Sunday, 30 July 2017

Timeslip

On the 28th of September 1970, and for the next 26 weeks, Simon Randall (Spencer Banks) and Liz Skinner (Cheryl Burfield) slipped through a hole in the 'Time Barrier' which allowed them to explore both the past and alternate futures.  Along the way they encountered German invaders, megalomaniac scientists, clones and various future versions of themselves.  All of which was fairly typical of life in the UK in the early 70s.

Developed by Ruth Boswell (who would later also develop 'Escape Into Night' and produce 'The Tomorrow People') Timeslip was a deliberate attempt to tap into the Doctor Who audience in a kid friendly manner whilst addressing issues (such as environmentalism and authoritarianism) that were as relevant then as they are now.  It's two leads, the emotional and plucky Liz and the bookish and serious Simon both throw themselves into their roles, each maturing into their respective parts while the rest of the cast, which includes Denis Quilley as Traynor and Gerry Anderson alumni David Graham (the voice of Brains in Thunderbirds) as Simon's future self, Controller 2957, are all very watchable.

Even though it was filmed in colour the original tapes degraded and only the 12th episode (the last part of the second series) remains in colour, the others are all black and white telerecordings.

Amongst its supporters Timeslip is very fondly remembered - some of whom have produced the excellent Timeslip website - but it's a show that seems to have slipped (sorry) off many people's radars and is one that rarely seems to be mentioned anymore which is a shame as it's definitely worth your time (sorry).

Buy it here - Timeslip: The Complete Series [DVD] - or watch it below.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

John Silence

Algernon Blackwood
John Baker Publishers

One of the foremost British writers of supernatural tales in the twentieth century, Algernon Blackwood (1869–1951) wrote stories in which the slow accumulation of telling details produced a foreboding atmosphere of almost unendurable tension. Blackwood's literary renown began in 1908 with the publication of a highly successful collection of stories, John Silence — Physician Extraordinary, featuring a "psychic doctor."
This volume contains all five of the John Silence stories from the 1908 edition. The stories include "A Psychical Invasion," in which Silence is summoned to a house apparently haunted by former tenants. In "Ancient Sorceries," he encounters a man who tells of strange experiences in a small French town; and in "Secret Worship," an ill-starred character is rescued from spiritual and perhaps physical death. "The Nemesis of Fire," and "The Camp of the Dog," conclude this collection of spellbinding tales, which will delight any devotee of "weird" literature.
 


Over the last few years and in various anthologies I've read a few of Blackwood's stories concerning his occult investigator Dr John Silence, and they were a real treat.  I've been been hunting a nice old copy of this collection of most of the Silence stories for a while but as all the modern editions have pretty dreadful cover designs it took a while to find an older edition that I both liked and could afford.

Blackwood only wrote 6 John Silence stories, 5  of which were published together in 1908 (as is the case with this volume) with the 6th - 'A Victim of Higher Space' - not included because Blackwood felt it wasn't up to the mark.  It's actually my personal favourite but I do think it makes for a strange fit with the other 5.

John Silence is a medical doctor of independent wealth who uses his skills, both physical and psychical to help with and investigate interesting problems.  Over the course of the collection we find him in turn investigating a haunted house, listening to and commenting on a story of feline witchery, battling a mummies curse, rescuing an unsuspecting traveller from devil worshippers and match making for a lovesick puppy.

In each case he is both an enigmatic but powerful presence although in the case of  two of the stories he is very much a bit player.  In the other three - particularly the first - we get to see him in action and he is such a steely and knowledgeable character that he would, I think, be a rather tiresome presence to have always centre stage and so Blackwood uses him sparingly even in his own adventures and they are all the better for it.

As I mentioned above, I've been on the look out for a nice old copy for a few years now and this one turned up at just the right time to help sate my psychic detective hankering and even with only the one story that I hadn't previously read it was a welcome and very enjoyable read.

Buy it here -  John Silence: The Complete Adventures

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Incredible Robert Baldick - Never Come Night

Originally screened in 1972 as part of the BBCs Drama Playhouse series 'The Incredible Robert Baldick' marked the return to the BBC of Dalek creator Terry Nation after some 7 years working for the rival ITV network. Drama Playhouse was a series of one off pilots created to test the water for a possible series, it didn't happen here which is a real shame.

Robert Hardy plays the eponymous hero, an occult detective who travels around in a lavish, bulletproof locomotive called 'The Tsar'.  He, along with his assistants Thomas and Caleb (Julian Holloway and a magnificently bewhiskered John Rhys-Davies) is called in by the local bigwigs (James Cossins & Reginald Marsh) to investigate the latest in a series of brutal deaths at a desolate abbey.

