Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book review: Frightmares – A History of British Horror Cinema

FrightmaresOne of the things I love about cinema is the possibility it offers for discovery and immersion in new material and genres.

After a long time consisting on a staple viewing diet of film noir, neo-noir and crime cinema, the last year has seen me delve more into horror. Don’t get me wrong, like many people my age, I have fond memories of watching horror movies on late night television in the seventies and VHS nasties in the various shared houses I lived in in eighties. But in the last year I have really dived deep into horror cinema, exploring movies by theme and director. It’s almost akin to a re-education of sorts, a journey that has required learning a new cinema language and style.

You need to be discerning about which guides you take on these journeys. One absolutely indispensable resource is the relatively recent ‘Daughters of Darkness’ podcast done by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, the editors of Diabolique Magazine. These women know their stuff, and their podcasts cover a fascinating selection of rare horror and exploitation cinema, gems too numerous to mention here, with well thought out and nuanced diversions into subjects as varied as medical science, sexuality, literature and the craft of film making.

Another great guide is the recently released book, Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema, by screenwriter and author, Ian Cooper.… Read more

Book review: The World of Shaft

The World of Shaft

You might remember the news last year that New Line pictures had acquired the rights to do yet another film remake featuring the iconic character of John Shaft. If so, you may also remember the ensuring controversy that erupted over plans to make said film a comedy, including an open letter protesting the move by  award winning journalist, David F Walker.

I am not sure at what stage the proposal Shaft remake is at, but I totally agree with Walker in his introduction to Steve Aldous’s recently released guide to the character, ‘When author Ernest Tidyman’s book Shaft was first published in 1971, and director Gordon Parks’ cinematic adaption followed a year later, a new era of representation began in American pop culture.’

The World of Shaft attempts to chronicle the cultural phenomena that is the ex-juvenile delinquent, Vietnam Vet, New York private eye known as Shaft. From the character’s origins via the pen of white ex-newspaperman Tidyman to the, in my opinion, rather average 2000 cinematic remake, this is an exhaustive examination of every aspect of the character and his various manifestations.

Shaft emerged from a combination of Tidyman’s desperation to make it as a writer and, as he put it in an interview, his “awareness of both social and literary situations in a changing city.… Read more

Beat Not the Bones & the story of an Australian Edgar Allan Poe Award winner

Beat Not the Bones Avon 1955As many of the my US readers will no doubt be aware, America’s foremost crime writing awards, the annual Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Awards, will be presented on April 28.

The upcoming awards make it an opportune time to revisit the winner of the Edgar Award in 1954. That book was called Beat Not the Bones, and it was written not by an American but by an Adelaide-born woman called Geraldine Halls, writing under the pseudonym, Charlotte Jay. That the winner the next year was Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, gives you some idea how prestigious Halls’ win was.

Why some writers and their books go onto achieve lasting literary fame, while others, in this case Halls and her considerable work, sink into obscurity, always fascinates me. In a writing career stretching from 1951 to her last published novel in 1995, she produced fifteen books. Seven of these appeared under the pseudonym of Jay, her maiden name, and seven as Geraldine Halls, Halls being her married name. Another was published under the alias Geraldine Mary Jay.

There is very little information available about Halls, who died in Adelaide in October 1996, and the only image I could find on the Internet is on the Austlit site and is taken from the Adelaide Advertiser, dated May 8, 1853.… Read more

My top 10 books of 2015

Bad Penny BluesIt’s time for my annual top 10 reads for the year. In no particular order they are as follows: 

Bad Penny Blues, Cathi Unsworth

Bad Penny Blues kicks off in London in the early 1960s. A young police constable finds the body of a murdered prostitute. His subsequent investigation into the crime and similar murders, spanning the better part of a decade, propels him into the heart of the city’s Soho vice district. Interspersed with this is the story of a young and up and coming fashion designer, Stella, who is plagued by nightmares about dead women.

The fact I found this book a pinch too long didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it. Bad Penny Blues is a solid piece of noir fiction and a great evocation of sixties London, taking in everything from the occult, teddy boys, bent cops, radical bohemians and debauched upper class aristocrats.

TattooMurderThe Tattoo Murder Case, Akimitsu Takagi

First published, albeit in a slightly different form, in 1948, a young forensic medical student with post-traumatic stress after a stint as a medic in the Philippines begins a passionate affair with a beautiful woman who is covered with strange, sexually alluring traditional Japanese tattoos. Soon after the affair begins, she is murdered, dismembered and her tattooed torso stolen from the scene of the crime.… Read more

Book review: GBH by Ted Lewis

GBH

British author Ted Lewis is best known for his second novel, Jack’s Return Home (filmed in 1971 as Get Carter,  the title by which subsequent editions of the book would be known). But many believe his greatest work was his last, GBH, published in 1980, two years before his death.

For a long time, you could only read GHB if you could find and afford a scarce second hand copy. Thankfully, it has recent been re-released by Syndicate Books (along with the rest of Lewis’s work) a subsidiary of the prestigious and well known crime fiction press, Soho Crime.

GHB is the story of George Fowler, former head of a powerful London based criminal organisation that controlled the largest porn distribution network in the UK. His products are far worse than being merely ‘blue movies’, as they are rather innocuously referred to, and include, it is strongly inferred, snuff films, which Fowler sells to a small group of very deranged and very rich clients.

Fowler has everything: money, muscle, a wonderful penthouse with a sunken lounge (the key signifier in Lewis’s books, of any underworld villains worth their salt) and a beautiful, intelligent girlfriend, Jean, who helps run his empire and isn’t at squeamish about what Fowler does.

Then someone starts undermining his organisation from within.… Read more