Revenge Is Calling…

“He’s back …

Eight years ago, ‘The Inside Man’ murdered four women and left three more in critical condition – all of them with their stomachs slit open and a plastic doll stitched inside.

And then the killer just … disappeared.

Ash Henderson was a Detective Inspector on the initial investigation, but a lot can change in eight years. His family has been destroyed, his career is in tatters, and one of Oldcastle’s most vicious criminals is making sure he spends the rest of his life in prison.

Now a nurse has turned up dead on a patch of waste ground, a plastic doll buried beneath her skin, and it looks as if Ash might finally get a shot at redemption. At earning his freedom.

At revenge”

Adobe Photoshop PDF

“A Song For The Dying” is the second novel by Scottish author Stuart MacBride to feature Ash Henderson as his lead character, following on from “Birthdays For The Dead”, and is set in the fictional town of Oldcastle.

I was introduced to MacBride’s writing via “Cold Granite”, the first of his, to date, nine DS Logan McRae crime novels set in Aberdeen. Whereas McRae is a, to quote the author himself, “upbeat and positive” and a team player, Henderson is quite a different matter – “dark and brooding”.

In the previous book Henderson had been demoted from DI to DC, and although this one is set after the events of the first book, it harkens back to an initial investigation into the crimes of “The Inside Man” from eight years previously, when Henderson was still a DI.

Stuart MacBride
Stuart MacBride

Now, he’s in prison – framed for a murder that he didn’t commit by a nasty gangster, Mrs. Kerringan, who does her level best to ensure that parole is denied every time it comes up by getting some of Henderson’s fellow inmates to start a fight with him and make it look like he’s the one at fault.

When it appears that “The Inside Man” may have returned, Police Scotland are having trouble with the case and arrange for former DC Henderson to be released from prison to work on the case as he was one of the lead investigators originally. If all goes well, he’ll remain a free man.

Teaming up again with slightly odd forensic psychologist, Dr. Alice McDonald, Henderson plunges headlong into investigating the crimes, whilst also plotting revenge on Mrs. Kerrigan. Things, however, are never easy or straightforward in a MacBride novel, and this one is no different in that respect. Henderson soon finds himself having to contend with bickering police teams, a very smug police psychologist, Mrs. Kerrigan and her heavies, not to mention other heavy underworld figures!

img_0074There is a delightfully dark sense of humour at work here, and some genuinely funny descriptions. On the flip side, the methods of murder and gratuitous torture described here mean you’d be unlikely to ever want to visit Oldcastle, if the place existed!

There are some brilliant twists and turns – just when you think you’ve got things figured out and know where it’s all headed, you get the rug pulled from under you with a totally unexpected development.

Superb writing, and a great story. All in all, a very, very good crime thriller. I’m really looking forward to getting to MacBride’s latest Logan McRae novel, “The Missing And The Dead”, when that reaches the top of my to-be-read pile!

Devil’s Train II

Devil's Train - IINew out is the second album from European hard rock band, Devil’s Train – the appropriately titled “II” – which follows 2012’s self titled debut.

Devil's Train
Devil’s Train

With a line up consisting of vocalist R.D. Liapakis, guitarist Lakis Ragazas (both from German power metal band Mystic Prophecy), bassist Jari Kainulainen (of German power metal band Masterplan) and drummer Jörg Michael (formerly in Finnish power metal band Stratovarius) you would be forgiven for expecting Devil’s Train to be somewhere in or around the power metal camp.

But this is a band with a clear love of the hair metal of the late 80s and early 90s – think Badlands, Cinderella, Van Halen – whilst also occupying similar sonic territory to the likes of Slash, Black Label Society and Alter Bridge.

Devil's Train - Hollywood Girl
Devil’s Train – Hollywood Girl

The songs, such as “Hollywood Girl”, “Let’s Shake It” and “Girl Like You” are riff-heavy but melodic and catchy. Unlike many of the bands of the hair metal era, however, there are no ballads present on this album. Sure, there’s a cool heavy blues vibe on the likes of “Gimme Love” and “Mr. Jones”, but for the most part this is foot-stomping hard rock with plenty of energy.

Band04If there is one, then the low point of this album is the presence of two cover versions – updates of Steppenwolf’s seminal “Born To Be Wild” and the mighty Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. Both are actually very good versions, but given that both songs have been covered numerous times over the years then perhaps a couple more original compositions, or even some more unusual cover choices would have been welcome.

