Putting the D in the P: Last Night(ish) on Death in Paradise (Series 6 Episode 6)

Putting the D in the P: Last Night(ish) on Death in Paradise (Series 6 Episode 6)

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Hello and welcome to ‘Putting the D in the P’, my weekly look at the latest episode of Death in ParadiseDeath in Paradise is one of my favourite shows on television, and when casting your eyes down to the article below, just remember that my light-hearted ribbing is coming from a place of love.

So usually I plan out these preambles to the article before I watch the latest episode, and you know, this week I had a pretty good one about advertising. Unfortunately/Fortunately that’ll have to wait till next week as this Death in Paradise provided us with a shake-up that’s only been seen once before.

Kris Marshall is out, and Ardol O’ Hanlon is in. DI Jack Mooney is our new fish out of water on Saint-Marie. While I’ll look more into the (ludicrous) way that happened in the recap, it has to be noted that this is probably a good move. While I think we’ll all have a soft spot for Humph, his methods are rather…well…repetitive. Mooney seems like really unique in comparison. In Part One, we saw him playing good cop to get information out of the suspects, while turning on a dime to remind them who’s boss.

I hope they actually follow through with Mooney and I hope the show actually evolves as a result. Imagine next week, when Mooney finally works it all out and finds out who the killer is, and Florence goes ‘Shall I gather all the suspects together?’ and Mooney goes ‘What? No! Why the fuck would we do that? Let’s just go arrest the killer.’ That would be awesome. It wouldn’t just be hilarious and slightly self-mocking, it would prove the strengths of the show. Characters shouldn’t be slaves to the format. The format should be slave to the characters.

While we won’t know that until next week, we got a slightly muddled Part Two this week. As I feared, the first half of Part One (which took place entirely on Saint-Marie) was almost entirely redundant. Indeed, three of the four original suspects didn’t even appear. While it maybe would have been a little weird (and rather difficult) to loop back to Saint-Marie at the end, it would have felt a little more satisfying.

Instead we get a real feel for what Death in Paradise in London really is (so I guess it’s just Death) and it’s…well it’s just Death in Paradise in London. The same show with the Unique Selling Point wholly ripped out. So, it’s not too hard to imagine how happy I was to return to Saint-Marie at the end, even if we were absent one bumbling Englishman.

Anyway’s all this will be coming up in this week’s Putting the D in the P, so let’s just get to it shall we? (Right, so this is my title. The episodes officially don’t have titles, but for some reason on Wikipedia they do. And they’re shit anyway. Apparently, this one’s called Man Overboard. Well, yeah it’s to do with a boat. But the man was on the boat. Not overboard… Also, the first episode was apparently called Erupting in Murder. Which is the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. I know The Seismic Conundrum wasn’t much better, but at least it made fucking sense. Am I rambling? The doctor told me not to get this worked up about television anymore. Where’s my heart medicine? Let’s just get the show on the road, shall we?)

Series 6 Episode 6: International Waters (Part Two) or The Two Wolves

See, it’s not hard. You don’t have to call a builder anymore, because I’m the one who’s fucking nailing it.

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Ah flashbacks. Don’t you love a good flashback? Well here we have a flashback. But don’t worry if you get time-sick. It’s only like 3 hours earlier. And something’s telling me, it might be important. I mean, there’s no way it could not be relevant right? Anyway this flashback shows our four wbanking friends preparing for a big business deal. You remember these guys from Part One? There’s Frank Henderson, the stern one, Steve Thomas, the one with unfortunate hair, Martin West, the jolly one and Dominic Green, the Disney villain one. Frankie sends them all off to do specific jobs to prepare for the suit’s arrival.

Frankie’s job is to go back to his office and blow his brains out, which I guess helps somehow. (Look, I don’t understand banking, okay.) The cleaner tries to bust down the door when she sees the mess but it’s locked. so Steve Thomas busts it open with a fire extinguisher, macho style. This is when Humph, Florence and Mooney show up. And looks like we’re all caught up!

Frank’s as dead as my ex-wife  disco pants.

Roll dem titles, please!

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Looks like we’ve got a classic locked room mystery on our hands, as the door was locked and the key was in Frank’s pocket. Along with the key is a single cufflink, suggesting the cufflink found on the boat belonged to ol’ Frankie boy. So Frank killed Tom Lewis and then killed himself. Simple. But then Frank’s phone rings and it’s a restaurant in Knightsbridge. Turns out Frank tried to book a table for tonight.

So I guess he wasn’t so killed himself after all.

Time for the group questioning again, but obviously we’re down one man. The remaining three wankers don’t have an alibi for when Frankie was killed. What’s more, the big business deal they were preparing for can’t go through now Frank’s dead. Bummer. Humph lays down the fucking law, when he says the two murders must be linked, meaning Tom and Frank’s murderers are one and the same. Dwayne has to strip the three of them and test their clothes for gunshot residue. (I guess Dwayne’s looking for…the NAKED truth… From the moment we’re born, our bodies begin to die.)

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JP and the Commish find a lockbox on guy-dude’s boat and girl dude tells them where the key is. She also starts shitting herself when she finds out they’ve found the secret compartment and shit tons of bootleg rum. JP opens the box to find the evidence he needs.

Back in London, if Mooney understood all the financial mumbo jumbo properly, it turns out that the big property deal on the cards was to solve a cash flow problem. The dude with the deal Mike Wilson would only deal with Frankie boy, so there’s no way it can happen now. Why would someone kill him before it went through? Florence finds that Frank Henderson was heavily influential in getting Steve Thomas a job. So Steve knew Frank outside of the job…but hasn’t told Humph or Mooney. What a fucking bastard. That’s very deceitful.

