A House Full Of Secrets. A Life Full Of Lies

“When eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home she finds her mother missing, the house covered in blood. Everything points to murder, except for one thing: there’s no sign of the body.

London detective Maeve Kerrigan and the homicide team turn their attention to the neighbours. The ultra-religious Norrises are acting suspiciously; their teenage daughter and Chloe Emery definitely have something to hide. Then there’s William Turner, once accused of stabbing a schoolmate and the neighbourhood’s favourite criminal. Is he merely a scapegoat, or is there more behind the charismatic façade?

As a body fails to materialise, Maeve must piece together a patchwork of testimonies and accusations. Who is lying, and who is not? And soon Maeve starts to realise that not only will the answer lead to Kate Emery, but more lives may hang in the balance…”

The latest book that I’ve read is “Let The Dead Speak”, by Irish author Jane Casey. It turns out that this is the seventh novel in a series centred around DC Maeve Kerrigan, a London-based police officer, now promoted to DS.

Not having read the previous six books I was oblivious to Kerrigan’s back-story, but although that meant that the reasons for her complicated work relationships were unclear it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the tale.

Jane Casey

I tried to outline the story to my wife after finishing the book, and found it rather tricky. This is a book with multiple strands to the plot, with connections all over the place and I found myself having to keep going back to add in things that I’d missed because they didn’t become clear until the latter stages of the novel.

The story is told almost exclusively from the perspective of Kerrigan as she interviews various characters and gets stuck into the police investigation surrounding the disappearance of Kate Emery. There is plenty for her to get to grips with. There is a ready-made suspect living on the same road, in the shape of William Turner, a young man previously accused but not charged with a near-fatal stabbing. Across the road from Kate’s house lives Oliver Norris and his devoutly Christian family – wife Eleanor and daughter Bethany – who take 18-year-old Chloe in when her home becomes a crime scene, and Oliver’s sleazy brother Morgan. Then there’s Chloe’s dad and his new wife and her two teenage sons, not forgetting the head of their Modern Apostle Movement, Gareth Selhurst.

All of these characters have something for Maeve to uncover and it takes some unravelling I can tell you. The ending was a nice surprise twist, too, just when you think the final secret’s been let out!

Highly recommended for all lovers of crime fiction and police procedurals…

Not Everything Can Be Forgiven

Recently my wife and I watched the feature-length debut film from writer / director Liam Gavin – the horror / drama movie “A Dark Song”.

Catherine Walker

Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker – “Patrick’s Day”, “Dark Touch”) arranges to rent a large isolated house in North Wales for twelve months. She then heads off to meet a man at a railway station.

That man,  Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram – “The Canal”, “Sightseers”), is being hired by Sophia – at great expense – to perform a ritual for her. Initially he declines clearly troubled Sophia’s offer until she admits the reason she gave for wanting to undergo the ritual wasn’t true and tells him something that attracts his attention.

Steve Oram

Stocking up on supplies for the months ahead, as they will be unable to leave the house once the process has begun, the pair head to the house where Joseph makes preparations and gives Sophia instructions about what his demands on her will be.

While Sophia has suffered a great loss, and is still very obviously suffering because of it, Joseph comes across as a rather unpleasant and, at times, abusive individual whose motivations are unclear aside from the large fee that he is promised and his own reward from the ritual…

Hammer Horror’s The Devil Rides Out (1968)

This is a very different take on the whole occult ritual type of movie. About as far away from the classic way Hammer Horror films would glamourise something like a black mass with the stereotypical candles, pentagrams and heaving cleavages as you can get. The ritual involved here seems to be the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – a several-months-long affair that is attributed to Abraham of Worms (1360-1460) from Germany that seeks to contact one’s Holy Guardian Angel.

The Bookf Of The Sacred Magic Of Abramelin The Mage

This text was apparently of great interest to both Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and seems to involve lots of cleansing, fasting, and the use of numerous candles and symbols.

Shot in Ireland in less than three weeks, I believe, this is a rather intense film that I guess would fall into the folk horror category. Although there are a few other actors that appear on-screen briefly this is for the vast majority of the 100 minute duration an in-depth look at what happens when the two leads are holed up in the house for months on end.

