Monday, July 26, 2004

Title: Blueberry
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Juliette Lewis, Michael Madsen, Temuera Morrison, Ernest Borgnine, Djimon Hounsou, Eddie Izzard, Tchéky Karyo
Director: Jan Kounen

Moebius is probably the most well known French comic creator, unfortunately there is only a fraction of his output which is readily available in English. One of his most well known works was a Western, starring the eponymous Marshall Blueberry - it has been published in English, though I've never actually read the book. The film Blueberry is based on Moebius comic hero, though as the title sequence stresses it is based "loosely".

A French American young man gets into a fight with another man over a prostitute - during which the woman is killed, and the brothel is set on fire. The man, Mike Blueberry, rides away from the fire, injured he soon passes out in the desert. There he is found by an Indian shaman and his son, who drag him back to their home and nurse him back to health.

Years pass and the undisciplined young man has now grown up, taking the role of Marshall in the town bordering the Indian lands. Where he interacts with the local people and the tribe who saved his life. Legend has it that there is gold in the Indian's sacred mountains, which is attracting undesirable attention. Even worse is the sudden appearance of the man who Blueberry had his fight with, who he had believed died in the fire.

Blueberry is not a simple Western, for all that that is the core. There is a mysticism stemming from Blueberry's time spent with the Indian shamans, along with the beliefs that his nemesis has gained from his near death experience. This creates some stark contrasts. As a Western, the director/designers have gone for a particularly gritty feel - life is filthy, night time is pitch black in town, lit only by guttering torches. From this grime we go to the opposite extreme of elaborate computer graphics, as the two leads see into a universal scale reality - coding golden structures, writhing emotional insects. This builds up to the final clash where the film pretty much flips out, leaving the concept of reality behind.

The cast sees French actor Vincent Cassel take the lead role of Marshall Blueberry. Michael Madsen faces off against him as the films bad guy, in a fashion which is particularly stereotypical of Madsen. The token gesture love interest is provided by Juliette Lewis, daughter of the local town's big man - I've never been a particular fan of Lewis, and this role doesn't especially change that. British actor Eddie Izzard appears as a bad guy wannabe, ex-partner of Madsen, who wants to pip him to the post.

The result is something of a mixed bag, the performances are okay, though I think it is fair to say that the cast are pretty much playing performances that they have played before. The mysticism/weird aspects of the film, which make it more challenging and out there than just another Western, are the more interesting factor of the narrative - fuelled by trippy and multi-dimensional graphics.

Title: Before Sunset
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Director: Richard Linklater

Before Sunset is the latest film by writer/director Richard Linklater, a man who has been responsible for some really memorable indie film to come from America. Though it is perhaps ironic that more people will have seen his recent mainstream outing School Of Rock than say Before Sunrise, to which this film is a sequel.

Nine years previously a young American man and French woman met in Venice, during their meeting they formed a serious bond. At the end of their night together, caught up in the romance of the situation they agreed to meet again 6 months later. However things didn't go to plan, and having exchanged no contact details, time has passed with them unable to meet up again.

The nine years have passed, and the American man has written a novel based on that one night in Venice all those years ago. Doing a book tour of Europe, he comes to his final date, which is in Paris. Just as the talk is rapping up he spots the French girl from all those years ago. The result is, in some ways, a reflection of that previous meeting - the two wander round the city, going over that night, why the 6 month meeting didn't go to plan, and how much that night has affected who they have become. Again their time is limited, the American has a plane to catch, putting an extra pressure on events.

Those familiar with Linklater's work, films like Slackers, Tape, Before Sunrise or Waking Life will probably not be surprised to find that Before Sunset is a wordy affair. Almost from start to finish a constant stream of conversation, which tends to be how Linklater works, going for heady undertones, though certainly to a lesser degree than something like Waking Life - which ironically includes a section with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy who reprise their roles from Before Sunrise in Before Sunset.