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Steve Thomas and Steve Thomas’ hair get grilled by the ULTRA COMBO!!! of Humph and Mooney (playing a game of fumbling cop and off-puttingly eccentric cop). Apparently him and Frankie go waaaaaaaay back to when he was 14. Frank was the family driver or something…I dunno, I kinda stopped listening. That hair is putting me off. Wait I’m back in the room cos Steve just dropped himself right in it. He said Frank was missing the cuffllink, which he was, but Humph and Mooney hadn’t told anyone. What an idiot. Steve tries to damage control but he’s worse at that than he is at dying his hair. Looks like Steve Thomas is our killer.

Back at the station, Dwayne has a little bit of SUB-PLOT when he searches Nelson Myers’ name on the criminal database thingy. Apparently, ol’ Nelly has done a spot of breaking and entering in his time. Also, I’ve got to call bullshit out on myself for one second. So Dwayne’s Aunty Lillibeth and Nelson Myers is her brother. Also, Dwayne MYERS. How the hell did I not realise that last week?? Nelson is Dwayne’s father. Duh! Oh and Florence finds out Frank has been paying a shrink I guess.

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Humph and Mooney are staking out Steve Thomas’ pad and have some bro time. Mooney reveals he lost his wife last year, so it’s just him and his daughter alone now. The topic moves on to Humph’s love life, and the Martha thing. Mooney says something that’s actually profound. A tale of two wolves battling inside every one of us. One being hate, anger, stuff like that and the other being truth, love, hope. The one who wins is the one you feed. This scene is fucking great! I’m not…I know I’ve cultivated a natural sarcasm in these recaps…but I actually mean this. The scene is fantastic. Mooney persuades Humph to go see Martha because he wants his job because he believes in love.

So Humph goes to see Martha, but Martha says they can never be together because each of them belong in different places. No more Humph-ing. Not now. Not ever. Bummer.

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Back on the island, JP has finished searching the lockbox he found on the boat. No clues. But something rattles in the box when he picks it up. There’s a false bottom and under that is an SD card. And on that SD card…the mother-lode!

Back at the London station, Humph is putting on a brave face and just carrying on as usual. Dwayne finds out that Martin West and Dominic Green have been doing some dirty deals, betting on the stocks of the other guy’s company going down. But if the big business deal that was rudely interrupted had gone through the stocks would have gone up… Seems like a good reason for murder. Seems like a good red herring. What’s more Martin West’s fingerprints are on the gun! It’s a red herring you guys. Just a red herring.

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Let’s see what these dipshits have to say for themselves. Turns out it was Martin West’s gun that Frankie boy used to shoot himself – that’s why his fingerprints were on it. Dominic Green seems exasperated that the POLICE would find this stuff out. You know, like simple fingerprinting and background checks. He has a face like a stunned arse when Humph and Florence tell them about their little insider trading. But they turn the tables when they say that Steve Thomas has been the one seeing the psychiatrist and Frankie was paying for it! What’s all this about then?

Mooney’s been sitting in a car for like 16 hours (where did he pee?) and Steve Thomas hasn’t moved. But when Humph gets in the car, they spot Steve in like a minute. I would be fucking pissed if I was Mooney. All fucking night? And as soon as Humph gets back in the car, Steve’s there. Almost like some otherworldly creator made this a plot point. Maybe Mooney doesn’t exist. Maybe he’s an actor called Ardol O’Hanlon. And maybe he’s just following a script. If that’s true, how can we know we’re not characters? And the people playing us are just following a script? What if we’re all played by actors, just in one big movie? So what happens when the movie ends?… Where’s my heart medicine?

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Anyway, it looks like Steve Thomas was going to do a runner. Dwayne goes through his things back at the station. Even his phone. But he hasn’t called anyone of any significance apart from his mom. Steve’s talking out his arse. He had to have killed Frankie, right? But there was no gunshot residue on his hands or clothes. So it can’t have been him. What’s more, there was no residue on the others either. Say wha??

Humph wants to talk to the cleaner again, to see if she has any extra information. He’s sure Steve did it, but how did he pull the trigger if there was no gunshot residue on his hand, and how did he get out of a locked room? But wait a second…the cleaner (Katherine Baxter)’s phone number that she gave the police doesn’t exist. What’s more, there’s no Katherine Baxter working at CityMet bank. Son of a bitch.

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JP and the Commish send over a photo they found on the SD card (because it’s nice for them to feel useful) It’s Tom Lewis with his wife…and his two sons. But in the story Frankie boy told way back in Part One, Tom Lewis only had one son. What’s more, this new other son has really really really terrible hair.

Humph and Mooney collectively loose their shit as they have the revelations together. It’s surprisingly erotic. They know what’s what, and they’re going to set a trap for Frankie Boy’s killer by sending a text on Steve’s phone. Now all they have to do is wait.

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Time for the big finale. So let’s gather all the suspects for one final Humph-ing (I haven’t been Humph-ed in four years three months and two days) and HOLY SHITSTACKS Steve Thomas killed the guy dude. You see, it turns out Steve Thomas is in fact boydude! Seeing Tom Lewis on Saint-Marie and seeing that he didn’t recognise him got him really pissed off. So he killed Tommy and hid in the crawlspace before he made his escape.

