Bone Tomahawk

I’m not sure how Bone Tomahawk came to my attention, but once it was flagged I was really keen to see it. I missed it at the cinema so was very grateful to the Book God for getting it for me as a gift.

In the dying days of the old west, an elderly sheriff and his posse set out to rescue their town’s doctor from cannibalistic cave dwellers.

Not an entirely accurate synopsis but it will do to kick us off.

We start with a couple of outlaws who have robbed and killed some settlers and are therefore on the run. Unfortunately while running they stumble upon a sacred site which they desecrate by their mere presence; one is brutally killed and the other makes his way to Bright Hope. An altercation with the sheriff leads to him being shot, which results in the wife of a local rancher tending to his wounds because the town’s actual doctor is dead drunk, further leading them both to be kidnapped along with the deputy who is keeping an eye on things. None of this becomes clear until the next morning when the body of the young stable boy is found and the bad guys have already made their escape.

We then have the classic posse heading out to rescue the hostages. Sadly there are only four men in said posse, one of whom is injured but determined to take part in his wife’s rescue. They are made aware that what they are dealing with is a group of cannibals shunned by the various Native American tribes, but despite all of that they feel they have to make the attempt. And off we go.

I was interested to see that at the beginning the horror was fairly low key – yes there is a gruesome murder and we see the graphic results of that, but generally we don’t get a feel for what the troglodytes are capable of until our heroes get nearer to their base. That means that the film is for a large part a fairly traditional western with some very recognisable characters; the grizzled sheriff (Kurt Russell), his ageing deputy (Richard Jenkins), the decent rancher (Patrick Wilson) and the flashy gunslinger (Matthew Fox). The performances are restrained and the horror builds up slowly until we get to a scene of graphic violence and ritual killing which was quite astonishing, and had a major impact on the characters who witnessed it and the audience i.e. me.

I liked the fact that the kidnapped woman, played by Lili Simmons, was intelligent, capable and fully aware of her predicament, able to assess the strength of her captors and not faint away. This is always a good thing.

Other good things:

  • grizzled Kurt Russell is the very best Kurt Russell, especially when being stoic and brave;
  • Richard Jenkins is a fine actor and I have loved him in everything I’ve seen him in, and he is fabulous here;
  • although the violence is extreme and graphic it didn’t feel to me to be gratuitous, but YMMV.

I enjoyed this slice of Western horror, and because I had to watch it alone as the Book God does not like This Sort of Thing it has spawned a new hashtag – #HorrorByMyself 🙂 – you will be seeing that a lot in the next wee while as I seem to be on a horror kick.

Dazzling details: Bone Tomahawk was directed by S Craig Zahler, is 2 hours 12 minutes long and not at all surprisingly is rated 18 for strong violence.

My Week | 7 July (with added pig)

I haven’t referred to this as an update on my reading week because I haven’t actually done much reading, for which I blame Wimbledon. Sporting distraction will be made much worse by the advent of the Tour de France which started yesterday but that is much more manageable because I tend to only watch the highlights. So that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

More about the pig later.

So I’m currently reading two books; The Clockwork Scarab which I mentioned in last week’s post I think (checks – yes, I did), and Stalling for Time which I’ll talk about more below. I’ve given myself a target to finish them both this week, which I think is achievable if I just manage to Pick. Them. Up.

In terms of new books, it’s been a good week as I try to limit my spending and I only bought two things:

  • the aforementioned Stalling for Time by Gary Noesner which I bought because we have started watching the Waco TV series and he is one of the FBI hostage negotiators featured. The blurb says that Noesner will take us on ” a harrowing tour through many of the most famous hostage crises in the history of the modern FBI, including the siege at Waco, the Montana Freemen standoff, and the D.C. sniper attacks.” I haven’t read much of the book but so far it is totally fascinating.
  • Growing Things & other stories by Paul Tremblay – “Unearth nineteen tales of suspense and literary horror, [..] that offer a terrifying glimpse into Tremblay’s fantastically fertile imagination.” I read The Cabin at the End of the World last year and was impressed enough to buy his other books. This is a new release which I think makes his short fiction available in the UK for the first time.

I also had an unplanned outing this week. I accompanied the Book God to an appointment and after that we took the opportunity to head to Greenwich to visit the Old Royal Naval College, specifically the Painted Hall which is a wonderful space as you can (hopefully) see from the picture at the top of the post. They provide wide seats in the centre of the room so that you can lie down and appreciate that ceiling. It’s also where Nelson’s body lay in state before his funeral.

And now ….. some of you will know that I was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago and one of the things I try to do to help manage my condition, with varying degrees of success, is exercise going for walks. This usually means covering a minimum of 3 miles at a time around my neighbourhood.

I really didn’t want to do it today – it had been drizzling and was very humid, but I got myself ready, plugged in my headphones so I could listen to podcasts (on this occasion My Favourite Murder and Quinn Cummings Gives Bad Advice) and set off. And I got an unexpected and delightful reward, because walking down a residential street not far from my house I met a young woman who was taking her pig for a walk. On a lead.