Linklater's next project looks to be A Scanner Darkly, the latest adaptation of one of Philip K. Dick's novels. A Scanner Darkly being one of Dick's more convoluted novels the selection of Linklater is an interesting choice, particularly when how he handles characters and dialogue in a film like Before Sunset will serve him well in this case.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Title: Newton's Wake
Author: Ken MacLeod

Newton’s Wake is the eighth novel by writer Ken MacLeod, described on the cover notes as a stand alone novel, which will be a first for him. Though in saying that, one always had the impression with what became the Fall Revolution sequence that it wasn’t necessarily intended as a series, and certainly didn’t have the same built in continuity as the Engines Of Light trilogy.

With Newton’s Wake MacLeod seems to be at his freshest, and on reflection the same can be said of each of the starting points he has written. With that, Newton’s Wake embraces many of the ideas that permeated through those previous seven novels, to varying degrees – though in some ways the reference points of The Fall Revolution are clearer.

As a starting point, we have a group coming through a gateway to a terra formed planet. This establishes the characters of the Carlyles, and in particular Lucinda Carlyle, the head of this group. The Carlyles control a series of worm hole based gateways, which link a whole series of planets scattered with the remains of post-human technology. There are various factions, and Lucinda expects to find that the planet’s locals belong to one of those established factions. However things start to go wrong quickly, when the locals show up they seem to be a new group of humans previously unencountered, and Lucinda ends up captured in the process of the Carlyles retreat back through the gate. As a starting point we have something which is riffing off some classic SF ideas, most obviously expressed in the film/tv series Stargate, and in the comic Warheads, which probably few will remember – the Carlyles probably have more in common with the Warheads, a motley crew of mercenaries in thugs travelling the universe through gateways.

From here we start to get in to the meat of the novel, and as usual with MacLeod there is a degree of politics that come with that. In his debut novel [which I understand was published after some of his later novels in some places], The Star Fraction, the US-UN had established a star wars system to monitor for the rise of artificial intelligence – designed to prevent the kind of events witnessed in the Terminator films. With Newton’s Wake MacLeod twists this idea, here the Americans have failed to prevent one of their AI’s from achieving independence. Europe spotting this has launched a first strike against America, with the result of the smart bombs achieving intelligence of their own – Earth plunging into a war between humanity and the machines.

The planet that the Carlyles have found with the start of Newton’s Wake are what they would call the Runners – the humans who have fled Earth, leaving it in a mechanical meltdown. Here we have something of The Stone Canal, to survive the journey through space human personalities have been chipped – downloaded into computers, to be returned to flesh once their computers have established a suitable new world for them. As far as the runners of their planet Euridyce are concerned they are the last survivors of what happened on Earth. As far as the Carlyles are concerned however, they betrayed the real survivors, those who struggled through the rubble that was left when the machines got bored and stopped fighting. Humanity fought its way back from the edge of this potential extinction, the result reflecting the clash between the characters of the Stone Canal when they return to Earth space in the Cassinni Division.

The discovery of the Runners of Euridyce causes a human wide upset, allowing for resurgence of the Returners, the faction of Eurydicians who wanted to go back but were outvoted/fought. The fight over the new opportunities that the Eurydicians offer in market terms, and the continually expanding understanding of the post-human artefacts causes brings the various factions into a struggle for control and superiority.

As I’ve said many of the ideas covered in Newton’s Wake cover ideas familiar from MacLeod’s work. But here he brings more of them together at once, creating a heady mix of SF and politics, driving it all towards conflict. There are some great SF scenes here – the emergence of the Carlyles through the gate right at the start, and then the arrival of the first non-Euridycean space ship, how those who believed the gates were a government sponsored conspiracy are forced to shift their views with the arrival of the Knights Of Enlightenment’s colossal spaceship over their capital city.

With the other side of the book, MacLeod actually downplays his consistent communist characters of the past, though with the DK they are present. He does however manage to continue to follow in the footsteps of The Stone Canal and Cosmonaut Keep, bringing his Science Fiction back home with his Scottish connection. In this case, the Carlyles are a family of Glasgow thugs, loan sharks and bullies, who fought their way from the cities ruins, and were in the right place at the right time to take control of the wormholes.

