Trailer Trash – Thor: Ragnarok

An unscheduled post, but let’s not be sticklers for detail where an Asgardian is concerned.

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Song for a Saturday – Father Lucifer

Great introduction.

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Filler content with exhumation

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #40:-

DIGGING UP DONALD by STEVEN PIRIE

Immanion Press hb, 333pp, £17.99     http://www.immanionpress.wox.org

All is not well in the town of Mudcaster. Vicar Herbert Likewise has been replaced by a demonic entity and with the help of henchman Mr Dodds sets about organising Armageddon, or something very like it. Central to the resistance are the Richards family, with the ancient Grandmother who sits on the brow of a hill standing guard over a sacred site of power, which the town council would like to transform with a bit of tree planting, while the Mother formulates plans to avert disaster and the Father acts as her trusty helpmate. The most important people in all this though are the Richards children. Maureen is married but her hopes of pregnancy have been scotched by demons, a situation she can’t reverse despite a flair for erotic improvisation that makes the Kama Sutra look like something for novices, while schoolboy Robert is the Chosen One, destined to play a pivotal role in the conflict that is to come and thus very much on the radar of Reverend Likewise and his cohorts, especially as his hormones are on the march and he’s taken a fancy to the Reverend’s daughter Joan. Desperate times require desperate measures, and so the Mother calls for the digging up of Donald, the family’s time capsule, which contains a number of articles of occult power, including the Book of Family Business, while the Grandmother orders the Richards clan to assemble in its entirety, both living and dead. On another plane, where he has an actual existence, Donald overlooks the proceedings, as the stage is set for the latest battle between the forces of good and evil.

The plot is something of a labyrinthine sprawl and there’s much more to it than conveyed by my exercise in précis. Though, with the benefit of hindsight, the pieces fit together quite well there’s also a feeling of contrivance about much of what happens, with the reasons for some of the events not at all clear, such as why the relatives have to be dug up in the first place as they play only a small part in the final showdown. Plot is very much a secondary concern here, gonzo in extremis and serving no intrinsic purpose except to provide a framework within which Pirie can exercise his considerable comic talent. This is seen most obviously in the wealth of wonderful characters that abound within the pages of the book, such as the matter of fact Father with his phlegmatic approach to daily chores and the fear inspiring Mother with her combination of battle-axe spirit and heart of gold, or the Grandmother, breathtakingly indomitable and defiant in her splendid isolation. There are similar delights to be found in the interplay between Reverend Likewise and the evil Mr Dodds, the romantic escapades of Maureen and her lucky sod of a husband, and even in the antics of such secondary characters as the policemen and teachers, diligently clinging on to their set ways of doing things in the teeth of disaster. Pirie knows how to give us people who are funny but never silly, characters with whom we can identify, and the key to his success is in the dialogue, which occasionally lapses into a sameness but more often is rich with warmth and humour. Elsewhere his invention never seems to flag as Robert, who is very much the Candide or Michael Valentine Smith of the story, and the other members of the Richards family are dragged into all sorts of adventures, taken to Death’s Gate and Hell itself, travelling back in time and journeying all round the world in search of the remains of deceased family members, the latter the pretext for some of the book’s funniest scenes, as we meet such over the top characters as Uncle Norman, who does a passable impression of Prometheus chained to a rock only with starlings, the prudish Aunt Maude who was cremated and ended up sharing an urn with a man, and Cousin Hilderbrand, the carnivorous brain, a brood that is both typically English and eccentric enough to make the Addams gang seem the epitome of middle class tedium by comparison. All told this is a delightful and thoroughly entertaining read. Pirie’s book is a shot in the arm of a jaded genre and if there’s any justice he will be welcomed with open chequebooks by the devotees of comic fantasy.

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Trailer Trash – Geostorm & Happy Death Day

Bad weather with Gerard Butler or Groundhog Day rebooted as a slasher film? You choose.

 

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Filler content with a dark dividing

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #40:-

A DARK DIVIDING by SARAH RAYNE

Simon & Schuster pb, 420pp, £10.99          http://www.simonsays.co.uk

This novel bears many of the trappings of Gothic melodrama and a decade or so back would undoubtedly have been marketed as Horror, but nowadays it’s parcelled up and sent out into the world as a Crime novel, with regard to which, if I’m allowed a moment of anthropomorphism, the Horror genre is no doubt breathing a quiet sigh of relief at a lucky escape.

The plot, summarised as succinctly and spoiler free as I can manage, concerns two sets of Siamese twins born in different centuries but inextricably linked. The mother of the first pair, Charlotte Quinton, diligently records the details of her life and the fate of her daughters in a journal, starting in the year 1899. Eighty years later these events are mirrored in the life of Mel, who gives birth to Sonia and Simone. These conjoined twins are successfully separated, but for Mel this is just the start of her troubles, with a train of events set in motion that will put her and daughter Simone, when grown to adulthood, on collision course with a madwoman. Central to both stories is Mortmain House in the Welsh Marches, in Charlotte’s day a workhouse with a truly sinister reputation but now a ruin where the misery of the past is etched deep in the walls and retains the power to reach out and hurt those living in the present, the venue for a climactic final confrontation.