I live in south-west London and it is not usual to see a pig in the street 😀

Anyway I stopped to speak to the woman and complimented her on the pig, who was a handsome chocolate-brown chap standing about hip-height and a very solid animal. I didn’t want to impose too much and knew I had to make a choice – ask to take a photo or ask to touch the pig.

Reader, I stroked the pig.

It was awesome. And in the absence of a photo you will just have to take my word for it!

Have a great reading week!

Strange Practice

Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.

Can you feel a BUT coming?

BUT, when Greta is called in by her friend, the vampire Edward Ruthven, to tend to another famous vampire, Sir Francis Varney, who has been attacked in his home with a combination of garlic and a cross-shaped dagger coated with something nasty, it becomes clear that there is a concerted effort to destroy the “monstrous” and the humans who work with them.

Of course, this means Greta herself is in danger along with the motley crew of vampires, ghouls, a demon and a researcher from the British Museum from a rampaging group of monks with a mission. But what’s motivating them and how can they be stopped?

Strange Practice is a really enjoyable urban fantasy which manages to mix traditional mythology (garlic, crosses and os on) with a different approach (alliances between human and undead), particularly the concept that such creatures would need medical support.

It works because not only is the conceit well-thought-out, but the characters, especially Greta, are complex, engaging and likeable. There’s even a glorious cameo from the Devil, and the use of my new favourite phrase “inferno-celestial politics”

I loved this and am looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

The Man From the Train

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewellery and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villisca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.

Bill James, who is a statistics whizz and baseball writer, became fascinated with these cases and applied his skills to work out which of the crimes were linked and which were standalone, and ultimately to identify the killer. He enlisted his daughter Rachel McCarthy James as a research assistant and she is identified as a co-author of the book.

You will know by now that I cannot leave true crime stuff alone, and I came across this book when reading through a list of best non-fiction crime reads and was intrigued by the premise, mainly because of the timeframe. Intellectually I know that what we now call serial killers have been around forever, but the idea that it would be possible to identify that type of criminal from before the First World War just called to me.

I won’t go into detail about the solution because the point of the book is to explain how it was arrived at and we don’t get given a name until the very end, but it seemed plausible that the named individual rode the rails and killed when e had the opportunity, which is the best that anyone could hope for at this distance.

The Man from the Train is written in a distinctive style which the reader will either love or find annoying; I don’t think there is middle ground 🙂 James approaches this in the same way that he would write about baseball I guess. He is very much in the thick of the narrative; no detachment here. I must admit that I really liked the way in which he makes his arguments, justifying why he has included something or why he disagrees with the assessment of others, sometimes coming across as quite defensive. He can also be a bit rude about other writers, but you get such a sense of James explaining all of this to you in person that I found it very entertaining.

James doesn’t shy away from the nastiness of the murders, the poor quality of many of the investigations, and tragically the lynching of a number of suspects. Awful. He also provides context on what forensic measures were available at the time (hint – not much).

It reminded me a little of They All Loved Jack (which you can read about on my old blog) but without the unfortunate opinions.

June 2019 | Second Half Round-Up

Halfway through the year already and as I didn’t post last week because I was under the weather for a few days this will be a catch up for the second half of the month. Here we go!

Books read

I managed to finish two books, both in this past week. The Man From the Train is a true crime book which was totally fascinating, and Strange Practice was a really excellent urban fantasy which I’ve had on my virtual TBR shelf since it came out a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it so much I’ve bought/pre-ordered the rest of the series (see below). Reviews of both of these books will follow later this week if I stick to my planned schedule.
I’m also on track for my #20BooksOfSummer reading plan.

New books

  • Chanel’s Riviera * Anne de Courcy – Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Cote d’Azur 1930-1944 – ‘Far from worrying about the onset of war, in the spring of 1938 the burning question on the French Riviera was whether one should curtsey to the Duchess of Windsor. Few of those who had settled there thought much about what was going on in the rest of Europe. It was a golden, glamorous life, far removed from politics or conflict.
  • Chaos * Tom O’Neill – Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties – ‘In 1999, when Tom O’Neill was assigned a magazine piece about the thirtieth anniversary of the Manson murders, he worried there was nothing new to say. Weren’t the facts indisputable? Charles Manson had ordered his teenage followers to commit seven brutal murders, and in his thrall, they’d gladly complied. But when O’Neill began reporting the story, he kept finding holes in the prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s narrative, long enshrined in the bestselling Helter Skelter. Before long, O’Neill had questions about everything from the motive to the manhunt. Though he’d never considered himself a conspiracy theorist, the Manson murders swallowed the next two decades of his career. He was obsessed.
  • Dreadful Company * Vivian Shaw – A Dr Greta Helsing novel – ‘When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery. Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires – and not the civilised kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the maze of ancient catacombs beneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones
  • Our Rainbow Queen * Sali Hughes – ‘This riotously colourful book takes a photographic journey through Queen Elizabeth II’s ten decades of colour-blocked style. The photographs, which span the colours of the rainbow and a century of style, are gloriously accessorised with captions and commentary by journalist and broadcaster Sali Hughes.
  • The Affair of the Mysterious Letter * Alexis Hall – ‘Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation. When Ms Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way, he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

Currently reading

This morning I started The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, a sort of steampunk-alternative-history-YA-romance-mystery starring Sherlock Holmes’ niece and Bram Stoker’s sister. So far lots of fun, a lovely light read..