For many the duty of Science Fiction is to provide an alternate view on contemporary events, which is something MacLeod does with his particular political bent. In this case we see another version of what might happen – in the Fall Revolution many nations collapsed in on themselves, creating civil wars and mini-states, while in the Engines Of Light, the Soviet Union had swept across Europe instead of collapsing, pitting the European Soviet Union against the US. In the case of Newton’s Wake, the current European Union has risen to clash against an out of control United States, forcing the EU to launch a first strike. The results are America Offline, the remains of what once was America, the DK which join the communist powers of Asia and Europe, the Knights Of Enlightenment who combine the non-communist Asian powers of the likes of Japan, Singapore and India. Leaving the Euridyceans, who are mainly the core survivors of Europe.

Obviously I am a fan of Ken MacLeod, I picked up The Star Fraction when it first came out, and have been following his work with enthusiasm ever since. While the adherence to a strict trilogy with the Engines Of Light may have seen him stifled a little by continuing too long in the same territory, Newton’s Wake has the sort of freshness that the start of that trilogy has, along with the earlier volumes of The Fall Revolution. Newton’s Wake is best summed up in one line, spoken by a Returner brought back to life during the course of the book to find a world of “war machines, zen mechanists and Glasgow gangsters”.

Title: Bright Young Things
Author: Scarlett Thomas

Scarlett Thomas’ first three novels are the elusive Dead Clever, In Your Face and Seaside – all of which feature the amateur detective and literary lecturer Lilly Pascalle. Bright Young Things is fortunately a little easier to find, and her first post-Pascalle novel – though it has since been followed by Going Out, and we should soon be seeing the publication of Pop Co.

Bright Young Things, like the subsequent Going Out, is particularly British, densely layered pop culture together in vivid and amusing characters. The results always make me wonder what someone outside the UK would make of her work. Though with that, the lengthy discussions about Australian soap operas, Japanese films and computer games, probably do provide something for a more global audience. Set in 1999, and published in 2001, there is a very much of its moment feel to Scarlett’s writing, which will perhaps date it in the years to come, but with the density there is such an authenticity, making Bright Young Things a very valid snap shot of a time.

The base idea of Bright Young Things comes from a Big Brother/Survivor generation, though without the camera crews that go with that. The first part of the book introduces us to six characters, who through the course of their section come across as advert in the Guardian newspaper, looking for “bright young things” along with a PO Box number in Edinburgh. The six characters are all at an awkward phase in their life – art student turned escort girl, film school graduate working in an old people home, photographer wannabe hanging out with drug dealers, computer programmer just fired from his tech support job, Cambridge math’s graduate wishing he was more like his pop heroes and an isolationist graduate in philosophy.

With the start of part two the six characters wake up on a remote island, outside the only house on the island, which has been stocked with enough food and supplies to provide for a long stay. The last thing any of them can remember is arriving at the Bright Young Things interview and being given what must have been drugged coffee. Thus we have the set up, six bright strangers abandoned on a remote island –what will they do?

The answer turns out to be that they will sit and talk a lot. The computer expert takes the mobile phones apart, initially with the theory that he will make a boosted model allowing them to call for help – but instead creates an ultimate snake tournament, the cannibalised phone pads creating two player action. The first night they talk about what their favourites are. The first day the get the generator together, check out supplies, and the like. The second night they play truth and dare, leading to a lot silliness, but in the process of these games we get a look into the characters.

In a lot of ways these kind of interactions follow the same voyeuristic appeals as the afore mentioned television programmes which bring people together. But here things are different, the characters all struggling to prove how cool they are, and in the process exposing themselves in ways you would never get on tv programmes. Especially as the chapters alternate between the view points of each of the six characters, demonstrating the different ways they see each other and themselves. The results are a striking pop novel, which really feels like it creates a cultural slice, while at the same time there is the undercurrent of something more sinister, which took me a little by surprise, the question of why they are really here and the intent of their abductors remains as a darker edge to the narrative.

