Archive for December 2017

Book review – Spook Street

Spook Street (2017) is the fourth and latest of Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series.  I’ve read (and reviewed) all four of them this year, so I guess it’s fair to say that I’m a fan.

Spook Street finds us revisiting Slough House, complete with our regular Slow Horses and some new Horses thrown in for good measure.  The story makes reference throughout to events or characters in previous books, so it’s probably a good idea not to start off your Slow Horses journey (or should that be canter?) with this one.

So where does Spook Street start and what is it about?  David Cartwright (a hero of the Secret Service and River Cartwright’s grandfather) thinks he’s being targeted by agents, foreign or domestic, either for what he knows or doesn’t know, as the agents could be living in his ageing imagination.  When Cartwright Senior’s panic button raises the alarm at Secret Service HQ we’re set for a series of twists and turns, shocking family revelations (can there be any other type?), the return of some fan favourites and the demise of others!

As ever, you can’t say a lot for fear of spoiling the fun.  What I can say is that Lamb is at his antagonistic, brilliant and cynical best (the ABC according to Lamb!).  If he were on stage he would steal the show.  But what keeps things interesting and you wanting to keep turning the page, is the other characters.  Lamb is surrounded by a bunch of misfits who aren’t as incompetent as HQ would have you believe.  Over four books I’ve grown close to these misfits as well as regular characters such as ‘Lady Di’, without whom the book would be lacking in skulduggery of the highest order.

I recommend Spook Street highly and can’t wait to read London Rules, the fifth in the series, when it hits the streets in February next year.

Book review – The Stand

Regular readers will know that I’ve been searching for a scary read.  My quest has taken in The Killer Inside Me and The Haunting of Hill House, neither of which did much in the way of scaring me.  My quest then took me to the doorstep of Stephen King.  King is synonymous with the horror genre so this seemed like a good bet.  The book in question:  The Stand.

The Stand was first published in 1978 but was re-published in 1990, as the foreword says, ‘as its author originally intended’.  The newer text is an expanded version, clocking in at over 1,300 pages (King cites potential cost to the customer as the main reason for the original shorter version).  I don’t often venture into books that are this long but was encouraged by the great reviews I’d seen online.

The book kicks off with the accidental release of a weaponised form of influenza from a military base.  The deadly virus goes on to wipe out most of the population, so we find ourselves in familiar post-apocalyptic territory.  Those fortunate enough to survive the pandemic find themselves gravitating towards one of two camps, led respectively by good or evil forces.  We spend time with those on both sides, firstly as they seek out kindred spirits, and then as they work together to rebuild society and adjust to the new world.  If you hadn’t guessed already, the stage is set for the age-old battle between good and evil.

So, was it scary?  No.  But there’s a but and it’s a big one.  Having spent a lot of time with the book, I don’t regret deciding to read it for an instant.  The Stand was hugely enjoyable and probably the best book I’d read in a while.  You’re served up a bunch of really great, diverse and well-written characters whom you actually grow to care and root for.  There are great friendships, rivalries and betrayals, and despite the post-apocalyptic world being a familiar, perhaps overfamiliar, scenario, this felt realistic rather than hackneyed.

I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen King.  I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s because so many of his books have been turned into feature films or TV specials, becoming overfamiliar in the process.  Nevertheless, I’m glad I took the plunge and look forward to reading more of King’s work.

I’m giving myself a break from my scary book quest.  I mentioned in a previous post that I’ll likely read the fourth in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series by the end of the year, so look out for a review of that in the coming weeks.

Album review – Small Town, Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan

I’ve been a fan of Bill Frisell, who ranks as one of my favourite guitarists, for over twenty years now (see the signed CD at the bottom of the blog).  Unlike many guitarists, Frisell doesn’t sound like a clone of anybody.  You know exactly who’s playing from the off.  Frisell has made a career out of not being pigeonholed; he’s authentic playing whatever style of music he plays, which is largely jazz or country-based music though can find him on drum and bass records.  You may well have heard him yourself and not realised it.  For example, Frisell provided the music for Gary Larson’s animated Far Side movie.

Image result for bill frisell small town ecm

Frisell’s latest album Small Town (2017) released on the ECM label sees him partnered with Thomas Morgan, a bass player who moves in high circles within the jazz community.  Small Town is a live recording from 2016 at New York’s hallowed Village Vanguard.  Unlike some ‘live’ jazz recordings the sound of the band doesn’t have to compete with the sound of clanking cutlery and glasses or annoying whoops from the audience.  The audience here is respectful of the music, not wanting to encroach on the intimacy of the proceedings but showing their appreciation at the end of each tune.

There’s quite a mix on offer including classic bebop – in the form of Lee Konitz’s Subconcious Lee; country – Wildwood Flower; and cinema – John Barry’s theme from Goldfinger.  The title track, like two others on the album, are Frisell’s (though one of these is co-penned with Morgan) and hold their own against the others, especially Small Town, which sounds exactly like it should.  See the video below for proof!

The album also goes through various moods, kicking off with a rendition of the late Paul Motian’s It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago (which Frisell played on back in 1985), which builds to a glorious contrapuntal section.  The Motian tune is a dark one but there’s plenty of light.  If Wildflower doesn’t put a smile on your face I don’t know what will!

I highly recommend Small Town and if you like the sound of it you can check out each of the tracks on the ECM website.

Before I leave you, here’s the promised picture of my signed Bill Frisell CD.