Everything That’s Yours Was Once Hers

“Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

EMMA
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

JANE
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before…”

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Finished reading the psychological thriller “The Girl Before” this week. The book was written by JP Delaney, which seems to be a pseudonym for Ugandan-born author and advertising man Tony Strong. Whether more books will see the light under this nom de plume remains to be seen, but this one has reportedly been picked up for filming with Ron Howard in the director’s chair…

Tony Strong

The story is told from two separate perspectives – from that of Emma Matthews in chapters subtitled “Then” and from the point of view of Jane Cavendish, whose chapters are subtitled “Now”. Thus we have a story that unfolds through a mixture of past and present narrative from the two women.

What ties them together is that, at the time of each’s testimony, they are tenants of architect Edward Monkford’s austere and hi-tech property at One Folgate Street in London. Despite being in an expensive part of the capital city the rent is more affordable than many properties nearby due to the highly restrictive nature of the tenancy agreement. Not simply a case of you can’t put nails in the wall or similar, there are over two hundred specific restrictions for the home!

Despite this for their individual reasons both women chose to live in the house and abide my all the rules that come with it. As details of each come to light it becomes clear to the reader, and to Jane, that the two women have lots of similarities in their experience with both the house and Edward Monkford. In addition to these three main players there are a number of other significant characters including Emma’s ex-boyfriend Simon, police officers, a psychologist and various work colleagues of both women.

It’s not clear what happened to Emma, the girl before, however and Jane becomes determined to find out. Will she regret that taking that route?…

One of the main themes, for me, in this book was about control. Whether that be the tenants of the house being controlled by their contract and environment, characters controlling each other by overt or subtle means, or simply characters seeking to control their own lives and destinies. This is where I think the novel really works as it makes the reader think about things and perhaps even question their own behaviours in relation to others.

The plot itself is not overly complicated but has enough smoke and mirrors to keep you engrossed. Whether or not the actions of some of the characters at any given time are necessarily plausible is open to debate and the final chapters did feel like a slight let down to me. These seem to be common points for some reviewers, whilst others found the book to be uniformly excellent.

All that said, some of the detail was clearly inspired by the author’s own experiences and overall the book makes for a really good read, despite the above remarks, so I would say it’s definitely worth picking up…maxresdefault

We Are His Pawns, His Demons On Earth

I watched an interesting movie the other evening with my wife. “The Devil’s Candy” is the new film from writer / director Sean Byrne (“The Loved Ones”).

Pruitt Vince Taylor

The film opens in the dark of night where Ray Smilie (Pruitt Vince Taylor – “Homefront”, “Identity”) resorts to blasting out loud heavy guitar riffs in the family home in order to keep from hearing sinister-sounding voices.

Shiri Appleby & Ethan Embry

Next we’re introduced to the Hellman family – that’s mum Astrid (Shiri Appleby – “Swimfan”, “UnReal”), dad Jesse (Ethan Embry – “Cheap Thrills”, “Eagle Eye”) and teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco – “Maps To The Stars”, “Copper”) – the latter two clearly being definite heavy metal fans. In fact the whole film is soundtracked by various metal artists, including Metallica, Slayer, Cavalera Conspiracy and Sunn O))).

Kiara Glasco & Ethan Embry

The trio move into a new house, which they are able to afford due to its knock-down price, and which just happens to be the former Smilie family home. At this point my wife was convinced that she knew exactly how events would play out.

Ethan Embry

Before you know it artist Jesse, settled into his new home studio, finds his piece on butterflies – a commission from a bank taken on reluctantly in order to help pay the bills – suddenly and inexplicably takes on a much darker tone, seemingly without his conscious involvement, as he begins to hear whispered voices  and see terrible visions. Meanwhile serial killer Ray – still hearing voices of his own – starts to hang around the house and stalk Zooey…

Ethan Embry & Sean Byrne

When we got to the end of the movie my wife commented that things had developed much more subtly and in different ways than she’d expected. There were some excellent performances, particularly from Embry, and some inspired visuals – the juxtaposition between Jesse painting and Ray killing was very effective, for example – which combined to make a very impressive film. The solid soundtrack certainly added to the overall result too.

Perhaps a little short at less than an hour and a half, and perhaps Jesse’s interactions with the art dealer and his somewhat demonic-looking assistant could have been expanded on a bit? Nonetheless Byrne’s script and the actors’ performances mean that the characters come across as more rounded than is often the case, again strengthening the final product. I do like a good horror movie, occult themes and heavy metal and “The Devil’s Candy” contains all three. Recommended viewing!…

Trespasser

“Being on the murder squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blonde, pretty, groomed to a shine, and dead in her catalogue-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.

And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinette’s road. Aislinn’s friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.

Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?…”

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“The Trespasser” was my first exposure to the writing of Irish author Tana French. It is the sixth in a series based on the work of the detectives in a police murder squad in Dublin, and was very impressive..

Tana French

Unusually, from what I gather, French has written each novel from the point of view of a different investigating officer rather than having the same main character each time. Although I haven’t read any of the others – which doesn’t detract from the standalone tale told here – I would imagine that this gives the series a distinctive freshness and difference in perspective whilst still retaining enough of the familiarity you normally encounter in, for example, Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne novels.