Other stuff

We had a couple of really good days out this last week despite horrendous humidity which left us both exhausted and grateful for our aircon at home.

On Tuesday we went to the House of Illustration in King’s Cross with our friend Susan to see the Posy Simmonds retrospective. It was so, so good to get close to her work; many of the cartoons I remember from reading her contributions to the Guardian’s Women’s Page back in the day had the original artwork on display. I may have bought one or two things from the gallery shop.

We also went to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden which was huge fun; it’s ages since I’ve been there.

Photos from both events are available to view on my Instagram feed; do go and have a look if you don’t follow me there already.

Hope you all have a great reading week!

Men in Black International

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

MIB: International is, of course, a reboot of/sequel to the very successful movies with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from back in the day. Here we have Tessa Thompson (still have a huge girl crush on her) who is determined to become an MIB agent after having an experience with a tiny alien when she was a child and failing to be neuralised. You have seen the poster, so you know she gets her wish, courtesy of the amazing Emma Thompson who is as close to the Big Boss as we see.

Agent M, as Tessa becomes, is sent off to London where there is an Unspecified Problem and finds herself working with Agent H, played by Chris, the Greater Hemsworth. There is action aplenty – much of London is wrecked though I think Greggs may have survived – the inevitable heroes on the run plot, and some lovely scenery. All is, of course, resolved more or less satisfactorily.

I guessed who the mole was going to be within the first 5 minutes, based on a tried and trusted formula which I will not share here but which has worked for almost every TV crime story I have ever seen and didn’t let me down.

We could have done with a few more actual aliens, though the ones we have, especially the alien twins, were pretty cool and I even liked Pawny (who some have found annoying I know).

The touching reunion at a key moment plot device was fairly obvious, the person being signposted as the mole was clearly never going to be the one, and there was insufficient Emma Thompson, though honestly when is that ever not the case?

I suppose I’m being really picky here but I genuinely liked the film. The chemistry between H and M is the main reason it worked for me. It’s light, amusing rather than laugh out loud funny and fairly predictable in its story, but for a Thursday night date movie it hit the spot, and I can see myself happily watching it again. It’s fun, and sometimes that’s all a film needs to be 🙂

Dazzling details: directed by F Gary Gray, MIB: I is 1h 54m long and rated 12A for moderate violence, threat, sex references, language

Siren Song

When the luxury yacht Helen Brooks was last seen on is found abandoned amid the treacherous marshlands of the Humber Estuary, foul play is suspected. However, in the absence of a body, nothing can be proven. The owner of the yacht, ambitious businessman Simon Fowler, seems unprepared even to offer any sort of explanation as to what Helen was doing on board. A year later, Hull private investigator Leo Rivers is approached by Alison Brooks, Helen’s mother, to investigate both the background to this disappearance and Fowler

Siren Song is the second in Robert Edric’s Song Cycle featuring Leo Rivers; I bought this and indeed the third novel after finishing Cradle Song which I reviewed here. I’ve read some of Edric’s other work and enjoyed it and it is interesting to see how he approaches the crime genre given his more “literary” background (I hate that phrase but what can you do?). When reviewing books I tend to focus on my own reading experience but I will occasionally go off and have a look at what professional reviewers are saying. It is always interesting to see what others think, especially when, in this case, the response is negative (dull and pedestrian seemed to be the keywords) or at best damned with faint praise.

I enjoyed this book. I like Leo Rivers as a character, perhaps because he is something of a cypher and we don’t really get a feel for his private life and circumstances, which is offputting to some. I do sometimes get irritated by crime novels being more about the investigator than the crime itself, and although Rivers does get intimately involved with on of the other characters it is part of the general theme of manipulation which underpins the plot. there was an added pleasure in that one of our friends is called Simon Fowler and every time I saw the name it gave me a little jolt.

I didn’t work out the solution which is something I can’t help but try to do when reading a crime novel, but I don’t think that’s the point here; the focus for me was on the moral ambiguities involved in the various relationships. There is quite a high body count for a story that isn’t about a serial killer though.

I thought this was a complex and satisfying tale about seeking the truth, finding peace and taking revenge. It’s fair to say that some of these aims are achieved more successfully than others but that reflects life I guess. I’m looking forward to reading the third volume soon.

This was my third read for 20 Books of Summer.