What takes place in the pages of this book is contrived beyond almost any hope of credibility, a shortcoming that is only accentuated by lack of any supernatural rationale for events. Along the way we get more than enough coincidences to underwrite the careers of at least half a dozen gypsy fortune tellers, with the ineptitude of officialdom, unlikely family connections and chance discoveries galore all co-opted to move the plot along. But while almost wholly risible, the plotting is not the worst thing about the book. That honour goes to the characterisation. There are five different viewpoint characters (six if you count Charlotte’s novelist lover, whose book is an essential McGuffin) but four of them sound almost exactly the same, which is particularly unfortunate as one of these is a man and another a woman from the year 1899. The reader opening the book at random will probably have no idea who is speaking, with the narrative jumping all over the place and whole trains of events left on the back boiler for lengthy stretches. Most problematic is Charlotte Quinton, who sounds like a very modern Millie indeed, and her adventures as chronicled in the journal have such depth, including verbatim reports of conversation, it’s hard to credit them as anything other than fiction and to wonder, with all this scribbling, when she has time to actually live the events she describes. The only voice that stands out from the crowd is that of Roz, who is your bargain basement psycho by way of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. At first an almost sympathetic figure, she’s soon acting completely out of character and, at least initially, with little credible motivation for the way she behaves, resorting to ever more over the top gestures and adopting an increasingly shrill tone as the story progresses (subtext – she’s barking). In case you hadn’t guessed, I thoroughly disliked this book, so it will probably sell by the truckload.

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Song for a Saturday – Cornflake Girl

Posted by a Branflake Boy.

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Filler content that is mindless

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #40:-

OUT OF HIS MIND by STEPHEN GALLAGHER

PS Publishing hb, 412pp, £35           http://www.pspublishing.co.uk

Stephen Gallagher is not a writer you automatically associate with the short form, though his stories are often the highlight of any magazine or anthology in which they appear. With an introduction by Brian Clemens and a lengthy afterword by the author giving us fascinating background information on each story, where they were previously published and how they came to be written, as well as his own views on the occult, this book brings together the cream of Gallagher’s short work over the past couple of decades, eighteen short stories and three novelettes. Though it’s always dangerous to generalise, especially where a writer of Gallagher’s ability is concerned, it seems to me that most of these stories come under one of two headings, ghosts and children.

On the latter count, ‘Magpie’ is one of the most powerful and credible accounts of childhood bullying I have ever read, with a chilling last line that hints at what the young are capable of when under pressure. ‘Little Angels’ takes a leaf out of Saki’s book of unpleasant things to inflict poetic ‘justice’ on some truly unpleasant children, while novelette ‘The Drain’ has three boys from the wrong side of the tracks chasing a chimera of wealth and a way out of their squalid lives, plans which come fatally unstuck, a compelling piece of storytelling and with characterisation that forces the reader to identify with the plight of these lost children, bringing to mind work along similar lines by the likes of Stephen King. Modus Operandi’ is a neat little piece about seeing the world through a child’s eyes, as a young boy obstinately declines to live down to his parents’ expectations. The child in ‘Fancy That!’ is only hinted at, as a man buys an exotic rat as a pet to give his loved one for Christmas, until the wonderful Dahlesque twist at the end, while in ‘O, Virginia’, an eerie yet also deliciously funny story that delights in illiteracy and childhood misunderstanding of the adult world, two boys have a memorable encounter with a travelling fairground Freak Show. ‘Poisoned’ is a small gem, with children playing on contaminated ground in the main body of the story only to reveal its real narrative thrust with a last page that snatches the rug out from under the reader’s feet.

For ghost stories we have ‘The Visitors’ Book’, a subtle, disturbing piece that hints at much more than is conveyed by the words on the page, each event capable of very different interpretations as a family spend time in rented accommodation for their summer break. In ‘The Horn’ three men marooned in a storm are attacked by a vengeful spirit, a story in which Gallagher’s gift for scene setting is particularly apparent, with the hostile, snow covered landscape every bit as threatening as the supernatural menace it contains and the interaction between the men racking the tension up a notch higher. ‘The Jigsaw Girl’ has a forgotten figure from a man’s past come back to haunt him, a story with an intriguing plot device at its centre and a wonderfully ironic denouement, while in the sad and evocative ‘Life Line’ a man at the end of his tether with grief discovers a phone line that will put him in contact with the dead. ‘Like Shadows in the Dark’ has two people trying to escape from Communist Russia, and in an Angel of Mons style resolution one of them is saved by the intervention of the spirit world, another story with a superbly rendered winter landscape and steadily mounting sense of menace. Quiet humour and tension collide in ‘God’s Bright Little Engine’ as a woman tenant receiving unwanted help from the building’s handyman finds that some people really are dedicated to their work. While still worth reading, ‘Casey, Where He Lies’ is one of the few pieces that disappoint, the premise not as original or successfully exploited as it perhaps might have been, with a music industry wannabe trying to impress a girl and losing his life in the attempt, albeit carrying on in a curiously truncated form. Finally ‘In Gethsemene’ is the best thing here, a beautifully realised novelette in which a spirit medium travels the country in concert with a stage magician who has fallen on hard times and vowed to expose him as a fraud. The idea is a fascinating one, with the setting of rundown concert halls and cheap boarding houses perfectly conveyed, and a genuine compassion for those who seek the solace of communication from beyond the grave, while at its heart is the ideological rivalry between the two men, forcing one of them to confront the truth about himself and what he is willing to do for the sake of being in the right. This story is the perfect end to a multi-faceted and long overdue collection from a writer who’s learnt his craft thoroughly. Kudos to PS Publishing for making it happen.

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