Nonetheless, this is a really impressive, good-time hard rock album. In fact, listening to this record, you can picture it blasting out in a room full of tattooed long hair rockers and hair metal-era rock chicks!

“Devil’s Train II” tracklist:

1. Down On You / 2. Hollywood Girl / 3. Gimme Love / 4. Mr. Jones / 5. Can You Feel / 6. Rock Forever / 7. Let’s Shake It / 8. Girl Like You / 9. Born To Be Wild / 10. You And Me / 11. Thunderstorm / 12. Suffocated / 13. Immigrant Song

For Blood. For Money. For A Way Out

The_World_Made_Straight-118853736-largeI’ve just had the great pleasure of watching “The World Made Straight”, a 2015 drama film directed by David Burris in his directorial debut, which is based on the novel of the same name penned by Ron Rash.

Shelton Laurel SignThe film opens with a partial reconstruction of the Shelton Laurel massacre in January 1863 during the American Civil War, during which a number of residents of the Shelton Laurel Valley in Madison County, North Carolina were executed by Confederate soldiers – including 13 year old David Shelton, who was shot ten times.

Jeremy Irvine
Jeremy Irvine

We then move to 1970s North Carolina, where we are introduced to 17 year old Travis Shelton, played by Jeremy Irvine (“War Horse”), a high school drop-out who has a difficult relationship with his father.

Noah Wyle
Noah Wyle

Travis is introduced to a local small-time drug dealer, Leonard Shuler (Noah Wyle – “E.R”, “Donnie Darko”), a former school teacher. Following a run-in with shady local marijuana farmer Carlton Toomey (country music legend Steve Earle) Travis ends up in hospital. During his stay in the hospital he begins to read about local history – his interest having been stirred by some books he saw at Leonard’s home.

Jeremy Irvine, Noah Wyle & Minka Kelly
Jeremy Irvine, Noah Wyle & Minka Kelly

Following his release from hospital Travis finds himself homeless, leading him to pitch up at the trailer Leonard shares with his drug-addict girlfriend Dena (Minka Kelly “The Roommate”, “Charlie’s Angels”) looking for a place to stay.

Minka Kelly, Steve Earle & Noah Wyle
Minka Kelly, Steve Earle & Noah Wyle

Through Leonard, Travis learns more about his family’s history and the massacre of 1863, and begins to study to try to better himself with Leonard’s help and support.

The massacre is central to the film, as it continues to divide the small Appalachian community, which adds to the theme running throughout of just how hard it can be to tell who is on whose side. Travis and Leonard’s fates become ever more entwined as the history of their community, and its corrupt present lead to a violent showdown…

Minka Kelly
Minka Kelly

On the acting front, the two main characters are portrayed very convincingly by Jeremy Irvine and Noah Wyle, whilst Steve Earle is particularly effective is his sinister role. Minka Kelly, too, has a significant part to play and does her job admirably – a world away from the glamorous world of the “Charlie’s Angels” TV remake.

039088 (1)Visually, the film is superb. The cinematography is top notch, equally effective whether depicting the incredible natural beauty of North Carolina, or the bleakness that can be found sometimes in isolated rural community life.

I found this to be a really engrossing, and ultimately emotionally affecting, film, so highly recommended if you fancy something different to the latest Hollywood blockbuster!
The World Made Straight
Ron Rash – The World Made Straight

1987 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Welcome to the second in my occasional series of posts on the subject of my favourite top ten albums from a particular year. This is not a reflection of the most successful releases of the year, simply my personal favourites.

1987 was a much, much harder year to choose a top ten from than my previous list, 1995. Don’t get me wrong, 1995 was a great year for me personally, not least as my first born made his appearance that summer, but I find myself going back to the mid-late ’80s more often when revisiting the music of years gone by. Is that because the music in 1987 was so much better, or is it a case of that year having more resonance for me in terms of nostalgia (after all, I was 19, working, earning money, able to drive, young, free and single…) I wonder?

Without further ado, then, here are my favourite ten albums of 1987 (in alphabetical order)…

1. Aerosmith “Permanent Vacation”

Aerosmith - Permanent Vacation
Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation

This album marked a turning point in Aerosmith’s career. Whether it was a positive thing or not depends on your point of view. With perhaps one eye on MTV and the singles charts, it was the first record on which the band had input from outside songwriters. On the plus side this meant that songs such as “Rag Doll”, “Angel” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” were the biggest hit singles of the band’s history up to that point, but conversely also lead indirectly to the band’s latter-day low point (in my view) of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”.