And TITS MCCHRISTIE Katherine Baxter is Steve’s mum and she killed Frank Henderson. Katherine Baxter fibbed when she said the door to his office was locked. She shot Frank because he realised what Steve had done and was going to tell everyone. Steve and Katherine then faked that the door was locked, engaging the lock after the door was opened. For the final touch, Steve nicked one of Frank’s cufflinks.

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Jeez! Take them away I guess.

As the team celebrate a job well done, JP gets an exemplary rating on his apprasial from ol’ Commish. Dwayne goes to see his dad Nelson Myers and gets some closure there. And perhaps most importantly, Humph makes a big decision.

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He goes to see Martha because he now knows he would swap the Caribbean for her any day of the week. He makes a big romantic speech in the middle of Martha’s restaurant and she accepts. I haven’t been this happy/sad since I buried my ex-wife alive. And Humph has a plan for his job out in Saint-Marie.

It’s only bloomin’ Mooney. Him and his daughter are now out in the Caribbean because visas don’t exist I guess. The Commish says that they have, in essence, swapped Humph for Mooney. Like an ‘exchange program’. You know what, whatever. I guess….Fine. The episode ends with Mooney and the team toasting to new ludicrous and barely believable adventures.

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Overall, this was a fine episode. It wasn’t fantastic. But it wasn’t bad either. Humph’s exit felt rather rushed, and I would have liked to see him say goodbye to everyone especially Florence. But overall, the change to Mooney seems like it’s going to be a good one. I really like Mooney’s character. He has a dash of sadness about him, having lost his wife, while he takes a fundamentally different approach to cracking a case.

Again, I really hope they capitalise on that and don’t just turn Mooney into an Irish Humph.

(Although I do hope Mooney shares Humph’s love of whiteboards. Love a good whiteboard. #GetYourWhiteboardOn)

UP NEXT: All change! Ties and short sleeve shirts! Festivals! Cold Cases! Perverts!

See you next week!

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The Top 5 Books I Read in 2016

The Top 5 Books I Read in 2016

Ah the holidays. A wonderful time of year, filled with fun, festivities and as many arbitrary and pointless lists as your brain can handle. As dumb as Top 10 lists actually are, there’s something to them, something that even I can’t escape. It’s like those stupid clickbait articles, where you have to click on the link to see which celebrities had a sex change and you don’t know why you’re doing it, but in that moment – that one pre-click moment – you realise that your entire life has been leading up to this point and all you want from now on is indeed to know which celebrities got a sex change. It’s a primal guttural urge. And even though you know, that website’s probably gonna give you malware you have to do it.

Of course Top 10 lists are good for reflection, but every time I read one, I feel it’s probably best experienced by the person who wrote it. This is precisely because they are good for reflection. As the writer, the structured list helps you to organise your thoughts – create your own time capsule of the year – one that you can come back to forever…or at least until Google gets drunk on power and burns the internet down.

So yeah, that’s my long-winded way of saying I’m probably writing this for myself more than you. And I hope that by establishing that upfront, this whole thing is going to feel slightly less masturbatory. But for anyone who does want to wrench their eyes through this list, I guess I better try and make it entertaining. So we’re going to lay down some ground rules here. Because nothing is more entertaining than rules.

This is the Top 5 books I read in 2016. That’s because I actually didn’t read that many books that came out in 2016. I mean, that truly would be a pointless list. Secondly, we’re only going to give an author one slot. Mainly because I don’t want this list to be dominated by Sarah Lotz (although that is a list I could truly get behind). And finally, original review scores are going to be thrown out the window. There’s a few review scores I look back on that I gave, but don’t ring true to how I feel now. Also, if I was just going to list the top 5 from my review scores I wouldn’t have to think about it. It’s just numbers at that point.

Alright, I think we’re ready. So with no further ado, here are the top 5 books I read in 2016:

 

Honourable Mentions: Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (for being a hyped-up novel that actually kinda lived up to the hype), Skios by Michael Frayn (for being an entertaining farce novel) and Animal Farm by George Orwell (of course this would win best book really, but that would be unfair.)

 

5. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

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In a Dark Dark Wood took me by surprise towards the start of this year. In many ways it’s an unremarkable story. A hen party weekend in the middle of a wood goes south when the groom-to-be gets murdered. It’s a classic whodunit but it’s told really well. Ware crafts a great debut using familiar tropes of the genre to tell a solid story.

It’s old-school. A confined location. A limited set of suspects. It has echoes of a Christie novel. The protagonist, Nora, is flawed and convincing – the novel’s greatest strength, as the outsider who gets invited to her old friend’s hen party weekend. The novel explores themes of darkness, not just in the wood that surrounds the house, but in the characters themselves.

It’s not going to blow you away, but In a Dark Dark Wood is a really solid novel. It’s a shame Ware’s second novel The Woman in Cabin 10 burned up a lot of the goodwill I had for her.

 

4. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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The Kind Worth Killing is about a guy called Ted and a plot to kill his cheating wife. At an airport bar, he meets the mysterious Lily, who agrees to help him. One of the beautiful things about this book is how simply it starts, and how quickly it manages to ramp up.

Another big part of The Kind Worth Killing is something I wasn’t able to mention in my review. And I don’t really want to mention it here either. See, The Kind Worth Killing is more three interconnected novellas, than a novel as a whole. Ted’s plight is only Part One. Two thirds of the novel are fantastic, and although the final part seems to get ahead of itself and trip over it’s own feet, it doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment.

The Kind Worth Killing is worth reading….

 

 

…Yougedit?