So this story is told through the eyes of detective Antionette Conway. Working with her partner Stephen Moran (star of the previous novel “The Secret Place”), Conway is put onto a murder investigation to try to track down the person responsible for the death of Aislinn Murray.

At first this seems like an easy case when an obvious suspect comes almost immediately to their attention. It all seems a bit too easy though and Conway – convinced that the rest of the murder squad are out to get her off the team – begins to see connections and have suspicions everywhere, whilst constantly doubting her own thought processes. Who is telling the truth? Who can she trust?

Meanwhile, Moran is coming up with gangster theories and other officers seem very eager for her to put the case to bed as quickly as possible. The truth of both Aislinn and her killer takes some digging for and when the detective duo eventually get there it’s very far from what they anticipated…

I really enjoyed this book. The dialogue was written such that I felt the Irishness coming through(!) and there was some fabulous wit on display too throughout. The characters are all brilliantly described as well, so that we can really imagine them in lifelike terms.

Ultimately this was a cracking tale with enough twists and turns to keep the reader involved without giving too much away so that we (or at least I) definitely aren’t expecting the guilty party that is eventually unmasked. Great stuff – I shall certainly be looking out for future entries to the series…9781444755626

I’m A Freak, Baby…

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Just over a year ago I discovered the rather super folk music compilation “Dust On The Nettles : A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72”, a three-disc set from the Grapefruit label. That, I subsequently discovered, was the second release in a series that started with 2013’s triple-disc “Love, Poetry And Revolution : A Journey Through The British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes 1966-1972”.

Deep Purple

Now I have stumbled across Grapefruit’s latest “a journey through” offering, released during the summer of 2016, is “I’m A Freak, Baby… : A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72”. Now, granted the use of the word “underground” doesn’t apply to all the music contained in this latest triple set, any more than it really did with the prior two, as there are a number of very well-known acts featured in each. However, I do think that the majority of the material presented for us to immerse ourselves in is likely to be unfamiliar to many, if not most, listeners.

Uriah Heep

First, though, let’s look at the more familiar fare. Disc one brings us “Do It” by The Pink Fairies and “Cherry Red” by The Groundhogs, the second disc contains Deep Purple’s “Fireball” along with tracks from the Edgar Broughton Band and the Move, whilst the final disc bears “Gypsy” from Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)” as well as tracks from Taste and The Yardbirds. All great tracks and, to be honest, the easy recognition of these numbers helps to balance against the unknown songs spread across the rest of the three discs.

Stray

Amongst the acts that are less well-known are a number that can already be found nestled within my music library. These include the opening nine-plus minute “All In Your Mind” by Stray, which was covered by heavy metal legends Iron Maiden on the b-side of their 1990 hit “Holy Smoke”. Others I was already at least partly familiar with include Chicken Shack’s “Going Down”, “Heart Without A Home” by Blonde On Blonde, The Gun’s “Race With The Devil” and “Escalator” from Sam Gopal featuring future Motörhead leader Lemmy on vocals and guitar.

Skid Row

Moving on to the new-to-me artists, I particularly enjoyed the offerings from The Iron Maiden (“Falling”) (not to be confused with the above-mentioned metal band, Dark (“Zero Time”), The Kult (“Occult”), Jerusalem (“Primitive Man”), Barnabus (“Apocalypse”), Egor (“Street”), Cycle (“Father Of Time”) and Irish band Skid Row (“Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You)”) – the latter being the late guitar ace Gary Moore’s first professional band.

Hawkwind

I should also make mention of “Sweet Mistress Of Pain”, a track credited to Hawkwind Zoo. Also known under the alternate title of “Kiss Of The Velvet Whip”, this was recorded in late 1969 by the newly-formed band just prior to their name change, dropping the “Zoo” to become simply Hawkwind – a band synonymous with psychedelic music if ever there was one.

Sam Gopal

Oddly, although I would consider myself more of a rock fan than folk fan, I think on balance that I’ll likely listen to the “Dust On The Nettles” set more often than this one.

Fleetwood Mac

As with the folk anthology the sound quality varies a little, but this is a small price to pay for having some real rarities present. Whilst the former set included a massive sixty-three songs, “I’m A Freak…” contains just forty-eight. However, with a running time of just a few minutes shy of four hours there’s not much to complain about. Well worth digging into…

“I’m A Freak, Baby… : A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72” tracklist:

Disc One:

1. All In Your Mind / 2. Cast A Spell / 3. Hot Smoke And Sassafras / 4. My Son’s Alive / 5. Going Down / 6. Father Of Time / 7. I’m Coming Home / 8. Do It / 9. Time Machine / 10. Cherry Red / 11. I’m A Freak / 12. Rock My Soul / 13. Sweet Mistress Of Pain / 14. Nightmare / 15. Falling / 16. Apocalypse