Certainly the album marked a solid return of Aerosmith with Joe Perry back in the saddle after their false start with the underwhelming “Done With Mirrors” two years earlier, and had some great material in addition to the aforementioned singles, such as “Magic Touch” and “Hangman Jury”. Better was to come with the album “Pump” but that wouldn’t be until ’89.

2. Def Leppard “Hysteria”

Def Leppard - Hysteria
Def Leppard – Hysteria

Three years in the making, this was the album that many thought would never see the light of day. Drummer Rick Allen had lost his left arm in a car accident on New Year’s Eve in 1984 during early sessions for the album, the follow-up to 1983’s successful “Pyromania”. He subsequently developed a way of playing using electronic triggers and returned to recording and performing live with the band. Jim Steinman, famous for his work with Meat Loaf, was originally brought in the produce the album, but after this failed to produce the desired results, and the band were unable to produce the sound they were looking for themselves, they were able to persuade Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who had produced the previous album, to return to the producer’s chair.

When the album was finally released in August 1987, preceded in the UK by the hit single “Animal”, it was a triumph. Lange’s state of the art production together with superb material helped to spawn seven hit singles from the album’s twelve tracks, and the album itself went on to sell over 20 million copies. There simply isn’t a single duff track on this album – indeed for a while it was easily the most played record on my stereo – but my personal favourites would be “Rocket”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “Hysteria” and the epic “Gods Of War”.

3. Fleetwood Mac “Tango In The Night”

Fleetwood Mac - Tango In The Night
Fleetwood Mac – Tango In The Night

Released five years after the band’s previous album “Mirage”, “Tango In The Night” became their second-biggest selling album (the classic “Rumours” being the biggest).

Featuring six hit singles, the album reached the number 1 spot in the UK on three separate occasions during 1987/88. The pressure of being largely responsible for the album coming to fruition lead to Lindsay Buckingham leaving the band shortly before the following world tour, which featured new members Rick Vito and Billy Burnette in his place.

My favourite tracks on the album include the hits “Big Love”, “Everywhere”, “Little Lies” and “Family Man”, as well as the distinctive Buckingham number “Caroline” and Christine McVie’s gentle “Mystified”.

4. Guns N’ Roses “Appetite For Destruction”

Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

The debut album from Los Angeles band Guns N’ Roses is a classic hard rock record, and the only album to feature the original line-up of singer Axl Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and Steven Adler on drums. There was some controversy over the original cover art (shown here) by American artist Robert Williams showing a robot rapist which was replaced after some stores refused to stock the album.

The music speaks for itself. Although the band would reach their creative height with the ambitious “Use Your Illusion” albums, this was the sound of a band in full flight and all pulling together – something that sadly wouldn’t last. From the classic opener “Welcome To The Jungle” through “Paradise City”, the classic ballad “Sweet Child O’ Mine” through to the orgasmic “Rocket Queen” (listen closely to that one!) and every track in between, this is simply a brilliant album. Essential.

5. Jethro Tull “Crest Of A Knave”

Jethro Tull - Crest Of A Knave
Jethro Tull – Crest Of A Knave

Jethro Tull’s sixteenth studio album was their first for three years, and their most successful since 1971’s “Aqualung”. Bizarrely, the album was awarded a Grammy Award for “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental” in 1989. This was the one and only time that this particular Grammy award was given, such was the controversy over Tull winning the award that many expected Metallica to win for their “…And Justice For All” album.

This was not an album that I warmed to immediately, unlike all the others on this list, as Tull were not a band I was familiar with at the time. In fact, when I first heard the single “She Said She Was A Dancer” I thought it was a new song by Dire Straits! However, with the benefit of time and an appreciation of the rich musical legacy of the band, this is an album that has really grown on me. This is definitely an album to immerse oneself in, and I particularly enjoy the longer tracks, “Farm On The Freeway”, “Mountain Men” and especially the superb ten minute long “Budapest”.

6. Level 42 “Running In The Family”

Level 42 - Running In The Family
Level 42 – Running In The Family

From their beginnings as a jazz-funk band, Level 42 had steadily refined their sound to encompass a much more accessible pop flavour, and the band reached the pinnacle of their success with the release of the “Running In The Family” album. Five hit singles (four of them reached the top ten) underlined this point. Guitarist Boon Gould and his drummer brother Phil Gould both left the band during 1987 leaving just singer/bassist Mark King and keyboardist Mike Lindup. This coincided with the start of the band’s decline and none of their subsequent records would reach the heights they managed with “Running In The Family”.