 

 

3. Slade House by David Mitchell

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So I ended up not reviewing Slade House, mainly because I read it while doing Christmas hours at work. By the time I got a day off to review it, it seemed like the moment had passed. I tend to write a review the second I finish a book so it’s fresh. That was why Slade House fell off.

But that doesn’t mean Slade House isn’t great. A horror novel by David Mitchell, Slade House is about an old quaint manor house that cannot possibly exist. Accessible only through a small door in a dark alley, Slade House sits on land that was built over decades ago. Anyone who sets foot on the grounds of the manor is doomed to be the meals of two powerful entities, Norah and Jonah, a brother and sister who have found the secret of immortality.

Slade House reignited my interest in horror fiction, providing a set of vignettes about the various victims to fall prey of Norah and Jonah’s facades. It’s not perfect in any way, but I found it to be a enthralling and captivating read.

And it’s real spooky.

 

2. The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

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The Burning Air was the first book I read this year. And it was almost the best. The Burning Air is a brutal revenge story centered around one family and their secrets. It’s beautifully written, packing in an insane amount of content in a way other authors rarely manage. There’s something almost An Inspector Calls-ish about the unfurling of the mystery, which sees the reader spending years with the characters. By the end, they almost feel like your own family. Which makes the final act all the more tense.

The Burning Air is a standard length novel, but it’s so rich and detailed that it feels a lot longer (in a really good way though). And the title actually makes sense after you’ve read it.

Simply put, The Burning Air is phenomenal.

 

1. Day Four by Sarah Lotz

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Hot damn, Sarah Lotz is an amazing writer. Her high-concept, multi-layered novels had me giddy with excitement when I found them in the middle of the year. Her debut, The Three, was a world-encompassing science fiction thriller about creepy children that inexplicably survived separate plane crashes. It was fantastic, but Lotz’s follow-up Day Four just edged it.

In Day Four, the passengers on a cruise ship start to come down with a mysterious illness. Through the eyes of five protagonists, we see the horror unfold as the ship’s engines fail and the situation goes from bad to worse. Toying with sci-fi horror elements, Day Four can be deeply unsettling.

The best part? Day Four exists in the same universe as The Three, and the story manages to tie itself in with the events of it’s predecessor.  It seems that Lotz is laying the groundwork for something big. Even bigger than the end of Day Four which is pretty mind-blowing in it’s own right.

Sarah Lotz’s writing and storytelling excited me in a way nothing else did in 2016. It speaks to me as a reader and as a writer. Ratchet everything up to 11 straight away for maximum entertainment and fun. The Three and Day Four are massively entertaining and it’s easy to tell that Lotz is having a great time writing it.

Day Four is, without question, my favourite book of 2016.

 

And there we have it. But the festivities aren’t over. Tomorrow, I will be braving the garbage fire and looking at the 5 worst books I read in 2016 and oh boy, is it a doozy!

City Crime 2016 Anthology By Various Review – A Book of Chapter Ones

City Crime 2016 Anthology By Various Review – A Book of Chapter Ones

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So I just finished reading the City Crime 2016 Anthology and of course this isn’t really a review. If nothing else, there’s a rather significant conflict of interest here… seeing as I wrote 1/16th of it. See, this isn’t a book you’ll ever read. You’ve never seen it before and you’ll never see it again. You’ll never read what’s inside. But for at least 16 people (myself included) this book means something. It represents a significant part of our lives. Hundreds and thousands of hours of work. Two years of hard graft. Working and reworking and reworking until we forgot what we were doing in the first place. Sixteen novels that are, at the very least, complete.

For the last two years, I have been sitting a Masters in Creative Writing (Crime) at City University London. Before that I had written three novels, all of which were comedies. The first was called Sculpture to a Block of Marble and was inspired by my school life. No one’ll ever see it, because I pretty much copied the style of Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came To The End. (I never told my family that. They just thought I was being clever) It was also slightly more depressing than I intended. The other two – The Dog That Turned Into A Cat and Amateurs are actually available to read and they’re about a heartbroken young boy taking drastic measures to protect himself and my observations about being part of an amateur theatre group respectively. They’re not phenomenal by any means, and I wouldn’t necessarily advise seeking them out. But they’re things what I did. So I guess that’s a good thing.

Starting the MA course was interesting because I had to totally switch genre. Turns out, it wasn’t so hard. I think because one of the key components of my comedy was parody and satire, aping concepts and aspects of other genres. So maybe at the start, I was basically parodying crime fiction, just without the jokes. But quickly enough I was actually writing crime, something which I had only read before. I started to use my love of Christie and Conan Doyle (and my inherent love of showing off) to craft something impossible. It’s brash, it’s a little silly, but it’s (at least I hope) a lot of fun. A high-concept thriller called Dead Room, a novel which takes place (almost) entirely in one hotel room. To quote an agent I recently had a conversation with, it’s ‘Saw meets And Then There Were None’ (or at least it will be in a few edits time) I did four drafts of Dead Room during the course, each clocking in at around 80,000 words. I probably poured at least 500 hours into each. That’s a big thing. At times, I was spending more time with my fictional characters than I was actual humans.

Why am I telling you all this? It’s just an example. The anthology is the collection of the starts of all sixteen students’ novels. That’s sixteen stories like mine. Not the novels. The stories behind the stories. Sixteen two years. And what we made of them. And the anthology also represents whats to come. Sixteen potential careers. Some of us will keep trying. Some of us will give up. Some of us will keep writing for the joy of it. And some of us might never write again> Some of us might even get published. So this is truly a book of chapter ones. A book of beginnings. But they’re not necessarily the beginnings on the pages.