Steve Oram & Catherine Walker

Whether Joseph is a genuine occult expert – albeit a particularly rude and decidedly weird one – or just a charlatan is really left to the viewer to decide as the film could be interpreted in either way, even when we get to the climax of the film which could as easily be in Sophia’s mind as actually taking place.

In truth it is the final section of the movie that lets it down a little. Neither my wife or I were completely sold on the ending and the small budget shows most tellingly at this point too. That said, it does not detract from all that’s gone before that seems to be a far more grounded depiction of the work and personal sacrifice that goes into the kind of ritual being used. Not an easy watch, by any means, but with two excellent performances from Oram and Walker the film is riveting and compelling nonetheless and will likely stick in the memory for some time to come…

Like An Arrow Tour

Time for a word or three about the latest gig attended by myself and my good lady wife. Thursday 6 April saw the pair of us setting off for Bristol to see southern rockers Blackberry Smoke at the O2 Academy.

We left home just after 4pm, keen to avoid the issues that we’d had on our last concert trip to the city, when heavy traffic on the M32 had caused us to miss all but one song by the opening band when we went to see Dutch metallers Epica at the O2 Academy.

Taking the alternative route from the Severn Crossing meant that we travelled south briefly on the M5 before heading into the city via The Downs. The result of this was time for a visit to Pizza Hut before the show and still left enough time (just!) to make it to the O2 before the doors opened at 7:00pm.

From From The Access Area At The Bristol O2 Academy

As before, the venue staff were very good and soon had us in the access area for disabled customers and carers. Sadly this was where we encountered the low point of the evening. This show was clearly a popular one and the access area filled up very quickly. Unfortunately, however, it was obvious that a number of the seats were being taken by the able-bodied carers which meant that some of those with access needs were unable to get into the area. I appreciate that it is a help for the disabled person and carer to be close to one another – I stand behind my wife’s chair if room permits – and have no problem with the carers sitting if space allows, but on this occasion there were one or two who were clearly oblivious to the needs of others, whether this was by being unaware or just simply ignorant… well, only they will know for sure but I wonder if there is a better way for these areas to be allocated to customers so that those with genuine need get the seats first?

Biters – The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

Anyway, on with the show… First up, from the same American town as the headliners – Atlanta, Georgia – were Biters. A rather different proposition than the headliners, Biters offer hard rock with a definite Seventies vibe. You can hear echoes of bands like Cheap Trick in their sound and a few of the songs, such as “Heart Fulla Rock ‘N’ Roll” were very reminiscent of Marc Bolan’s T. Rex. This is not a bad thing, as the band’s songs are original yet instantly kind of familiar.

Tuk Smith At The Bristol O2 Academy

Fronted by singer / guitarist Tuk Smith (“he looks like Noel Fielding”, said my wife, who’s probably not the first person to make the comparison), Biters are the kind of band that remind you why rock music can be such fun and make you want to pick up an instrument and play. To be honest I don’t think their records to date have really done the band justice in terms of getting their sound across and tracks like “Low Lives In Hi Definition” and the excellent closer “1975” hit far harder in the live arena. Songs were aired from their debut album as well as a few from their upcoming second full length release “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be”.

Matt Gabs & Tuk Smith At The Bristol O2 Academy

Smith was an engaging front man and told a couple of funny road stories which I’m sure helped the audience warm to the band. Ably assisted by seriously impressive guitarist Matt Gabs – how could he see to play those great solos with his face almost constantly obscured by hair?! – bassist Philip Anthony and rock solid drummer Joey O’Brien, Smith’s band got the night’s entertainment off to a great start and went down very well with the Bristol crowd.

Setlist:

1. Restless Hearts / 2. Low Lives In Hi Definition / 3. Gypsy Rose / 4. Hallucination Generation / 5. So Many Nights / 6. Going Back To Georgia / 7. Stone Cold Love / 8. Heart Fulla Rock ‘N’ Roll / 9. 1975

1, 2, 8 and 9 originally from “Electric Blood” (2015) / 4 and 5 originally from “Last Of A Dying Breed” (2012) / 3, 6 and 7 originally from “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be” (2017)

Blackberry Smoke At The O2 Academy

Once Biters and their small crew had cleared their gear from the stage and we’d had an interval it was time for the lights to go down again as singer / lead guitarist Charlie Starr led his band Blackberry Smoke into a storming rendition of “Fire In The Hole”. If you thought Biters had gone down well – and I did – then the response to Blackberry Smoke was nothing short of ecstatic.

