who has finally escaped from years of psychological abuse at the hands of characters held up by the majority as heroes and examples to follow.

The writing is razor-sharp, the art and colours are swirlingly psychedelic, the characters are bright and unusual, and the whole thing grabs the tiger's tail and refuses to let go until the entire dizzy ride is over. Even the ending refuses to back down and soothe us with latex-clad platitudes. There are consequences, and finalities, and when the coup de grace arrives, it does so with *meaning*.

One of the best graphic novels I've read in years. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion Secret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's obviously a huge task to establish, narrate, and then wrap up a cohesive narrative in a single graphic novel, when that narrative has been the basis of a massive, company-wide story line that has run for a significant amount of time over a wide range of titles. Even so, this feels truncated and somehow lightweight. It breezes across all the major story points without given any weight or time to anything, leaving the result feeling like a series of random team-ups punching on without any coherence or consequence. Characters act without logic, turning points breeze past without any importance, and the climactic solution, when it arrives, pretty much happens within two panels, isn't explained our expanded upon, and leaves the reader wondering what the whole point of anything was. The whole thing is tied together with Bendis' usual character weaknesses-- everybody is witty, snappy, and ultimately, sounds exactly the same as everybody else. The whole thing is fun, in a kind of guest-star-of-the-week kind of way, but for the climax of a major story line, it all feels rather inconsequential.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Review: The Murder Of Nellie Duffy

The Murder Of Nellie Duffy The Murder Of Nellie Duffy by Stephanie Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An intriguing examination of a notorious Northern Queensland murder in the early years of the 20th Century, which picks apart the various personalities at the remote cattle station at which it happened, as well as the gross incompetency of the police and the possible interference on the part of the powerful meat company that owned the property. The insight into the treatment of women and Aborigines of the time is stark, and at times confronting. Narrated as a straight retelling of the known facts, it presents a compelling mosaic of the attitudes and culture of the time.

Bennett's style is slightly messy, and doesn't do quite enough to keep all the players on the board, so that when certain names crop up late in the narrative it takes too long to recall how they fit into the story. The book is further weakened by Bennett's predilection for speculating on motives and reasons, often spinning narrative chains with little more than supposition to go on. The second to last chapter, where she presents her own theory as to the murderer and the reasons for their actions, is gossamer-thin and weakens the book considerably.

Had she avoided the conceit of her own imagination, and simply laid out all the pieces of what is an engrossing mystery in its own right, this would have been a much stronger and more compelling read. As it is, it slips towards the 'amateur historian' style of writing, and is merely a good book when it could have been a must-read.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 02, 2018

Review: Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat

Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat by Giles Milton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely fascinating insight into the formation, development, and successes of a typically British endeavour: a disparate collection of professional soldiers, backyard garage boffins, Oxbridge Mafia types and gentlemen of ill-repute who were drawn together to create the definite rule book and arsenal of sabotage, assassination, and guerrilla warfare.

Milton draws on multiple sources to provide a comprehensive and seamless narrative, including the campaign of obstruction that was waged against the department by members of the military hierarchy, particularly Air Command. The result is an intricate and compelling account of a hidden war that defied the known rules and brought enormous success to the Allied cause, as well as the complex and unusual personalities who drove it. Fantastic stuff.


View all my reviews

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: Justice League of America: Power & Glory

Justice League of America: Power & Glory Justice League of America: Power & Glory by Bryan Hitch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Superman is a religiously-gullible rube, The Flash is an idiot, Green Lantern is a morose quitter, and once again the JLA is confronted by an impossible to beat antagonist, only to defeat it by a combination of mysterious, one-time only outsider assistance and because-the-narrative-requires it. And yet, Hitch manages to make everything progress so smoothly and at such a pace that it all seems to work, and you find yourself happily swept up in it all. The wheels fall off towards the end, as the narrative begins to creak under the weight of the spiralling absurdity and lack of logic, but it's still enjoyable, and the kind of slick escapism that is perfect for a lazy afternoon on the sofa.

View all my reviews

Review: JSA: The Golden Age

JSA: The Golden Age JSA: The Golden Age by James Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gorgeous artwork, a beautiful balance between superheroic nostalgia and historic paranoia, and plenty of over-the-top revelations that carry the whiff of the best of 1950s B-grade monster movies, all delivered with a straight face and a perfectly balanced respect for, and love of, the various elements. A wonderful volume for the geekiest of JSA fans, those with a memory of the-way-comics-used-to-be, and those who enjoy a finely balanced combination of artwork and narrative.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 08, 2018

Review: Writers on Writing

Writers on Writing Writers on Writing by James Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An absorbing and educational collection with writers from the 2000 Adelaide Festival of Arts. The majority of advice within is on-point and sensible, even 17 years after the fact, and most of it is delivered with a refreshing lack of pompousness and self-aggrandizement. A worthy addition to any writer's shelf, and valuable for simply dropping in and out of or ploughing right through. Inspirational and essential.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Review: The Best American Mystery Stories 2011

The Best American Mystery Stories 2011 The Best American Mystery Stories 2011 by Harlan Coben
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic collection of crime stories, running the gamut from hard-boiled to cozy, from urban to rural, and from the humorous to the downright chilling.


View all my reviews