That’s what I feel when I look at this book. This big dumb book that won’t mean a thing to most people. A sense of pride – not just for me but for everyone. And I wish everyone all the luck in the world, because the number one thing I learnt on the MA is that getting published is damn hard. Sometimes it’s not just about writing talent. There’s a lot of luck involved, a good sense of timing, sending off to the right agent in the light of a full moon after sacrificing a lamb atop a mountain. We need all the luck we can get.

What does this mean for you, reader? Nothing really. I’m going to continue running this blog with the bald-faced passion that I hope sufficiently comes across. And every time I tear someone’s work apart just remember I would only expect the same for my own book. And remember that I love fiction. I love it so much I want it to be better. I want every book to earn it’s right to be essential. Because when it comes down to it, stories are the best human invention. And I enjoy every one of them.

 

 

Even Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham.

 

 

Which was fucking shite.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey Review – Zombies!!! (I guess…)

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey Review – Zombies!!! (I guess…)

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So I’ve just finished reading The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey and for about 99% of the novel, I despised it. The first thing your eyes are probably drawn to on the cover is the woefully misguided phrase ‘The Most Original Thriller You’ll Read This Year’ above the title. I was questioning this sentiment throughout the entire thing and going ‘Really? Fucking really?’ Did marketing have to skimp on printing costs and cut a U and an N from the front of the word Original. Maybe it was all about cover symmetry – like the extra letters threw it off-centre creating a more displeasing composition? Now, I get this phrase is kinda worthless because it doesn’t have quotation marks around it – therefore it was just thought up by some marketing arsehole. But still ‘Really? Fucking really?’

Because you see The Girl With All The Gifts is another one of those zombie novels. And in my opinion, anything with zombies in it lost it’s right to call itself original around about 2010. Zombies are everywhere, penetrating every part of our culture, be it film, television, books, or video games – so much so that it can sometimes feel like we’re living in some kind of zombie invasion ourselves. Let’s take a look at some of the most egregious examples of things with zombies in, shall we my lovelies?

You got Plants Vs ZombiesiZombie (a TV show about a zombie detective). Warm Bodies (a story about zombies who fall in love). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the book. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the movie. Cockneys Vs ZombiesWorld War Z the film (which trashed the book to make a completely generic film). Call of Duty: Zombies Mode. Marvel Comics: Zombies miniseries (with a zombie Spider-Man). The UK government’s Zombie Defence Plan (it’s real). Fear The Walking Dead (a bad TV show spin off of a bad TV show). Those bath salts from America that make you want to eat people’s faces (also real). And whatever Resident Evil film they’re up to now. My point is that zombies have lost whatever horror or shock value they once had. They’re just incredibly old hat and kinda dumb. So much so that even the people writing these things are starting to see how silly they are – and you know that they’re usually the last to figure it out.

To bring this back to The Girl With All The Gifts what I found was a mostly generic and rather dull zombie story that not only used the concepts of a traditional zombie story, but also hit all the supplementary beats you would expect. For example, the not calling zombies zombies cliche (they are called ‘hungries’ here). Of course this whole thing comes with a giant asterisk, in that in the final 1% of the book The Girl With All The Gifts delivers an ending that is very interesting and recontextualises some of the major things that came before it. It’s sad that a little more of that intrigue and ingenuity couldn’t have been spread throughout, because I don’t think it’s worth wading through the preceding 450 pages to get to it.

The Girl With All The Gifts follows Melanie, a child who is imprisoned in a military camp. Every day, she gets strapped into a chair and taken to a classroom, with other children similarly restrained. A teacher comes in to give the children a lesson, and if it’s a lucky day it’s a woman called Miss Justineau. Melanie likes Mrs Justineau the most, because she is kind and loving and tells them the best stories. But quickly we find out that this isn’t a regular class and these aren’t regular kids – they’re half zombie and are on the base to be experimented on by sinister scientist Dr Caroline Caldwell. Justineau regularly argues with Caldwell about the treatment of the children, while Caldwell and armyman Seargent Parks remain resolute – the children are monsters. But when the base gets invaded by a swarm of zombies, Justineau and Melanie find themselves thrust together with Caldwell, Parks and armyboy Gallagher as they flee, having to fight for survival beyond the base’s walls.

The idea of human-hybrid-zombies is not particularly new, and the idea of a child being the cure is even less so, but The Girl With All The Gifts does explore the idea a bit more in-depth than most. Melanie has to come to terms with the fact that she is not human, and that she will most likely knaw her favourite teacher’s face off is she got the chance. Melanie is an interesting character, but her arc wavers a bit too much, treading water until a final gutpunch. And that’s a big problem with The Girl With All The Gifts. Characters don’t really change and they’re all rather one note. Melanie loves Mrs Justineau. Mrs Justineau will do anything to protect Melanie. Caldwell will sacrifice anything in the name of science. Parks is a proud man bound to his station. Gallagher is a scaredy cat. That’s all you really need to know.

Another big issue with The Girl With All The Gifts ties into an even bigger one. I don’t like the writing at all. The opening chapters relinquish any type of nuance or subtlety, feeling like Carey is shouting the story into your ear and making sure you ‘get it’. The question of what the children are is resolved quickly, where it could have been left in the wind for a while, leaving readers to puzzle it out. There’s a terrible early chapter where Caldwell and Justineau have a conversation about the zombie virus which screams ‘EXPOSITION’. It doesn’t get much better either. All this added up to me being extremely bored while reading The Girl With All The Gifts. I wasn’t given anything to emotionally or cognitively challenge me. The entire story was laid out for me, and I didn’t have to do any of the work, leading to it all feeling dull as dishwater.