Charlie Starr At The Bristol O2 Academy

Starr comes across a little like he’s part-rock star and part-evangelist preacher, which is no huge surprise when you realise that he comes from a very musical family with his dad being a guitar player and singer and his paternal grandmother teaching him all about gospel singing and harmony. The latter shines through on Blackberry Smoke material where every song is catchy and memorable, whether it’s one of their acoustic tunes like the hillbilly country of “I Ain’t Got The Blues”, the harder rocking stuff like “Up In Smoke” or the likes of “Pretty Little Lie” which sits somewhere in between. Large sections of the crowd seemed to know practically every word and sang along with great gusto!

Paul Jackson At The Bristol O2 Academy

Completing the line-up of the band are the ever-smiling Paul Jackson (guitar / vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards) and the hat-wearing duo of Brit Turner (drums) and steady-as-a-rock Richard Turner (bass, vocals).

Blackberry Smoke’s music evokes the spirit of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Crowes (whose Chris Robinson gave Starr’s group their name), Blackfoot and The Allman Brothers Band.

Richard Turner At The Bristol O2 Academy

In fact the latter are given a nod during the extended rendition of “Sleeping Dogs” with a snippet of their “Mountain Jam” in the jam section that also features a blast of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come”. I was slightly concerned that this lengthy workout would fall on deaf ears with my wife, as she doesn’t always enjoy that aspect, preferring the more country music elements at play. I needn’t have worried though. Shortly before the band left the stage prior to returning for a well deserved encore she leaned back in her chair and looked back to me asking what time the band had first come on stage. When I told her she looked at her watch and declared that she’d slept through about an hour of the group’s set – her pain medication taking effect as it had done during our previous visit to the venue, but for rather longer this time!

Brandon Still At The Bristol O2 Academy

In a setlist heavy with tunes from the group’s breakthrough album “The Whippoorwill” and last year’s release “Like An Arrow”, my personal highlights from the show, which didn’t have a duff moment in it, would be the superb one-two of “Six Ways To Sunday” and “Good One Comin’ On”, the aforementioned “Sleeping Dogs”, the simply brilliant “Pretty Little Lie” and an energetic cover of The Move’s “California Man”.

Blackberry Smoke

A mate of mine has seen Blackberry Smoke a number of times and been regularly enthusing about their performances. Although I’ve enjoyed their records before the show I hadn’t appreciated quite how good a band they are and will certainly look out for them on tour in future.

Jessica Simpson In The Dukes Of Hazzard

This was a top quality Southern-flavoured show that meant I just had to get my guitar out the next day and attempt to jam along to 2012’s “The Whippoorwill” album and also inspired me to dig out the “Dukes Of Hazzard” movie remake (nothing to do with Jessica Simpson’s greatest hits, honest guv!) and see if I can track down the original TV series too.

Blackberry Smoke – a great band giving us a great soundtrack on a great night out…

Setlist:  (I’m not 100% sure that this is right. The list on www.setlist.fm has changed a few times since the first person uploaded it and I’m positive it’s still missing one song that was definitely played, “Ain’t Got The Blues”, which I’ve used an educated guess to place at track 14!)

1. Fire In The Hole / 2. Six Ways To Sunday / 3. Good One Comin’ On / 4. Waiting For The Thunder / 5. Scare The Devil / 6. Like An Arrow / 7. Leave A Scar / 8. Rock And Roll Again / 9. Sleeping Dogs / Your Time Is Gonna Come / Mountain Jam / Sleeping Dogs 10. Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost / 11. Pretty Little Lie / 12. Up In Smoke / 13. Let It Burn / 14. Ain’t Got The Blues / 15. Payback’s A Bitch / 16. Sunrise In Texas / 17. California Man / 18. One Horse Town / 19. Ain’t Much Left Of Me