A solid pop record from start to finish, the best tracks were the first five (all of which were singles) – “Lessons In Love”, “Children Say”, “Running In The Family”, the brilliant ballad “It’s Over” and “To Be With You Again”, plus the funky “Fashion Fever”.

7. Prince “Sign O’ The Times”

Prince - Sign O' The Times
Prince – Sign O’ The Times

Following the release of “Parade” in 1986, Prince began recording new material for an album to be titled “Dream Factory”. Unhappy, Prince decided to hire his backing band, The Revolution, and begin new recordings on his own. Initially he intended to release an album titled “Camille”. A change of mind saw songs from both planned albums incorporated into a new project – a triple album to be called “Crystal Ball” – however, his record company were less than keen and persuaded Prince to trim the album. The resulting double album was given the title “Sign O’ The Times”.

Although it’s up against stiff competition from within his extensive catalogue of released and unreleased albums, “Sign O’ The Times” quickly became, and has remained, my favourite Prince album. Kicking off with the stark and brilliant title track, the quality keeps on coming. The songs feature a variety of moods and tempos, but my own favourite tracks are “Sign O’ The Times”, “Housequake”, “Hot Thing”, “U Got The Look”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and the excellent “The Cross”

8. Rush “Hold Your Fire”

Rush - Hold Your Fire
Rush – Hold Your Fire

The twelfth studio album from progressive rock band Rush, “Hold Your Fire” continued the synthesizer-heavy direction of the preceding album, “Power Windows”. A major attraction for me was the fantastic percussive performance of drummer Neil Peart, but all three band members excel on this record, and for the most part the songs are top notch too (with my only real reservation being over the track “Tai Shan”). Opener “Force Ten” is an up-tempo rock track. Singles “Time Stand Still” (featuring Aimee Mann) and “Prime Mover” showed the band’s musical chops within memorable song structures, my favourite track “Mission” is the proggiest track on the album with time changes aplenty and album closer “High Water” is also excellent.

9. U2 “The Joshua Tree”

U2 - The Joshua Tree
U2 – The Joshua Tree

Following the more experimental “The Unforgettable Fire” album in 1984, U2, and singer Bono in particular, found themselves inspired by all things American and a new-found interest in roots music, and so, despite the reservations of guitarist The Edge,  chose to pursue these themes and a more American bluesy sound for “The Joshua Tree”. The resulting album is, without doubt, the group’s most successful, with 25 million copies sold. More importantly though, the band’s music would in future struggle to have the same resonance and emotional impact found in the eleven tracks here.

Although the first three tracks are most well known (“Where The Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You”) having all been top ten singles, it’s the rest of the album that really shines for me. The sparse arrangements of “Running To Stand Still” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared”, the up-tempo “In God’s Country”, with the evocative “Bullet The Blue Sky” being the pick of the bunch.

10. Whitesnake “1987”

Whitesnake - 1987
Whitesnake – 1987

Following 1984’s “Slide It In” album, singer David Coverdale, new guitarist John Sykes and bassist Neil Murray recruited drummer Aynsley Dunbar and began sessions for the next Whitesnake album. When Coverdale suffered a sinus infection the resulting surgery meant that proceedings became severely delayed, and a rift began to form between Coverdale and Sykes. Thus, when the album was eventually finished, Coverdale fired the rest of the band and replaced them with guitarists Adrain Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge. It was this line-up that toured the world in support of the album and appeared in the band’s famous trilogy of MTV-friendly music videos (featuring actress and future Mrs. Coverdale, Tawny Kitaen) for singles “Still Of The Night”, “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love”.

Also known as “Serpens Albus” and “Whitesnake”, this was the band’s seventh studio album, and the one that made the band hugely successful around the world. Moving further away from their blues rock sound and showcasing a new harder rock direction, the album featured radical re-workings of two tracks from their 1982 “Saints & Sinners” album in the form of “Here I Go Again” and”Crying In The Rain”. These, along with the very Led Zeppelin-like “Still Of The Night”, ballad “Looking For Love” and up-tempo rockers “Bad Boys” and “Children Of The Night” captured Coverdale as vocal rock god, perfectly matched by the incendiary fretwork of Sykes. A fabulous hard rock album.