Carey chooses to tell the story in a rather bizarre way. We get present tense and an omniscient narrator. We’re constantly popping around character’s head willy nilly, bouncing around like a goddamn pinball machine. I don’t like pinball so this was a problem for me. One minute we’re inside Melanie’s head and then we’re inside Parks’ head and then we’re inside Justineau’s head. And that’s without any chapter or paragraph breaks. And this happens all throughout the novel, leading to the problem that I don’t actually know who the main character of this story is. Is it Justineau – as she tries to shield Melanie from the world? Is it Caldwell – who is hellbent on understanding the virus? Is it Melanie – because she’s the one mentioned in the blurb? Probably  – but I don’t know for sure.

The characters sometimes get a little annoying. Seeing as they don’t really have arcs or any kind of complex emotional tapestry, they seem to end up repeating themselves a lot. Justineau is a particular sufferer of this, as she complains every single time Parks wants to tie Melanie up – because you know, she’s a zombie. Justineau gets so goddamn annoying, that any sympathies for her character go out the window, and that’s ironic seeing as I wish someone had thrown her out the window. Yes, there is an argument for Justineau’s blind loyalty being essential during the late-game but it still doesn’t make it any better while experiencing it. Just shut up, Justineau. Shut up. Even when Melanie’s like ‘Yeah you should tie me up, I am a motherfucking zombie after all.’ Justineau still complains. Arrrgh!

The Girl With All The Gifts trundles along to a conclusion that, in some ways, it doesn’t earn. But to be entirely fair, it’s definitely neat (although I probably wouldn’t go as far as ‘cool’). Everything you’d think would be in this zombie book is here – people getting bitten and contemplating their existence as they slowly turn, self-sacrifice, a tense trip into a zombie-populated area, a clear set-up of the zombie ‘rules’ and a terribly shoe-horned in romantic subplot because fuck it, right? There are neat things in The Girl With All The Gifts but unless you really love zombies, it’s not worth reading it to find them.

This might be the first and last time I ever say this, but if you really want to consume The Girl With All The Gifts I would probably just go and see the film instead. I haven’t seen it but I assume it’ll follow the story, and you can’t stop a film in the cinema. Like it’s just going to keep going in front of your eyeballs, and you can’t put it down like a book.

 

In Short…

The Girl With All The Gifts is an underwhelming and frequently annoying zombie tale that doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the crowd. Yes, it’s got a girl who’s half zombie in it, but that’s not enough to combat every time this novel falls back into cliche. One dimensional characters have the same conversations over and over, or worse they drop heavy-handed exposition to anyone who’ll listen. The ending is interesting and offers up some questions – it’s just sad that the rest of the novel couldn’t be imbued with that spirit.

 

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. CAREY

3.5/10

 

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle Review – The Dirtbag Chronicles

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle Review – The Dirtbag Chronicles

the-good-liar

So I’ve just finished reading The Good Liar by Nichloas Searle and it ain’t no lie (huh, huh???) to say that it’s pretty alright. The Good Liar is the first book I’ve read for this blog since getting a new job so I digested it (comparatively to the other books I’ve reviewed) rather slowly. Reading a chapter here and there on lunch breaks probably did the book a lot of favours, as looking back, if I’d read it all in one day, I doubt it would have left much of an impact. But as I consumed it, The Good Liar was a sufficiently intriguing and compelling read. Even if there are some caveats.

The Good Liar follows an old conman called Roy Courtenay who’s out to do one last con before he retires. He meets a woman, Betty, on a dating site and then organises a date. The two hit it off and begin a relationship. But Roy only has eyes for her money. So why is Betty making it so easy for him to get it?

The Good Liar has two narrative strands – the first is in the present day where Roy is planning his last con, and the second is in a backwards past where we see Roy’s life before his current conquest, and learn how he became such a bastard. In the present narrative, we also see things from Betty’s point of view as things become a little more than they first seem.

The main issue with The Good Liar is that it’s way too predictable. You can easily guess the thrust of the narrative from the blurb alone, and it’s an age old story – the conman getting conned. Betty is not what she first seems (because of course she’s not) and Roy’s plan is not as secure as he would like to think (because of course it’s not). If the story acknowledged this at the start, it would have been fine but it’s not totally upfront with it, placing the reader ahead of the narrative for much of the novel. If it had owned what it was at the start, I feel it would have been better off.

Of course, ‘why’ is still a mystery, and The Good Liar keeps it’s box of secrets well. And it was definitely compelling to try and puzzle out what was happening. In Roy’s past, we see, theoretically at least, what happens to make him such a dirtbag. But I felt that Roy, as a character, was pretty much fully formed from the start. It’s hard to go into it without spoilers but Roy doesn’t really have an arc…at all. He was always a dirtbag. He is still a dirtbag. There isn’t much to find out, which makes the past chapters a little dull. He cons people – that’s pretty much the sum of all of it. Eventually things hot up as Roy’s origins are revealed, but still it feels a little slow and flat because there’s nothing changing.

Of course, Roy is a horrible person. And as the novel goes along, he only gets worse. So our protagonist turns out to be our antagonist. And our ‘antagonist’ (to Roy) being Betty, turns out to be our protagonist I guess… It’s just a weirdly shifting story where we don’t really get enough of a grip on any of the characters. I guess what I mean is that it feels rather thin.