1, 8 and 15 originally from “Holding All The Roses” (2015) / 2, 7, 10, 11, 14, 18, and 19 originally from “The Whippoorwill” (2012) / 3 and 12 originally from “Little Piece Of Dixie” (2009) / 4, 6, 13 and 16 originally from “Like An Arrow” (2016) / 5 originally from “Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime” (2004) / 9 originally from “The Whippoorwill” (2012) / cover of Led Zeppelin song from “Led Zeppelin” (1969) / cover of The Allman Brothers Band song from “Eat A Peach” (1972) / 17 cover of The Move single (1972)

 

Are His Powers More Than Magic?

I watched a rather odd movie the other night. It was an Australian production from 1980, directed by Simon Wincer (“D.A.R.Y.L.”, “Free Willy”), titled “Harlequin”.

Mark Spain & Robert Powell

The film opens with a politician disappearing under the surface whilst swimming in the sea. The action switches to a child’s birthday party where we find the leukaemia suffering birthday boy, Alex Rast (Mark Spain – “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, “The Schlocky Horror Picture Show”). Alex is clearly not having any fun at all, until a clown gives him some one on one attention and manages to make a breakthrough.

David Hemmings

With the viewer having been introduced to Alex’s parents, senator Nick Rast (David Hemmings – “Blow-Up”, “Eye Of The Devil”) and his wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan – “Turkey Shoot”, “Now And Forever”), we see the now-unmasked clown, Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell – “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, “Tommy”) turn up in their home again and declare that he has cured Alex of his illness.

Carmen Duncan

Nick is very sceptical over Gregory’s claims but Sandra very quickly comes under his spell and before you know it the pair have become very close indeed.

What follows is a strange mix of political thriller, drama and fantasy film as Gregory’s influence and magical powers are demonstrated (or is it just an elaborate con?) whilst Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford – “A Little Romance”, “Born Yesterday”) leads a shadowy group intending to manouvere Nick’s political career to their own ends.

Robert Powell

Having done a little reading since watching the film it seems that the story is loosely based on that of the famous Russian mystic monk Grigori Rasputin and his involvement with Tsar Nicholas II. Certainly the parallels are there, and in retrospect there is a clue in the main characters names  – Gregory (Grigori), Nick (Nicholas), Sandra (Alexandra) and Alex (Alexei) and even the family’s surname Rast being Tsar reversed.

Broderick Crawford & Robert Powell

I’m not sure if that helps make any more sense of a film that seems to be a bit confused about what it wants to be or not, to be honest. An odd cinematic offering to be sure, and not hugely well-known even under the alternate title of “Dark Forces”, but Robert Powell’s performance is very good and overall I’d say the movie is definitely worth seeking out and viewing…

One Body. Six Victims. And A Detective Coming Apart At The Seams…

“A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed the ‘Ragdoll’ by the media.

Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.

The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.

With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?…”

“Ragdoll” is the first book in what I believe the author Daniel Cole intends to be a series featuring the character of police detective William Fawkes. According to a story in the Guardian last year, Bournemouth-based Cole was signed for a three book publishing and TV deal for the fledgling series – at which time the detective’s name appears to have been Nathan Wolfe. Now that the first book is out the Wolfe has become “Wolf” and is the nickname for the Fawkes character.

Wolf is a detective with a lot of baggage – more than your average crime fiction detective in fact. Said baggage includes his spell in a psychiatric hospital following a brutal attack, in court, on accused killer Naguib Khaled when a case falls apart. As well as this there is a complicated relationship with fellow police officer DS Emily Baxter and the existence of his TV journalist ex-wife Andrea.

When a stitched-together “Ragdoll” is discovered in a flat opposite the one in which Wolf now resides he finds himself on the case along with Baxter. When Andrea receives a list detailing the killer’s intended targets – as well as the dates on which they are to die – the investigation becomes increasingly personal.

Daniel Cole

Unfortunately Wolf doesn’t work well with the investigating team, preferring to work alone and keeping Baxter and her trainee partner Edmunds at arm’s length as much as possible.