Like In Your Face, which was the last and recent novel I read by Scarlett, I found myself reading Bright Young Things in one day – I just love the feel of her work and how easy it is to kick back read, and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

'I know it's difficult when you can't talk about your job;' her mother had begun the night before, lifting her head from the photo album that she was sorting out, 'but I read in the paper the other day that over nineteen hundred people work in that building with you, and that there are all sorts of social activities you can do. Why don't you take up amateur dramatics or Latin American dancing or something?'

'Mum, please!' She imagined a group of Northern Ireland desk officers and A4 surveillance men descending on her with eyes blazing, maracas shaking, and coloured ruffles pinned to their shirts.

At Risk by Stella Rimington, an extract from the first novel by ex-head of MI5, which appeals to the Greg Rucka "Queen And Country" fan in me.

Title: Maul
Author: Tricia Sullivan

Maul is the latest novel by Tricia Sullivan, an American born novelist, living in the UK. A riotous work, which is described as "a science fiction novel of sex, shopping and terrorbugs" as a subtitle. Alternating between a shop and shoot trip to the mall - Sun Katz, a Korean American, and her friends have been called out by a rival gang due to a harsh review on sun's website. And a y-autistic male clone, who is acting as a guinea pig for farming new viruses, and gets caught in the struggle between the female hierarchy and a rogue male. 

Maul presents a version of a future where men are scarce - following on from the likes of The Gate To Women's Country by Sheri S Terper (which Sullivan acknowledges herself as an influence), or Stray Toasters by Bill Sienkiewicz (where male birth rates are dwindling) and Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra (where all men have been wiped out by a virus, except for one). Maul is perhaps closest to the territory of Y: The Last Man - viruses targeting the y chromosomes have swept the planet, making men scarce, such that remaining non-infected men are competed over fiercely - their sperm a precious commodity. At the same time there is the more mundane thread of the girl fight, but with that we get another insight to the world, and the microcosm that the mall represents. as events escalate their is a greater sense of madness, the play back and forth melding the plot together in a subtle fashion.

The results are bawdy and filled with humour. Sullivan establishing the base line of her science fiction starting point she then runs with it, pushes it, and gradually bends it - challenging the reader in some ways to keep up with her.

Title: Nathalie
Cast: Fanny Ardent, Emmanuelle Beart, Gerard Depardieu, Wladimir Yordanoff
Director: Anne Fontaine

This is the latest French film to do the rounds of British cinemas. Reuniting Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Beart, who were both cast in Ozon’s 8 Women. Nathalie is the latest by director Anne Fontaine, whose previous films include Dry Cleaning and How I Killed My Father.

The cast is rounded out by Gerard Deparieu, who plays Ardants husband. She becomes suspicious of him after he misses the flight that would have got him home in time for his surprise birthday party and she listens to a message from a young woman thanking him for the night before. Ardant confronts Depardieu on the matter and he is very dismissive, which is unsurprisingly less than reassuring.

With this Ardant is fuming on events, when she spots a bar round the corner from where she works. She goes in, and watches men pay to meet women, where she hatches the plan to hire a woman to test her husband. Beart is the woman she chooses, providing her with the pseudonym of Nathalie and information on how to meet her husband. From there Ardant and Beart meet regularly, with Beart dishing the dirt on her increasingly torrid relationship with Depardieu.

Through which a curious relationship is established between the two women, leaving Depardieu on the sidelines of the film really, such that it is the chemistry between the two that really drives the film. Ardant is frustrated and haunted, confused by her motives, at times drawn in and fascinated by these accounts of her husbands actions, then disgusted and offended.

Throughout Beart sizzles, chemically smoking on screen through the intensity of her appearance and how she is made up, bringing her face to life through her smouldering performances – while at the same time she expresses vulnerability as the two become strangely intertwined. A powerful and driven relationship drama, which in real terms perhaps covers small territories, but does so in a striking and remarkable fashion.

Title: Tell No One
Author: Harlan Corben

Think about it.

You meet the love of your life when you are 7 years old.
You go through each step of exploration, of development together.
Your first kiss when you are 12.
You test your relationship by going to different universities.
You get married at 25.
You go out to the family holiday home to celebrate the 13th anniversary of that first kiss.
You are knocked unconscious.
Your new wife is brutally murdered.