I don’t think The Good Liar is as clever as it thinks it is. As most of the books I’ve reviewed in 2016, I compare it to The Burning Air by Erin Kelly, a novel that has similar themes of revenge and anger over generations. That novel felt so rich – there was so much content in it, so much story. The Good Liar by comparison feels too light, too obvious. Even the title, The Good Liar, is a bit bland and bleugh.

Saying all that though, I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy The Good Liar. The mystery kept me intrigued enough to see it through to the end, and every lunch break I was, at the very least, compelled to see what was going on with Roy and Betty. If anything, when things ramp up towards the end, it seems to lose some of it’s charm. But still, The Good Liar was a competent and interesting novel.

 

In Short…

The Good Liar is a good lunch break read over a few weeks. You don’t have to think about it too much and you don’t have to retain much information. But The Good Liar never manages to elevate itself much beyond that. It’s rather too obvious and rather too plain – even when it attempts to shock. The tale of a conman being conned is just that… and that’s fine I guess, as long as you don’t expect anything better than that.

 

THE GOOD LIAR by NICHOLAS SEARLE

6/10

 

 

 

 

One of Us (BBC) Review – The Hottest Garbage

One of Us (BBC) Review – The Hottest Garbage

one-of-us-1

One of Us is the worst crime drama since I made that 90-minute YouTube video of my guinea pigs re-enacting the Rolf Harris trial. And, at least that had some kind of narrative consistency… But all jokes aside, One of Us is painfully bad – less of a drama and more a string of incomprehensibly bad decisions made by a cast of stupid characters. Almost every plot point is baffling. I can only assume it got made because someone high up in the BBC looked at the one sentence logline, thought it sounded ‘a bit Agatha Christie’ (and people (deservedly) liked that And Then There Were None mini-series), and greenlit it without a further thought. Indeed, at the outset, One of Us could have been Christie levels of clever and awesome, but it wasn’t. And it isn’t. At all. And I guess I better explain myself. Or it’s just gonna sound like I’m moaning. Let’s dive in to this shit-pot, shall we?

It’s probably important to note this review will include spoilers – but only the ones I need to illustrate my point. It probably will include the ending though. You don’t need to wait for my review score to know that I wouldn’t recommend watching this, and even if you do, spoilers might actually make it better.

One of Us is an initially intriguing premise, and the first few trailers really capitalized on it. I was really looking forward to it. It’s quite a simple concept. What if the man who killed a member of your family ended up on your doorstep the very same day? Of course, someone ends up killing him. But no one knows who? Two families united by the union of their children – now dead – are torn apart, forced into covering up a murder . When I saw that first trailer with the gruff threatening tag ‘One of us did this. One of us right here.’ I really thought it might be something special, but it didn’t take long for One of Us to fall apart.

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Everything that happens in One of Us is so bewildering that it’s hard to believe the script was written by actual humans. Straight off the bat, the premise is rather unbelievable. The writers are already asking the viewer to suspend their disbelief a little bit, as the killer of the two love-birds Adam and Grace, just happens to crash right outside the farm of the two families. Of course, things do come around and make a bit more sense in the end, but that doesn’t change how it feels at the start. Everything else in One of Us had to be incredibly strong to counteract the feeling it was always going to be a little silly. And of course, it wasn’t strong enough.

From the very first episode, One of Us seems to want to force a seemingly unrelated subplot about drugs down your eyeholes. Laura Fraser’s police detective sells drugs to an Edinburgh dealer to raise money for her daughter’s operation, and things start to spiral out of control. We’re given little to no reason to care about it at all, and I started to question what I was even watching. Especially by the end, where the completely unrelated drug subplot was revealed to be (drumroll) COMPLETELY UNRELATED. Seriously, what the fuck?

Similarly stupid things happen in the main plot. You see, One of Us isn’t actually set in the real world. It’s set in a fantasy land, where police don’t check phone records, and the most reasonable character will turn around and allude to murder…on a Facebook message (because that’s not trackable at all) or an actual member of the families will just own up to everything to police and expect no repercussions whatsoever. Or such a person will be absolved immediately by the most unlikely person. Sure, these things are supposed to be justified with a little thing called Character, but the characters of One of Us are hardly interesting, fitting cookie cutter moulds easily.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 30/08/2016 - Programme Name: One of Us - TX: 06/09/2016 - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Claire Elliot (JOANNA VANDERHAM) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Hal Shinnie

One of Us gets cluttered and convoluted, when it could have been oh so simple (and oh so good). Revelations come thick and fast (in the place of actual plot development). Things get so outlandish that when the big bombshell drops at the end (and it is one fucking dumb bombshell) it doesn’t feel out of place at all – in fact the characters seem to agree because they don’t seem to care that much. Multiple people are having multiple affairs. People are hacking into people’s computers. There’s at least one serious disease being kept on the hush hush. And that’s without even mentioning any of the Looney Tunes shenanigans that happen in the final episode. All of this prevents us engaging with the thing that we came to see. The thing that was advertised. A murder in a barn with a list of viable suspects – a family unit who are forced to suspect each other.

The ending was incredulous. That’s about the only way I can describe it. It seemed to almost own how stupid it was (like did they know?? did they get how dumb this all was??) But when we finally got the ending reveal and the villain of the piece gave his/her closing monologue explaining everything…I was just glad it was all over.

It isn’t all dreary. The cast, for the most part, is good. Joe Dempsie and Joanna Vanderham are the standouts as Rob and Claire Elliot and whenever they’re on screen things are a bit more bearable. Vanderham suffers because of the stupid things her character does, but it’s hardly her fault. Adrian Edmondson is actually great as, arguably, the most interesting character, the estranged father who has to deal with losing a child. Unfortunately, he’s only in about three scenes. Also, Laura Fraser’s good in everything but her police detective character here is just so separated from the story, it’s hard to really engage with her. Elsewhere, there’s a showcase of bad to terrible Scottish accents which at least make things amusing.