Somehow, despite the police taking elaborate precautions, the killer manages to find his victims and dispatch them in a variety of ingenious ways. Who is this mysterious killer and where does he get his inside information from?

Although I found Wolf to be perhaps a little too larger than life I did enjoy the way the story and relationships between the main characters were portrayed. Cole has obviously got a great imagination when it comes to clever killings and did a very good job in plotting the whole tale so that you never really get a handle on what’s going on until the end.

The climax of the book does make me wonder quite how Cole will take the series forward with Wolf and Baxter in tandem but I look forward to finding out when the second book hits the shelves…

The Most Terrifying Exorcism In British History

I watched “When The Lights Went Out” the other night. Written and directed by Pat Holden (“Awaydays”, “The Long Weekend”) this is a paranormal horror film that was released back in 2012 but somehow slipped under my radar until recently.

Kate Ashfield & Steven Waddington

Set in 1974, and following an eerie opening involving footsteps and a swinging light fighting, the film sees married couple Len (Steven Waddington – “Bridgend”, “The Imitation Game”) and Jenny (Kate Ashfield – “Shaun Of The Dead”, “7 Lives”) moving to a new council house in Yorkshire, together with their reluctant thirteen year old daughter Sally (Tasha Connor – “The Incident”, “X+Y”).

Tasha Connor

The family settle in to their new home, with help from their friends Brian (Craig Parkinson – “Control”, “Four Lions”) and Rita (Andrea Lowe – “Route Irish”, “DCI Banks”) and Sally soon makes friends with schoolmate Lucy (Hannah Clifford).

Craig Parkinson & Steven Waddington

 

When they discover that Sally has started taking to what they assume to be an imaginary friend, Len and Jenny aren’t too concerned. However, this soon progresses into something far more scary when they and their friends begin to witness things that happen and move without any explanation and the couple realise that their dream home is, in fact, haunted by a ghost that seems to have made Sally its prime target…

Andrea Lowe

The film is loosely based on the story of “The Black Monk Of Pontefract”, believed to be a 16th century monk who was hung for the rape and murder of a girl during the reign of Henry VIII. Holden’s mother Rene was apparently a bit of a psychic who became interested in the Pontefract house during the writer / director’s childhood.

Hannah Clifford

Even without the “based on a true story” aspect of this film I would have to say that it’s a very well done piece of scariness. There’s nothing too explicit in terms of visible horror but the underlying tension is palpable.

Martin Compston

Note should also be made of the set design and costumes that vividly evoke the early 1970s era perfectly. That, together with strong performances from the main cast, which includes Martin Compston (“Filth”, “The Dissapearnce Of Alice Creed”) as Sally’s school teacher Mr. Price, and a great story make for a really good film that’s well worth a viewing…

Best Friends For Life, And For Death…

“A killer that the police are calling ‘Billy Dead Mates’ is murdering pairs of best friends, one by one.

Before they die, each victim is given a small white book…

For months, detectives have failed to catch Billy, or work out what the white books mean. And then a woman, scared by what she’s seen on the news, comes forward.

Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck has one of Billy’s peculiar little books. A stranger gave it to her at a gig she did a year ago. Was he Billy, and does he want to kill her? Kim has no friends and trusts no one, so how – and why – could she possibly be Billy Dead Mates’ next target?…”

OK, where to start with this one? This is the tenth full novel in Sophie Hannah‘s “Culver Valley” series featuring police detectives Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse and follows on from 2014’s ninth entry to the series, the excellent “The Telling Error”.

In the meantime, Zailer and Waterhouse appeared in Hannah’s Quick Reads novella “Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen” during 2015.

Published back in 2016, “The Narrow Bed” finds us back in full novel-length territory as we catch up with the two police officers, their colleagues and their caseload.

Sophie Hannah

This particular tale is told from a variety of angles. There are those of both Zailer and Waterhouse and they make their investigations – in Charlie’s case it’s largely to do with finding out what’s going on with her sister Liv and her supposed ex Gibbs, whilst Simon is involved with the “Billy Dead Mates” case. In addition, there are chapters told from the perspective of Kim Tribbeck who may be a target for the killer, extracts from Kim’s to-be-published autobiography which looks back at the case, and various blog posts, emails and letters from other characters. Whilst this may seem, on the surface, to be confusing the author has done a very good job of making the tale easy to keep up with, without giving away any more clues than she wants to.