8 years later.
An email arrives it takes you to a webcam.
You are looking at a random street.
A woman steps beneath the camera.
Then she looks into the camera.
It is your wife.
Who you thought was dead for 8 years.
She mouths the words “I’m sorry”

For me, that is a hook. The mix of the set up and knock down, with the real contemporary feel of that hook coming from the web cam. The inclusion of this kind of technology is one of the things that attract me to thrillers and is something that is cropping up in a whole range of work. Paul McAuley’s Whole Wide World featured the death of a girl transmitted live on her webcam. Michael Marshall’s The Lonely Dead includes a woman tracked through her webcam and murdered. And Michael Connelly’s Chasing The Dime sees a man drawn into events surrounding a missing prostitute after he is given the number published on her website.

With Tell No One Coben sets a whole stream of events into motion as a result of this one email. More bodies are found, and the FBI are investigating the lead character for those deaths, and for that of his wife. The result is one of the best thrillers I have read recently.

Narrative tricks are always something I find curious – the effects they have on how the plot develops. The kind of different insights they can provide, and how they are justified. In Tell No One the lead character narrates in first person through the first chunk of text, and throughout his sections. Secondary characters however switch to third person –this starts to provide the clues through which we start to piece together what is actually going on. In some ways this is a curious tool – I’ve started to notice that this kind of technique is common in thrillers, it does usually get explained by the lead learning about what else has been going on late – in this case that doesn’t seem to be as evident.

Working out what is going to happen in advance is possible, reflection makes the clues more evident, though the pace and structure does keep things going, so that you can become more involved than with some of the other thrillers I’ve read recently. With that it probably isn’t surprising that Tell No One has been licensed for cinema, with the film likely to be on release before the end of this year. In saying that, I am glad that I read it now, given the track record of Hollywood with adaptations.

Title: Grave Secrets/Death du Jour
Author: Kathy Reichs
Publisher:William Heinemann

Kathy Reichs has written about a half dozen novels featuring her forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan – a lecturer in North Carolina and police liaison in Quebec, which splits her time between the two. With my first reading of Reichs’ work – Grave Secrets – we start in Guatemala, with Tempe excavating mass graves, which resulted from the ethnic cleansing of past dictatorships. While there those that are responsible for past deaths but are still part of the current system try to prevent the past being dug up – which is the areas where I was first attracted. To make matters worse someone is killing young woman and doing their best to destroy the bodies – with the latest killing being the daughter of the Canadian ambassador, Tempe finds herself drawn in thanks to her connections to the Quebecois police.
Death Du Jour is Reichs second novel, following the debut Deja Dead, and my second reading of her work. Term time has just ended in Carolina, with which Tempe is spending some time in Quebec, which puts her on the scene for identifying bodies from a house fire – two burnt in their beds, but an old woman with a bullet through her head in the basement. Quickly bodies pile up, alarmingly in the Carolina area as well as Quebec, with Tempe warned off on a couple of occasions.
Reichs is a professional anthropologist, who is writing her character with a professional knowledge. The result is that the novel is fleshed out in a technical level. The plot level of the murders and investigations works well, the relationship aspects are of less interest – though the fact that the character has those levels of course fleshes her out as a person.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Planetary Vol.3 - Leaving The 20th Century - i had seen this listed recently, so wasn't surprised to find it in the shop window of my local comic store. however for some reason i can't find details of it on the publishers website, and according to amazon it hasn't been released yet. i have a copy, so it clearly does exist - go figure. was going to try post the cover image - the hardback editions of such a good design.

Friday, July 09, 2004

remote - this is the first volume of what looks likely to be four released in the UK by the end of the year. Published by the Tokyo Pop company under their 16 plus age bracket, this is the start of a crime drama series.

The lead character is Kurumi Ayaki (the girl shown on the cover), a woman who is just quit her job as a traffic warden to get married. Unfortunately times are tough, and instead of the promotion her car salesman husband-to-be was expecting, he instead finds that he will be lucky to remain in work. Forcing her to try and get her job back, unfortunately there is no longer a job available in the traffic department – but as she has just come from a crime scene, there is a strange opening in the unsolved crime unit.

