Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Clearing the Decks...

I've been finishing things off recently, clearing the decks for new things and consigning the old to the book cases that used to be kitchen cabinets in the shed, and to big black folders full of dvds.

We limped to the end of The Duchess of Duke Street for one. Slightly disappointingly the second - and final - series tailed off rather than thundering to the finish, with loose ends too conveniently tied up and the emerging storyline of Louisa's relationship with her daughter too quickly settled. It's be interesting to know about the production gossip of the time for this series - was it cancelled with pretty short notice, so that John Hawkesworth needed to cram too much into too little space, perhaps? Lalla Ward as the all singing and dancing daughter is actually much better than I expected (though not a par on the fabulous Gemma Jones or Richard Vernon) but I do find it odd to hear her described as a ravishing beauty, when so far as I can see she has that English Rose quality best summed up as a cross between a horse and a mildly embarrassed bottle of milk. Sort of Gail Tilsley with sex appeal.

I (as opposed to we) also finished the second season of the adult cartoon, Archer. A recommendation from the always reliable Rob, I wasn't sure about this madly OTT tale of a sex mad super spy, his vile, alcoholi cmother and hs collection of psychotic work colleagues, but it grew on me and by the end I was really looking forward to each episode. And is it wrong to find the women in a cartoon a tiny bit sexy?

We (as opposed to I) also finished Endgame (another Rob recommendation), a Canadian mystery show about an agrophobic chess grandmaster. If you've not already seen it, it's probably not worth bothering with since vieweing figures which Channel 5 would be ashamed of led to its cancellation towards the end of season one. Shame, as it was a neat little show, even if the link to chess was too often tangential at best.

Oh and I watched the first couple of episodes of Pathfinders, a seventies drama series about bombers in the war, but it was dully written and acted so I bailed...

A pile of books got read in the last week or so too - best of the set was Ben Aaranovitch's Remembrance of the Daleks, which it turns out I'd never read. Long mentioned as the first (if unofficial) Virgn New Adventure, this book is fabulous, witty and clever - and so has nothing in common with the vast majority of gritty grimefests which most often characterised the NAs.

I also finished off Deadline, sequel to last year's excellent Feed - like Duchess of Duke Street it was very good but ended poorly; George Mann's Paradox Lost, which is easily one of the top few Dr Who NSAs; and read - in draft format - an exciting new project which Obverse might soon be involved with.

And now onto new stuff - Bill Bryson's new book waits plumply by my bed, Upstairs Downstairs sits in the dvd player and I will soon have Pathfinders in Space ordered from Network.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Seeing I - Jon Blum and Kate Orman (1998)

Prompted by a discussion on a mailing list about whether a great Dr Who book series with authors hand-picked by, well, us would ameliorate in any way the pain of the cancellation of the TV series, I read Seeing I over the last few days, the first EDA I've read for a while.

And it was great.

I've always wondered just a little at the enormous amount of praise that Kate Orman's New Adventures get, since for me they were each a teensy bit plodding, a tiny bit dull and lacking in humour. Equally, Jon Blum seems at times to be the most unfairly overlooked of Who authors, with his short stories being some of the best around (his Iris short in 'Wildthyme on Top' is exceptional, for instance) and 'Fallen Gods' being one of the best of the generally excellent Telos novellas. The insinuation that I've seen several times that Blum only gets gigs because he's married to Orman appears to be the wildest baloney to me, therefore.

Together, in fact, I think they work perfectly. The poetry of Blum's writing is anchored by the anxiety in Orman's and tied more securely to a recognisable, solid plot than is the case in his other work, while Orman's earnestness is pleasantly diluted by Blum's wit. Some of the individual phrases and sentences are as good as anything in the books (or on the television for that matter) and while it feels as though you can tell who wrote what - 'the aliens reached for her with hands made of angles' is surely Blum, and 'she thought of rows of babies wired up drip-feeders for a life-time, their eyes never opening because there was no-one inside to look out' seems equally plainly to be Orman - the mix works well. And 'the metal...broke with the sound of an accordion being murdered' is as laugh out loud funny a line as Steven Moffat ever penned, never mind lesser writers of the TV show.

There's even some precognition of the current tv story arc, with the Doctor telling an alien threat 'You know who I am' and expecting them to flee on the basis of that recognition. Incidentally, the alien threat kept reminding me of Lance Parkin's Eyeless, and not just because of the name. Reading The Eyeless, the debt to Paul Magrs Glassmen of Valcea (from The Blue Angel) was fairly massively obvious, but Parkin owes an equal debt to Orman and Blum for inspiration, I think - truly there's nothing new under the Who sun :)

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Case of the Gilded Fly - Edmund Crispin (1944)

Edmund Crispin is - with Marjory Allingham - the best writer to have a pop at crime fiction in the golden era of British crime in the 1930s and 40s. His Gervase Fen, unlike Allingham's Campion, is a supremely confident, often arrogant man, who makes no attempt to hide either his confidence or his arrogance, but his actions - like Campion's - wholly justify any preening he may do. I like him loads, but this is the first time I've read the first book in the series, The Case of the Gilded Fly.

There's nothing surprising on show - Fen arrives fully-formed in the first few pages, and I see little character growth between this and other Fen books I've read. He's bad-tempered, arrogant and a smart-arse, delights in knowing more than anyone else, and there's never any doubt he'll solve the puzzle at hand. That puzzle is fairly straight-forward in itself, although the specific solution to the crime is in some ways even more esoteric and unlikely than that in Crispin's masterpiece, The Moving Toyshop.

What is missing is a lot of the humour of the latter books, which is a shame since there's been at least one laugh out loud line in each of the other Fen novels I've read. I did like the meta-fictional touches though: Fen muttering that he was getting bored of the entire plot and various references by both Fen and Sir Richard, his police officer friend, about the proper use of characterisation in detective novels and just how many clues (and how interesting) need be left for the reader. Amusing if perhaps not entirely necessary (and even a little over-used to be honest).

Crispin has an inventive touch with metaphor and a very readable tone (even if attitudes to class and sex have move don since the forties), which is fairly impressive for a novel written while he was still at University, but he perhaps has less control over the story than in succeeding books. Even for a relatively short novel, there's what feels like padding as an elderly guest tells a ghost story which Fen rationalises and explains later on. Like the rest of the book it almost works and you can see what Crispin was trying to do in creating a b-mystery for Fen to show off with, but it doesn't quite click.

By the next book in the series, though, the author is far more confident and Fen never looks back.