There is a quote from one of the book’s characters where they say “books are everywhere in this investigation” and that is very true. Whether it be the small white books given to the murder victims, Waterhouse’s dog-eared but beloved copy of “Moby Dick” or Tribbeck’s own book there are indeed plenty of books littered throughout the story, and they play a part in the motivation of the mysterious killer too. And that latter point is perhaps where I felt this book fell down slightly, as the rationale for the baddie to be killing the pairs of friends etc. just didn’t come across as convincing or likely – even allowing for some mental instability. That said, however, there is certainly some food for thought in terms of the advantages / disadvantages that come with the never-ending march of technological progress.

Not her strongest novel, then, but as always Hannah’s writing is clever, witty and insightful and her characters get plenty of room to develop. Whilst Waterhouse is always one step – at least – ahead of his wife and colleagues in determining what’s going on, most readers don’t have his unnatural abilities and so the secrets are kept back until the author wants us to uncover them, making this a jolly good read…

In The Heart Of God’s Country An Evil Lurks

Released in the UK around a year ago, “She Who Must Burn” is a drama horror film from director Larry Kent (“The Hamster Cage”, “The Slavers”). Kent also co-wrote the movie with one of its lead actors Shane Twerdun.

James Wilson

The film opens with a scene where a doctor is shot dead in his practice by an anti-abortion protester Abraham Baarker (James Wilson – “Sweet Amerika”, “Waydowntown”) who promptly falls to his knees and begins to sing “Amazing Grace”.

Sarah Smyth

We then get to gradually meet the main characters for the rest of the film. Central to events is Angela (Sarah Smyth – “White Raven”, “50/50”). Angela works as a counsellor who has just discovered that the state funding to her workplace has been cut off. Together with her husband, policeman Mac (Andrew Moxham – “Black Mountainside”, “Assault On Wall Street”), Angela decides against leaving their small rural town, believing that there are people in the town that still need her help, and sets up a clinic in their home.

Andrew Moxham

Abraham’s son, local preacher Jeremiah Baarker (Shane Twerdun – “White Raven”, “Black Mountainside”), takes a very old-fashioned view to the place of his wife Margaret (Jewel Staite – “The Killing”, “Stargate : Atlantis”) in the home, imposing his will on her with ruthlessness.

Shane Twerdun

When Margaret turns to Angela for help, and Angela arranges for her to flee from her abusive husband it’s not long before Jeremiah comes calling at the clinic, along with a number of other anti-abortion protesters including his sister Rebecca (Missy Cross – “Exley”, “White Raven” and her downtrodden husband Caleb (Andrew Dunbar – “Bad City”, “Leprechaun : Origins”).

Jewel Staite

Mac’s boss, the town Sheriff (Jim Francis – “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”, “Exley”), meanwhile, is clearly reluctant to go up against the religious fundamentalists, even when they go beyond the law.

Missy Cross

Events take a turn for the worse when the Baarkers misunderstand – deliberately or otherwise – the reason for a town resident crossing state lines with her teenage daughter and take matters into their own hands. Very soon Angela finds herself very much the subject of their attentions…

Andrew Dunbar

There is also a sub-plot about infant mortality as a result of the water supply being contaminated by the town mining business, and this is interpreted as divine judgement by the Baarker clan and followers.

Jim Francis

At heart, though, this is a simple enough and rather effective tale – sometimes brutally so – about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Granted some of the characters are somewhat stereotypical but they are no less effective for that, particularly those portrayed by Cross and Twerdun.

Some Of The Baarkers’ Fellow Protesters

The final act is perhaps a bit of a let down and at odds with the realism on display for the rest of the film, but does show an element of poetic justice perhaps?

Terrible deeds being done in the name of religion isn’t exactly new, in fact I’d say it’s as old as religion itself, but with the troubles in the Middle East and the rise of the right around the globe the themes here are as relevant – and horrifically real – as ever. A well acted and shot low-budget film that’s definitely disturbing but also well worth a viewing…

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…”

28016509

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!…

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