This puts her in the role of the latest assistant to the eccentric, gifted and difficult head of the department, who refuses to leave the base of operations he runs from his crypt like home and goes through assistants on a seemingly daily basis. Ayaki suddenly finds herself transported from issuing traffic tickets, to being the front line eyes and ears of this Inspector Himuro on a serial killer case. A murderous clown is leaving a trail of bodies, and with each body he leaves a disc leaving a clue to the next death. Putting Ayaki closer and closer to each murder as Himuro frantically tries to solve each new puzzle.

In some ways Ayaki is the manga girl cliché, big eyed and short skirted, running breathlessly from scene to scene. But she manages to show some spirit with her reaction to events around her, and her interaction with husband to be. Fleshing her out a little and making her more of a potentially fun character. At the same time the plot is also being built up, adding little twists and working towards the cliff hanger that makes this volume continued into the next.

remote - the first volume in manga crime drama - just published in the uk Posted by Hello

Title: Water Lilly
Author: Susanna Jones

Water Lilly is the second novel by English novelist Susanna Jones, which again follows from her own time in Japan with a story of cultural encounters. Water Lilly is a little harder to get into than her debut novel, The Earthquake Bird, given that neither of the two lead characters are particularly likeable.

Difficult characters seeming to be at the core of Jones’ work, Lucy in The Earthquake Bird was fairly individual, abandoning her homeland and going to Japan with the idea that it was as far away as she could get. For me at least though, Lucy had a spark, for all her reluctance to get involved with other people, and her perhaps anti-social persona, there was still something likeable about her. Ralph and Runa however come across differently. Though in saying that Runa is more of a selfish character, manipulating events to her own end, trying to get things to go her way – which doesn’t actually make her an entirely bad person. Ralph however is really difficult, in some ways he is weakly naïve, what might be described as being wet – a bumbling Englishman who has travelled to Japan to find his “eastern blossom”. Which in itself would only make him a woolly character, but as we get more into who he his, we see his ideas are sexist and old-fashioned – he is too readily taken in by the corporate propaganda of what he should expect from Asian women, but how closely his own feelings line-up with these illusions is what makes him somehow contemptible and pathetic.

The novel is written in two parts, two books within the book, and throughout the narrative switches between the two leads. Runa is an English teacher is a rural, village school, and bored she has started an affair with one of her pupils. Which is fine, until she receives a black mail threat, putting her into a panic with the anticipation of the disgrace that will come her way if her actions come out. With this in mind she steals her sister’s passport and decides to flee from Japan to China. Ralph is an English businessman in his 40’s, who has set up meetings with several young Japanese women, with the hope that one of them will be his ideal bride. However Ralph is rude, unattractive, and to his surprise Japanese women are slightly more wilful and independent than he expected – so that while a woman from another Asian country might have been motivated by desperation, a Japanese women really requires more than Ralph has to offer. Feeling rejected and put out, Ralph decides to go for his back up plan, arranging to meet with a plain-looking Chinese woman he has found on the internet, he sets off for Shanghai. Which covers the action for this part, introducing us to the two leads, and propelling them both to the same boat journey to China.

Between the slim elements which make the characters sympathetic – Runa’s feelings from when her mother died while she was still a child, and Ralph’s failed marriage to a previous Asian woman after a visit to Thailand – and the general momentum of events, I started to find that I was getting into Water Lilly more than I had been at first. The second part and the meetings of the two characters is where it propels itself along. The characters are fleshed out, through the events that have led them to this juncture as well as the emerging histories of the pair. Jones also mixes in extracts from the brochures that Ralph is using as his guide to Asian women, providing some insight into the clichés and illusions, which are in some ways appalling, and at the same time contrasted by the reality of the characters encountered.

As with The Earthquake Bird, Susanna Jones has something of an unconventional approach to writing with Water Lilly, which again provides enviable results.