There you go – my top ten albums of 1987. This was a year in which Margaret Thatcher was re-elected for her third term as British Prime Minister, Everton won the old First Division, “The Simpsons” appeared on TV for the first time, and top film releases included “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “The Secret Of My Success”, “The Living Daylights” and “Fatal Attraction”…

A Summer With Flaubert

“Gemma Bovery” is a French drama film from 2014 starring Fabrice Luchini (“The Women On The 6th Floor”) and Gemma Arterton (“Byzantium”, “St. Trinian’s”) as the titular character.

326431The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Posy Simmonds. The novel is loosely based on themes from Gustave Falubert’s “Madame Bovery”, first published in 1856.

Posy Simmond's Gemma Bovery
Posy Simmonds – Gemma Bovery

Simmonds also penned “Tamara Drewe” which was adapted for the big screen in 2010 – again starring Gemma Arterton is the lead role.

Having been introduced to the character of Martin Joubert (Luchini), a Parisian baker relocated to a small town in Normandy, we join Martin as he visits a local antique restorer Charlie Bovery – played by Jason Flemyng (“Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels”, “Layer Cake”). Martin is sorting through some things belonging to his wife, Gemma (Arterton), including her journal. Martin slips the journal into his jacket when Charlie isn’t looking and we then follow Martin as he reads Gemma’s journal and revisits events leading up to that scene.

Gemma Arterton &
Gemma Arterton & Fabrice Luchini

Gemma and Charlie became Martin’s neighbours when they arrived in the town from London to start a new life. It transpire’s that Martin is a big fan of Flaubert’s work, and he become convinced that, because his new neighbours’ names were so close to those of the characters in “Madame Bovery” (Emma and Charles Bovery) then their lives would follow suit, which would eventually lead to the death of Gemma by arsenic poisoning.

Fabrice Luchini
Fabrice Luchini

Thus the scene has been set for some beautifully observed interactions as the real life of Gemma is steadily followed and compared to that of the literary character Emma by an obsessed Martin.

Having become conviced that Gemma is a direct parallel to Emma, Martin has taken it upon himself to save her from her mistakes and ultimate fate. I had not seen Luchini act before, but felt he portrayed the role of Martin to perfection.

Gemma Arterton
Gemma Arterton

Gemma Arterton, too, is excellent here. I think that she has developed as an actress as her career has moved from “St. Trinian’s” and “Quantum Of Solace” through more central roles in “The Disappearance Of Alice Creed”, the aforementioned “Tamara Drewe”, “Unfinished Song” and “Byzantium”

There as some delightfully comic moments in this film, particularly in the scenes between Martin and Gemma, as well as some of real drama and emotion, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

Gemma-Bovery-Teaser-Poster-Gemma-Arterton

One Lives And One Dies. No Choice

“The girl emerged from the woods, barely alive. Her story was beyond belief. But it was true. Every dreadful word of it.

Days later, another desperate escapee is found – and a pattern is emerging. Pairs of victims are being abducted, imprisoned and then faced with a terrible choice : kill or be killed.

Would you rather lose your life or lose your mind?

Detective Inspector Helen Grace has faced down her own demons on her rise to the top. As she leads the investigation to hunt down this unseen monster, she learns that it may be the survivors – living calling cards – who hold the key to the case.

And unless she succeeds, more innocents will die…”

PAGE-51-eeny“Eeny Meeny” is the debut crime thriller by writer M.J. Arlidge, and what a debut it is!

There is a very twisted mind at work here, snatching couples (not just romantic couples either, two male colleagues, a mother and daughter, etc.) and imprisoning them with no food, no water, no toilet facilities, just a gun and the stark choice to kill or be killed. It inevitably leads us to question “what would I do in that scenario?” – and what a difficult question that is, particularly if the other captive is a loved one!

MJ Arlidge
MJ Arlidge

The book introduces lead character DI Helen Grace, who has already appeared in a further two novels since this one was published last year. An extremely driven detective, but with problems of her own to deal with, she has a good team to work with and they set to the task at hand in trying to figure out just who is behind this, and what connection there may be between victims, in order that can track down the person responsible before anyone else dies.

Arguably Grace goes off to handle things on her own a little too often, but that does not detract from the story. In fact, whilst there are a couple of small plot holes, and one or two situations that stretch believability a little, the story – and it is a rather complex one – is laid out gradually and very cleverly, leading to a really good read and a pretty satisfying ending.

There are enough red herrings here to keep you guessing, so that when the killer is unmasked it’s unlikely that you’ll have worked it out in advance – I certainly hadn’t!

