Archive for October 2017

Book review – The Killer Inside Me

I’ve been hankering after a scary book.  One which will make you look under the bed before you go to sleep, or will send shivers down your spine.  My searches led me to the door of The Killer Inside Me, a 1952 novel by Jim Thompson.  Stanley Kubrick described TKIM as ‘probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered’.  Stephen King described Thompson as his favourite crime novelist.  High praise indeed.

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Our protagonist, Lou, is a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town.  He’s an unassuming guy whom the whole town knows and likes.  Lou is also a sociopath and sexual sadist, whose real personality emerges as the book unfolds and as the bodies start to pile up.  It’s noirish and classic pulp fiction.

So, what did I think?  Did it live up to expectations?  Regrettably, no.  I think Kubrick summed it up nicely when he says it’s ‘believable’.  There’s clearly a line between TKIM and American Psycho, which for my money is less believable but far more chilling (so much so that when I read it I had to put it down a number of times).  And herein lies the rub.  TKIM feels believable but Lou’s internal monologue is far too nuanced to send any shivers down the spine.  It reminded me, in fact, of Albert Camus’s The Outsider (reviewed in these very pages, dear reader!).

TKIM didn’t deliver the chills that I was expecting.  Perhaps I need to give it another read or perhaps we or I’ve become desensitised over the 60 plus years since it was first published.  I suspect it’s a bit of both.  Nevertheless, it’s a well written book and I’d suggest you make your own mind up.

The search for a chilling read continues.

Album review – The Chase, Leo Richardson Quartet

Full disclosure.  I bought this album as my piano teacher is a member of the quartet.  Before you think this is an act of charity, listen to the album.  It’s worth every penny and more.  A lot of people are agreeing, including The Guardian who gave it a rare five stars.

I’d never heard Leo Richardson’s band before and wasn’t sure what to expect. What they deliver and what you get is an album which wouldn’t sound out of place played alongside those classic Blue Note albums of the 50s and 60s.  This is a complement of the highest order and, as far as I understand it, what the band was aiming for.  The band have really captured that sound, which is greater than the sum of its parts.  Check out the tracks on Richardson’s website.

The album kicks off at tempo with the bebop inspired Blues for Joe.  Richardson has a rich, gutsy tenor sound which I don’t hear nearly often enough these days (alto players seem to be in abundance!) and rips into this and most other tunes on the album.  It’s not until track two – Demon E – when you really realise that the Blue Note sound is there.  This owes much to Quentin Collins guesting on trumpet on this and two other tracks including the title track.  The Chase is an apt title track and sounds like something off a Wayne Shorter album, with Rick Simpson playing the McCoy Tyner role (at least in his ‘comping’ during the main tune).  Simpson delivers a fiery, note perfect solo driven by a hot rhythm section biting at his heels (Mark Lewandowski on bass and Ed Richardson on drums).

The album cools its heels with Elisha’s Song but returns to its fiery proceedings with the Night in Tunisia-inspired Mambo, which gives Simpson the welcome space to stretch out and play in a more modern way.  The album concludes with Mr. Skid, so named due to the presence of Alan Skidmore on the track.  Skidmore, like Richardson, is a tenor saxophonist who has played with many jazz greats and household names including Kate Bush and Van Morrison.  Skidmore, a veteran of the British jazz scene, is (so Wikipedia informs me) strongly influenced by John Coltrane and this is apparent, adding another dimension to the album.

It’s rare that I hear a new jazz release like this.  I think this is partly due to artists wanting to produce far more contemporary sounding albums.  That’s fine but it’s refreshing to hear great new tunes, featuring top class and inventive playing, in a Blue Note vein.

I can’t recommend this highly enough.  Do yourself a favour and check it out.

Book review – The Sympathizer

I wrote in a previous post that the list of pulitzer prize winners for fiction was a good place to mine for good books.  The 2016 prize winner was fiction was The Sympathizer by Vietnam-born, US-based author Viet Thanh Nguyen.  I was attracted to this for a number of reasons: it was a pulitzer prize winner; I’ve an interest in the Vietnam War (or ‘American War’ if you’re Vietnamese); and the premise sounded interesting.

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Our narrator and protagonist is a communist agent/spy and captain in the Vietnamese Army, who escapes to the United States on the fall of Saigon.  He’s also half-French, half-Vietnamese.  So if you’re beginning to see a theme here you’re right.  The story is the setting for the narrator’s exploration of his dualism, e.g. despite himself he loves the freedoms of the US but the US doesn’t reciprocate and he feels isolated and emasculated.  He continues with his communist activities which leads him to the Philippines and his past.  I dare say any more.

I once worked in a job which I continue to describe as ‘worthy but dull’.  Regrettably, that’s my opinion of this book.  It’s an intriguing premise, very well written (as one would expect with a pulitzer prize winner), and the book has some powerful moments.  But it just never grabbed me.  I never felt any meaningful bond with the narrator and it took too long to get to where it needed to.

While it’s garnered praise from many quarters, I have to say that there are many other books I’d recommend over this one (if a good read is what you’re after rather than a work of fiction based around the Vietnam War).

Gig review – The Mousetrap

I don’t go to the theatre that often.  In fact, I think the last time I went was in 1998, when I saw Kevin Spacey in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh at London’s Old Vic.  It’s something I enjoy so it was high time I went again.  I’d always wanted to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.  I used to walk past St Martin’s Theatre quite often and see the large lit and unlit sign for the Mousetrap.  The Mousetrap is the longest running play in history, having opened in 1952, and is still running: a point of pride for the theatre which keeps a tally of every performance (in its present location) in the foyer.  The Mousetrap has been at St Martin’s since 1974 so it’s almost always been there waiting for me to visit.

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Another reason for seeing the show is the mystique surrounding it.  Ask anyone about the Mousetrap, whether they’ve seen it or not, and they’ll tell you that there’s a twist ending and that at the end of the show the cast ask you to enter into the tradition of keeping the secret of the Mousetrap.  Or in today’s parlance, a ‘no spoilers’ request!

So what can i say about the show.  Firstly, that it’s a murder mystery, which shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who knows of Agatha Christie.  It started its life in 1947 as a radio play called Three Blind Mice, which turned into a short story, which then morphed into the stage production.  When I went to see it there were 27,037 previous performances, so they must be doing something right; that, or we are exemplary at keeping secrets.  It’s actually both.  The cast were fantastic, especially Simon Haines in the role of the slightly manic yet shy Christopher Wren.  It wasn’t until afterwards that I recognised his Alan Partridge-like mannerisms.  The show was funnier than I thought it was going to be, care of Wren, and I wondered how the script might have evolved over the 27,000-odd performances.  The plot was enjoyable too, though not quite as chilling as I would have liked, having read Christie’s And then there were None.  The theatre is wonderful too and you feel transported back in time as you sit back and watch the play unfold.

The show is a great night out and I highly recommend it.  I also hope to offer future theatrical recommendations within these pages and within the 20 years it took me to see another West End play!

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