Title: Paperback Raita
Author: William Rhode
Publisher:Pocket Books

paperback raita is the first novel by the writer will rhodes, his second due soon. like rhodes, his character josh king is a writer preparing for his first novel. josh has expressed a desire to be a writer, though for the most part he hasn't done anything towards that end, other than write a couple of articles for a paper. a paper in india, where he has spent a lot of time hanging around. his dad doesn't think that josh is really trying hard enough - so when his dad commits suicide, he makes it a condition of his will that josh publishes a successful novel if he is to get his inheritance of five million pounds.

during his time in india, josh has heard of a major drug dealer - someone from the bollywood scene of mumbai who is involved with the trafficking of drugs from pakistan to india, while also taking in goa's tourist trade. josh feels that if he can penetrate the circle surrounding this trade he might be able to get a story out of it, at least initially for the newspaper, and possibly then for a novel. but with the addition of yasmin a beautiful dutch girl who's boyfriend is arrested, and josh's childhood friend sanjeev, a plan comes about to rip off the drug baron and make a fortune that way.

this sets up something of a skam/heist plot - penetrate the inner circle of mumbai's drug trade, then time it for the next batch from pakistan and steal the money. this leads the cast from new delhi up to mumbai, then back down to the border with pakistan - providing something of a road trip aspect to the whole. throughout there is a certain mix of indian culture, details of the poverty and caste systems, which serves to flesh out the story and provide the exotic detail which it needs being set in india.

tension comes with josh's growing suspicion of those around him, and the fact that he actually becomes good friends with the ex-bollywood director who they are planning to rip off. paperback raita is self-aware enough to know what it is - a paperback adventure, pulp novel, taking in the classic themes of big journeys, beautiful women, and a big prize. of course in saying that, this is a light read, lacking grit - there are murders, druggies, and street kids, but somehow, like a lot of the other details, is perhaps too fleeting.

Title: Arabesk
Author: Barbara Nadel

this is the third novel by british novelist barbara nadel, featuring the istanbul homicide division. arabesk is a type of music, as featured here, a music particularly of poorer and more ethnic turks. one of the current rising stars like many in the arabesk scene is from a poor village, of kurdish ethnicity. he is involved with an older woman, one of the classic arabesk stars - a mutual arrangement to boost both careers.

however, tradition dictates that he should marry a girl from his village, so things get complicated when his secret wife is found dead, and his secret daughter is missing. nadel's suleyman covers the other end of the turkish spectrum, coming from an ottoman family, with his superior off on sick leave he has been promoted to inspector. of course his boss can't help become involved, and his deputy, who is also kurdish is becoming a little too familiar with the victims/susects.

as a crime novel arabesk is fairly straight forward, building up a cultural picture of istanbul and it's people more than anything else. in terms of "whodunnit", i had it worked out pretty early on, which rather than make me feel smart, makes me frustrated - if i can work out that readily, then why can't the police?

Title: Lost Boy, Lost Girl
Author: Peter Straub

this is the third novel by peter straub featuring his character tim underhill - a writer who seems to writer novels similar to straub, based to some degree on events in his life. the results provide mixed narrative effects - shifting person view point from first to third, depending on whether it is from tim's view, or his account of something told to him. additionally the time scales shift about, piecing together events as characters provide them, which leads to some feeling of flux, which can feel confusing to some degree.

underhill returns to his home town, from new york where he is living the life of a successful author, for the funeral of his brother's wife. once there he realises that she had comitted suicide, and tries to understand why. however soon after the funeral, his nephew disappears. once again returning to his home town underhill starts to learn about his sister-in-law's relation to the notorious local serial-killer/rapist, and the house that he lived in. at the same time as the underhills are coming to terms with their connection to this past killer, a new killer has arisen, killing teenage boys - so that the question of whether mark underhill is the latest victim arises.

with the mystery surrounding the original killer's house and possible sightings of what might be ghosts, there is a certain sense of something "other", contrasting the more straightforward ideas of serial killers. however the handling of this aspect is curious, and not entirely satisfying. one particular niggle with the plot, why did the underhill family move into a house where there is a house of a serial killer across the back yard? straub makes some attempt to explain this, which might be valid to some degree, but still feels a little half hearted.

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