IDShot_540x540I look forward to catching up with DI Grace in her further adventures…

The Pale Emperor

Manson-nowy-albumControversial rocker Marilyn Manson has just released his latest album, “The Pale Emperor”, his ninth studio album and first since 2012’s “Born Villain”

Manson, self-styled “God Of Fuck”, has been on somewhat of a commercial, and in my opinion, creative decline since “The Golden Age Of Grotesque” way back in 2003 – I certainly don’t feel that the three subsequent albums (“Eat Me, Drink Me”, “The High End Of Low” and “Born Villain”) have come close to matching “The Golden Age Of Grotesque” in terms of content. How, then, does “The Pale Emperor” fare in comparison?

Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson

Given that we have been promised a return to form more than once in recent years, only to be sadly disappointed, it was a very pleasant experience sitting down and listening to the new record from start to finish.

Whilst there is nothing quite up to the standard of “mOBSCENE” or “This Is The New Shit”, this is still a very good album, with distinct echoes of Manson’s earlier work together with touches of “Songs Of Faith And Devotion”-era Depeche Mode, from the lead track “Killing Strangers”, through the single “Deep Six” and standout cuts such as “The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles”, “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”, “Cupid Carries A Gun” and my personal favourite “The Devil Beneath My Feet”

Looks like Manson has made good on his promise of a return to form at last!

2hoy7nn“The Pale Emperor” tracklist:

1. Killing Strangers / 2. Deep Six / 3. Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge / 4. The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles / 5. Warship My Wreck / 6. Slave Only Dreams To Be King / 7. The Devil Beneath My Feet / 8. Birds Of Hell Awaiting / 9.  Cupid Carries A Gun / 10. Odds Of Even / 11. Day 3 / 12. Fated, Faithful, Fatal / 13. Fall Of The House Of Death

His Business Is Murder

“A disgraced college lecturer is found murdered with £5,000 in his pocket on a disused railway line near his home. Since being dismissed from his job for sexual misconduct four years previously, he has been living a poverty-stricken and hermit-like existence in this isolated spot.

The suspects range from several individuals at the college where he used to teach to a woman who knew the victim back in the early ’70s at Essex University, then a hotbed of political activism. When Banks receives a warning to step away from the case, he realises there is much more to the mystery than meets the eye – for there are plenty more skeletons to come out of the closet…”

ChildrenRevolution

“Children Of The Revolution” is the twenty first novel in the Alan Banks series, penned by Yorkshire novelist Peter Robinson.

I first discovered Robinson’s books, and therefore Alan Banks, when I picked up a copy of “Aftermath” way back in 2001, which was already book twelve in the series. I have since caught up on the previous stories, and made sure to read every one published since.

It’s taken me a while to get to this one, simply because I have so many (too many?) books waiting to be read on my Kobo – including book twenty two “Abattoir Blues”. This is doubtless a by-product of the obsessive side to my personality, which is also responsible for the size of my music library (which contains enough music to take the best part of two years, listening 24 hours per day, to listen to each album once!)

So, back to the matter at hand. Did this novel work, and does it stand up against the previous instalments? Well – I guess to be honest it’s yes and no!

Gavin Miller is the disgraced college lecturer found dead on the disused railway line, and it’s not immediately clear whether his death is the result of an accident or foul play – but the evidence suggests the latter so DCI Banks and his team begin to investigate Miller and his background.

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson

Before long there are two main strands of investigation taking place – the first into former colleagues and students at the college where Miller was accused of sexual misconduct and sacked, and the second into his past at Essex University some forty years previously, which brings Banks into contact with, and indeed conflict with, some rich and powerful figures.

Despite being warned off from pursuing the latter strand, Banks continues with his investigations, aided by DI Annie Cabbot, DS Winsome Jackman and DC Gerry Masterton, convinced that there is more to things than meet the eye.

We then delve into the worlds of Marxist students, dope smoking Grateful Dead fans and striking miners in the early 70s, romance novelists, politicians, and the thorny issue of accusations of sexual misconduct in the modern day.

As usual there is detailed descriptions of the various settings, plenty of references to Banks’ musical tastes, and some very well plotted twists and turns. There were any number of potential killers revealed throughout the book, so that when the actual murderer was exposed in the closing stages it hadn’t been obvious since early on.

However, I felt that there were perhaps a few too many mentions of Banks’ son and his successful rock band – indeed it seemed that nearly everyone Banks questioned knew of both father and son, which is perhaps a little unlikely. There wasn’t much in the way of action, really, but I guess that is often the case in a murder investigation – lots of theories and interviews hopefully leading to finding the guilty party.