1. Stray / 2. The Open Mind / 3. The Moochie / 4. Crushed Butler / 5. Chicken Shack / 6. Cycle / 7. The Deviants / 8. The Pink Fairies / 9. Factory / 10. The Groundhogs / 11. Wicked Lady / 12. Charge / 13. Hawkwind Zoo / 14. Stonehouse / 15. The Iron Maiden / 16. Barnabus

Disc Two:

1. Bogeyman / 2. Fireball / 3. Primitive Man / 4. Love In The Rain / 5. Trust / 6. Rhubarb! / 7. Dream / 8. Skullcrusher / 9. Zero Time / 10. Jehovah / 11. Brontosaurus / 12. Bring It To Jerome / 13. Mr. Make Believe / 14. Flash / 15. Street Walking Woman / 16. Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You

1. Writing On The Wall / 2. Deep Purple / 3. Jerusalem / 4. Edgar Broughton Band / 5. Hellmet / 6. Second Hand / 7. Little Free Rock / 8. Iron Claw / 9. Dark / 10. The Velvet Frogs / 11. The Move / 12. Stack Waddy / 13. Samuel Prody / 14. Bare Sole / 15. The Phoenix / 16. Skid Row

Disc Three:

1. Race With The Devil / 2. Heart Without A Home / 3. Ascension Day / 4. Street / 5. Escalator / 6. Gypsy / 7. Garden Of My Mind / 8. Think About It / 9. Trying To Find My Way Back Home / 10. Yellow Cave Woman / 11. Too Old / 12. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) / 13. Twisted Trip Woman / 14. Occult / 15. Born On The Wrong Side Of Time / 16. Hollis Brown

1. The Gun / 2. Blonde On Blonde / 3. Third World War / 4. Egor / 5. Sam Gopal / 6. Uriah Heep / 7. The Mickey Finn / 8. The Yardbirds / 9. Morning After / 10. Velvett Fogg / 11. Andromeda / 12. Fleetwood Mac / 13. Sweet Slag / 14. The Kult / 15. Taste / 16. Fusion Farm

One Day Changes Everything

Today I watched a movie described as a horror drama film. Written and directed by Phillip Escott and Craig Newman “Cruel Summer” is their feature-length debut.From the opening frames you know that things aren’t going to end well as a bloodied young man runs through the woods. Having a good idea that events are going to get bloody doesn’t however detract from the bulk of the remaining film will lead to that point.

Richard Pawulski

We meet Danny (Richard Pawulski – “All In The Valley”), a young man suffering with autism who is preparing to head off to a local lake for a night camping solo for his Duke of Edinburgh Award.

The scene then switches to an exterior shot of a typical house from which we can hear a muffled but clearly angry argument taking place, resulting in Nicholas (Danny Miller – “Scott & Bailey”, “Emmerdale”) being thrown out.

Danny Miller

Nicholas, who appears to be a very angry young man, then shows up in the home of his female friend Julia (Natalie Martins – “Kill Or Be Killed”, “The Better Man”), where we discover that he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. Julia wastes no time in sticking the knife in regarding Nicholas’s now-ex. She obviously has designs on Nicholas though he appears oblivious to the fact, and so she claims that his ex had slept with others before him, unconvincingly naming Danny as one.

Natalie Martins

Knowing of Danny’s affliction, Nicholas is outraged to think of his ex sleeping with him and vows to make him pay. Dragging a reluctant but submissive Julia along with him, the pair head for Danny’s house – picking up new boy Calvin (Reece Douglas – “The Knife That Killed Me”, “Waterloo Road”) en route. By now the lie has become embellished and Nicholas insists that Danny is a paedophile who needs sorting out before he attacks more young girls.

Reece Douglas

Calvin isn’t keen on the idea but as he has a younger sister he succumbs to pressure from his peers to join them on their quest.

Initially the day consists of arcade games, smoking weed and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, but eventually and inevitably the trio find their quarry and the peer pressure exercised by Nicholas becomes ever greater. What follows is horrific in its utter believability. Without resorting to too much graphic violence or gore the filmmakers succeed in making the viewer feel very unsettled and disturbed.

I felt that this was made even more uncomfortable by the way that the three treat Danny and his autism, which is echoed with other minor characters’ dealings with him too. Because he has a disability Danny appears to be regarded as unfavourably in comparison to “normal” people. Living with people who have disabilities I know very well that it’s all to easy for people to either “not see” the disability or to treat the disabled person as somehow weird, and so the way that characters interact with Danny rings very true indeed.

Danny Miller, Natalie Martins & Reece Douglas

The film is said to be based on true events, although no specific story is mentioned that I can find reference too. That said, all too often we hear stories of seemingly motiveless attacks, people being attacked as a result of mistaken identity or misinformation, so I imagine that a number of such stories planted the seed for “Cruel Summer”.

This is not your standard horror film with some almost superhuman baddie that never dies etc. This is very real horror showing that the real evil in our world lives in the other folk living around us. The darkness that can be found in the most unassuming and “normal” people is a truly scary thing.

Filmed in South Wales the cinematography is great and the acting from the four main characters is really top-notch. I would hope that few will be able to watch such a film without feeling emotionally affected by it, so strong is the tale. Disturbing and very thought-provoking stuff…