One of Us could have worked one of two ways. One, it should have been a ninety minute drama set in one location (the barn) with maybe one police character. It could have been a modern The Mousetrap. The other way it could have worked (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) is if it was longer. If it was at least Broadchurch length, it could have spent more time with the characters and spaced out the revelations a little more. Of course, it would have had to be entirely rewritten as well.

As it is, One of Us is a complete disaster, and I have to place the blame completely on the writers’ doorstep. I can’t even begin to fathom what was even the intention here…because it’s so sporadic and unwieldy and weird. Was this all some drug-induced fever dream? No…that might have been a little more fun.

 

In Short…

One of Us is a trainwreck of a crime drama that reaches heights of dumbness that I don’t actually think I’ve seen before. Parts of it come off as parody and even more parts come off as a tragedy of the writersroom. Too many concepts and plotlines are stuffed into a four-part series that should have been clean and simple. The cast tries their best with what they’re given but not much can mask the fact that One of Us is unenjoyable, incredulous rubbish.

 

ONE of US (BBC)

2/10

 

Born Scared by Kevin Brooks Review – Absolutely Everything

Born Scared by Kevin Brooks Review – Absolutely Everything

Thank you to Netgalley and Egmont Publishing for sending me an advance copy of Born Scared for review…

born scared

So I’ve just finished reading Born Scared by Kevin Brooks and initially it was pretty good, in a kind of surface way. The novel seemed to be channelling Home Alone but also making it into something less goofy and more affecting. Unfortunately, just as the novel casts off this homage it turns into something unwieldy, shoving pointless characters into the narrative with an almost gleeful abandon. Born Scared turns into a bit of a mess. Which is a shame because there was definitely something there at one point.

 

Born Scared follows Elliot, a boy who has been scared of absolutely everything ever since he was born. People, animals, cars…even colours seem to scare the bejezzuz out of him and nothing seems to help. He lives out his life in his bedroom shielding himself from the world, only interacting with his mum and his imaginary twin sister, Ellamay. Well, she’s not totally imaginary but she is dead. Ellamay (as Elliot names her) died soon after birth while Elliot survived, and he believes she talks to him in an otherworldly way.

Born Scared takes place on Christmas Eve. Elliot has been put on an anti-anxiety pill, which either actually works or works as a placebo (it’s never really stated and it’s never really important to the story). Moloxetine keeps the fear beast at bay, but due to a cock-up at the pharmacy Elliot finds himself dangerously close to running out of pills. Events transpire and Elliot’s mother has to leave him home alone to go and get the pills. But Mum’s been gone way too long and Elliot has to deal with the prospect of leaving his home to go and find her.

You may not be getting too many Home Alone vibes from that summary, because Born Scared has a parallel plot going on, with two seemingly inept criminals in a van both dressed as Santa Claus scoping out a house. It’s really weird, and it’s not initially clear how this affects the main plotline, especially when it starts intentionally confusing the reader (at least I hope it was intentional). Because the house they’re scoping out isn’t Elliot’s, and the woman they’ve been talking about while in the van is not Elliot’s mother…

Which is the main problem with Born Scared. The abundance of characters gets almost comical at times because by the end, I didn’t really know who the story was meant to be about. Of course, the answer is Elliot – and he is the strongest and most interesting character. But it’s also about these guys, Jenner and Dake, in the van. And then it seems to be also about this guy called Gordon. And then an old couple in a car. And then it’s a little bit about this woman called Kaylee. And then it’s about Shirley. And Grace, Elliot’s mum. And who can forget Officer Annie Hobbes?

Yes, all the characters I just named have their own point of view chapters in Born Scared. And I’m probably forgetting some. Yeah, it’s a little ridiculous. Especially by the later stages of the novel where different point of views are used in the same chapter. The story gets so fragmented and confusing, that I found myself having to read things over several times to actually understand who was being talked about. And I think I’m correct by saying that this story is meant to be about Elliot. And it’s just really frustrating when it’s not. Because I don’t care about Gordon, or Officer Annie Hobbes (definitely the most egregious of the bunch) and it doesn’t seem like we’re meant to. The other characters just serve to take time away from Elliot, who is the biggest strength of this novel.

Unfortunately, as Born Scared skips around characters, it also highlights a few fumbles in the writing. Elliot’s chapters are told from a first person viewpoint in the present tense whilst everyone else is told in third person past tense. This isn’t too bad when each character has their own chapter, but when the viewpoints quickly switch in the final third of the novel, the effect is something like tense whiplash. The story is both existing in the present and past simultaneously and it’s just really confusing.

Born Scared surprised me, but not in a good way. The small tale of a boy with his fears is great, and the first 30%ish of the novel is really solid, but it just becomes something of a jumble. I really didn’t know what to make of it by the end. I felt like Brooks wanted to make me feel something about characters he hadn’t even introduced me to. And Elliot’s journey was just totally lost. Which is kinda sad.

In Short…

Born Scared starts strong, but quickly manages to unravel. The tale of a scared little boy overcoming his illness should have been just that, but an unnecessary amount of minor characters and sub-plots drown it in a flurry of words and tenses. It all adds up to make Born Scared an unbalanced and unfortunate novel which should have been a lot more.

 

BORN SCARED by KEVIN BROOKS

3.5/10