91Vr6kI4XuL._SL1500_Additionally, the budding romance in the final pages felt even less likely – though I’m sure many men of Banks’ age would have liked to have found themselves in his shoes at that point! Wishful thinking on the part of the author perhaps?

All in all, then, a great read and a good story, provided that you take some of the interactions at face value and don’t think too deeply about them!

I will be interested to see if the series picks up when I delve into “Abattoir Blues”…

1995 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

“It was twenty years ago today…” so go the lyrics to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Well, it may not be to the day, but it’s now twenty years since 1995 – although it doesn’t feel like it!

I’ve been thinking for a while about posting an irregular series on the subject of my favourite ten albums from a particular year, and figure that 1995 is as good a place to start as any other.

So here, in no particular order (it’s hard enough to narrow my choices down to the small number required for this as it is!) I present for you, my favourite ten albums of 1995…

1. Bon Jovi “These Days”

Bon Jovi - These Days
Bon Jovi – These Days

This was Bon Jovi’s sixth studio album. The first since 1992’s “Keep The Faith” and the departure of long serving bass player Alec John Such, this release is generally regarded to be the band’s darkest record to date.

Five hit singles were released in the UK, all but one reaching the top 10 (“Hey God” made number 13). A consistently good record, there isn’t a duff track here, highlights include “This Ain’t A Love Song”, “(It’s Hard) Letting You Go”, “Something For The Pain” and the title track with my favourite being “My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms”

2. Gary Moore “Blues For Greeny”

Gary Moore - Blues For Greeny
Gary Moore – Blues For Greeny

Gary Moore’s third album since the former Thin Lizzy guitarist’s career had seen him turning from hard rock to blues, this one saw him paying tribute to Peter Green, founder of Fleetwood Mac.

The album is made up solely of cover versions of tracks written by Green. As always, Moore’s guitar playing is excellent – superb technique and sublime feel, with “Driftin'”, “I Loved Another Woman” and “The Supernatural” being personal highlights – the latter showcasing the stunning sustain that Moore was able to wring from his instrument.

3. James House “Days Gone By”

James House - Days Gone By
James House – Days Gone By

I first began to appreciate country music in the early 90s, thanks in no small part to cable TV channel CMT. One of the artists that I was introduces to through CMT was James House, an American country artist. “Days Gone By” was his third album, features backing vocals from country stars Raul Malo of The Mavericks and Trisha Yearwood, and is full of absoultely brilliant songs, half of which were released as singles in the US. My favourite tracks are the fantastic “Little By Little”, “A Real Good Way To Wind Up Lonesome” and the biggest hit “This Is Me Missing You”

4. AC/DC “Ballbreaker”

AC/DC - Ballbreaker
AC/DC – Ballbreaker

The first new AC/DC album in five years, “Ballbreaker” is just what you would expect from the band. The record was produced by the founder of Def Jam Records, Rick Rubin, a man known for revitalising many of the acts he had produced.

This album contains the usual mix of catchy riffs, solid rhythm section, Angus Young’s lead guitar work and Brian Johnson’s gruff deliver of some gloriously non politically correct lyrics, particularly on tracks such as “Cover You In Oil”! Other highlights include the number one single “Hard As A Rock” and “Hail Caesar”

5. Oasis “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?”

Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory?
Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?

Recorded at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?” was the second album by Oasis, and easily their best – by my reckoning at least. In 1995 Oasis became one of the biggest bands in the UK, and they enjoyed no less than six single releases from this album – although two only reached the lower end of the charts, there were two number 1 hits (“Some Might Say” and “Don’t Look Back In Anger”) and two made number 2 (“Roll With It” and “Wonderwall”), and the album itself went on to sell in the region of 22 million copies. A record that can truly be described as a modern classic.

6. Paul Weller “Stanley Road”

Paul Weller - Stanley Road
Paul Weller – Stanley Road

The third solo album from Paul Weller, former frontman of The Jam and The Style Council, “Stanley Road” features guest appearances from Noel Gallagher (Oasis) and Steve Winwood (Spencer Davis Group / Traffic).

