Archive for February 2017

Book review – The Power of the Dog

I’ve read a handful of books since my last book review.  Perhaps the best of all of them is The Power of the Dog (2005) by American author Don Winslow.

The novel is epic in scope, covering the s0-called ‘war on drugs’ and specifically the three decades from the mid-seventies.  An epic novel sometimes means an epic number of pages and in this case we have almost 600 of them.  The novel is nicely carved up, so while you know you’re reading a long book, you don’t mind being taken along for the ride.  The novel follows the paths of several characters including our main protagonist, Art Keller, a DEA agent.  Drug barons, mobsters, a priest, and prostitute make up the other protagonists.  As is the case in a number of books I happen to read, the characters have some relationship with one another, either directly or indirectly, which brings cohesion to the book.

The book reminded me of James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, which I reviewed in October of last year.  Like American Tabloid, POTG feels like you’ve got a front row ticket to real events.  I don’t know how close POTG is to real events.  However, a backdrop to the plot is the Cold War and more specifically the Iran-Contra affair, which allegedly saw CIA involvement in cocaine trafficking to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua.  The plot isn’t as complex as Ellroy’s and I think I would have enjoyed it more had it been.  However, that shouldn’t take anything away from the book.  It’s a very good read, with good (not great) characters; and a compelling, visceral and twisting plot.  As you might expect with a cast list including drug barons and mobsters, the book contains its fair share of violence, including torture.  However, such moments are always exercised judiciously and always for the benefit of the book.

A good test of a book is whether you’d read the sequel, if of course there is one.  In this case we have The Cartel (2015), which I definitely plan on reading.  If all of this sounds good to you then I’d recommend you get reading straight away.  20th Century Fox have paid for the film rights to both books and Ridley Scott is apparently involved in a film adaptation of The Cartel.

If, like me, you enjoy a good spy novel, my next book review will cover three of them.  So watch this space!

Happy New Year! More songs from the vault

You may have been wondering where I’ve got to, not having blogged since the end of December.  Well, I had an accident and spent some time in hospital.  I’m recovering well and up to blogging again.  Before jumping back in, thank you to all those who checked out the blog in the barren January period – over 1,000 of you!  It’s good to know there’s enough stuff up on the blog to keep you busy.

I’ve got many more things to keep you reading.  However, I’m going to ease myself into things and start the year off with some great tunes.  Rather than the random approach of previous posts, this installment of Songs from the Vault has a theme: the movies.  Simply, great songs from great films; some of them original music composed specifically for the film, others featured in the film because they’re great tunes.  Off we go…

First up is the main theme to Get Carter by Roy Budd.  Get Carter is a classic British gangster movie – one of the best, featuring Michael Caine in arguably his finest role.  The wonderful bass part is by the late Jeff Clyne, with whom I’ve had the privilege of playing, having attended a jazz course on which he was teaching.  What a legacy.

One of the highlights of Be Kind Rewind (2008), in which we see Jack Black and Mos Def recreate classic movies such as Ghostbusters and Robocop, is Billy Preston’s 1974 tune Nothing from Nothing.  Despite it sounding from an entirely different era, you can see why it reached number 1 in the States.

Lost in Translation was one of the great films of the noughties.  Still, most films that feature Bill Murray have that in common.  Director Sofia Coppola has a tendency to pick great music for her films and LiT is no different.  Any film that has My Bloody Valentine’s Sometimes will have something going for it.  However, the track featured here is Squarepusher’s Tommib.  It’s a short slice of ambient music which fits perfectly with the scene.  And do check out MBV’s Sometimes if you’ve never heard it!

From the quietness of Tommib to the dramaticism of Yumeji’s Theme by Shigeru Umebayashi.  This originally featured in a 1991 movie titled Yumeji.  I know it from Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 movie In the Mood for Love.  I’ve heard this tune in all sorts of places so it may sound familiar to you. If not, even better.

Last up is New Dawn Fades by Moby.  This tune is featured in one of my favourite films, Heat.  Michael Mann’s 1995 classic has an equally cool soundtrack.  This particular tune leads up to a classic movie moment: the first time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino shared the screen (having previously appeared in the same movie, e.g. Godfather II).  It’s not the greatest tune ever but the drama of the scene creates something greater than its individual parts.

I really enjoyed this movie themed edition of Songs from the Vault and will be sure to do more of them.  If you liked it, let me know.