Aside from great numbers such as “The Changingman”, “Broken Stones”, “Porcelain Gods” and “Out Of The Sinking”, Weller’s finest hour also includes the beautiful “You Do Something To Me”

7. Shania Twain “The Woman In Me”

Shania Twain - The Woman In Me
Shania Twain – The Woman In Me

The second country album to feature here, Shania Twain’s “The Woman In Me” was here second album release. However, whereas her first album two years earlier had contained generic country, and only one co-write credit for Twain, this time she co-wrote all but two tracks, and was solely credited for one of the others. The other huge difference was the involvement of legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC / Def Leppard / Bryan Adams). Lange was heavily involved in the writing as well as producing the album, and as a result of their mutual efforts the record went on to sell around 20 million copies and spawned eight hit singles, including three number 1 singles in the US. It would be three more years before pop remixes saw Twain become a big hit in the UK, but for those of us aware of her in ’95, this album shone with diamonds including “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”, “You Win My Love”, “Any Man Of Mine”, “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You)” and “(If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here!”

8. UFO “Walk On Water”

UFO - Walk On Water
UFO – Walk On Water

Although not a commercial success, this album from legendary British hard rock band UFO was notable for the return of lead guitarist Michael Schenker to the band, alongside singer Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way, drummer Andy Parker and keyboard/guitar player Paul Raymond for the first time since the late 70s.

Although he subsequently left again just a handful of shows into the band’s world tour (before returning, leaving, returning… on and off until finally leaving again in 2003), the guitarist’s presence lifted the band and they produced their strongest album for a while. My favourite tracks are “Venus”, “Pushed To The Limit” and “Running On Empty”, and the inclusion of re-recordings of two of the group’s classic songs (“Doctor Doctor” and “Lights Out”) doesn’t hurt – though the “bonus tracks”, one each from Mogg/Way, Michael Schenker Group and the Paul Raymond Project are rather out of place.

9. Brother Cane “Seeds”

Brother Cane - Seeds
Brother Cane – Seeds

Probably the least known album (and band) here, “Seeds” was the second album from US southern rock band Brother Cane. Led by singer / guitarist Damon Johnson, the band had a degree of success in the US, with lead single from this album reaching the number 1 spot, although the album itself didn’t fare too well. A shame, as it’s full of great tracks like “Kerosene”, “And Fools Shine On” and “Hung On A Rope”. Johnson has since played with Alice Cooper before becoming a member of Thin Lizzy / Black Star Riders.

10. Prince “The Gold Experience”

Prince - The Gold Experience
Prince – The Gold Experience

Released during the time when Prince had fallen out with his record label, Warner Bros., and adopted an unpronounceable symbol as his name, “The Gold Experience” was arguably the last really great album released by him. Although not as strong as 91’s “Diamonds & Pearls” or 92’s “Symbol”, and certainly not as good as 87’s “Sign O’ The Times”, there is some excellent material on offer here – “Endorphinmachine”, “Pussy Control”, hit single “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” and “Shhh” all being classic Prince tracks.

So there we have it – my top ten albums of 1995. A year in which John Major was British Prime Minister, Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League, and top film releases included “Die Hard 3”, “Toy Story” and “GoldenEye”…

Revenge Is All She Has Left

“88” is a 2015 thriller film, directed by April Mullen and written by Tim Doiron.

88

The movie opens with a brief description of what a fugue state is – basically a variant of amnesia with the addition of possible auditory and visual hallucinations.

Katharine Isabelle
Katharine Isabelle

We are then introduced to Gwen, played by Katharine Isabelle (“Ginger Snaps”, “American Mary”) in a roadside diner, who seemingly suddenly finds herself in such a state. Dropping her bag on the floor, when she goes to pick it up and replace the contents she discovers a handgun. Totally confused, things very quickly get a whole lot worse for Gwen thanks to the presence of some cops in the diner.

April Mullen, Tim Doiron & Katharine Isabelle
April Mullen, Tim Doiron & Katharine Isabelle

We then join Gwen on a violent journey through two different timelines running throughout the film, as she tries to figure out who is responsible for the death of her boyfriend. Along the way she is joined by Ty (played by writer Tim Dorion).

Katharine Isabelle
Katharine Isabelle

The character of Gwen is almost never off screen during the whole film, and credit must be given to Katharine Isabelle who does an excellent job of portraying her character – both in her confused, fugue state and as her normal self – two very different, but believably played, personalities.

Christopher Lloyd & April Mullen
Christopher Lloyd & April Mullen

88 also stars Christopher Lloyd (“Back To The Future”, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”) as Cyrus, a nasty piece of work who eventually proves to have a pivotal role in events.

88 is a fun and interesting way of spending 88 minutes (yes, it really does run for that time!) featuring plenty of guns, cops, semi-dressed girls, milk, and plenty of switching between timelines. Although it threatens to get confusing at times, it plays out really well at the end when the two timelines finally converge and everything becomes clear.

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