John Rhys-Davies and his
magnificent mutton chops
There are definite shades of Nigel Kneale in the story, of ancient horror inhabiting the stones of a place and the gothic glory of Hammer Studios is definitely brought to mind.  Hardy and the rest of the cast are all in fine form and the script is a solid and thoroughly enjoyable slice of gothic sci-fi of the sort that Doctor Who would explore to great effect a few years later under Philip Hinchcliffe's guidance, indeed Hardy's character is called Doctor by his assistants throughout.  As I said, a real shame this never made it to series but it's a great little taste of what might have been.

Enjoy.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Haunted

James Herbert
Pan Books

Three nights of terror in a house called Edbrook. Three nights in which David Ash, there to investigate a haunting, will be the victim of horrifying and maleficent games. Three nights in which he will face the enigma of his own past. Three nights before Edbrook's dreadful secret will be revealed - and the true nightmare will begin.

Another in the avalanche of occult detective stories to come my way lately is this little ditty from Herbert.

To the best of my knowledge I've only ever read one other James Herbert book (although there's a good chance I read some as a teen and have forgotten) and that was the exhausting zombie / nazi book '48' which was without doubt the most hectic read of my life.  Haunted is a little more sedate.


David Ash is an investigator for the 'Psychical Research Institute' and it's most famous sceptic - although through the course of the story we discover he believes in pretty much everything except ghosts - which is a funny sort of sceptic - and he's also psychic.

The investigation he's conducting is of a haunting at an old manor house called Edbrock where the Mariell family of 2 brothers, a sister and an elderly aunt are seeing ghosts.  Over the course of 3 nights Ash is confronted by a host of visions, terrors and inexplicable events before the final revelation that you can see coming from about a third of the way in.

It's not that it's a bad book as such, it's got a nicely creepy atmosphere and the story moves along briskly but it feels superficial.  There's no real depth or texture to the goings on.  It kind of feels like a one off TV special, a pilot for an uncommissioned series.  Apparently there are 2 more Ash stories which I'll grab if I see them on a charity shop shelf but they aren't something I'll be hunting down with eager anticipation.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Thirteen Problems

Agatha Christie
Collins Crime Club

The Tuesday Night Club is a venue where locals challenge Miss Marple to solve recent crimes...One Tuesday evening a group gathers at Miss Marple's house and the conversation turns to unsolved crimes...The case of the disappearing bloodstains; the thief who committed his crime twice over; the message on the death-bed of a poisoned man which read 'heap of fish'; the strange case of the invisible will; a spiritualist who warned that 'Blue Geranium' meant death...Now pit your wits against the powers of deduction of the 'Tuesday Night Club'.

The next in the shelf full of Ms Marple's I have here is actually the first in that it contains the first ever Marple story; 'The Tuesday Night Club'.

The collection consists of 13 short mysteries, the first 12 of which follow a distinct pattern as each person tells of a mysterious happening that the others around the fireside (in the first 6) and the dinner party (in the second 6) have to solve.  It is, of course, the good lady who cuts straight to the heart of the matter as all human life can be related to the goings on in St Mary Mead.

The final story finds her engaging retired police commissioner Sit Henry Clithering - the only other constant in the 13 stories - to investigate a murder by handing him a piece of paper with the murderers name on it and then letting him do the investigating.

I've got to admit I'm enjoying the hell out of these Marple books.  I've always loved the various TV shows (Geraldine McEwan being my particular favourite) but the books are witty and inventive and the characters are fun and idiosyncratic  filled with foibles and all the inconsistencies that make people so much frustrating fun.  I have another 9 of these lined up and 2 more still to find and this makes me very happy indeed.

But it here -  The Thirteen Problems (Miss Marple)

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Dark Detectives: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries

Stephen Jones (ed)
Titan Books

Eighteen stories of supernatural detective fiction, featuring sleuths who investigate fantastic and horrific cases, protecting the world from the forces of darkness. Each writer offers a tale of a great fictional detective, including Neil Gaiman’s Lawrence Talbot, Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour, and the eight-part “Seven Stars” adventure by Kim Newman (Anno Dracula).

I do love a psychic / supernatural detective.  whether it be Van Helsing, John Constantine, Carnacki or even the Doctor back when they were having fun with gothic escapades back in the mid 1970s.  I've always liked that sort of stepping outside of the normal world that weird and macabre fiction gives but equally I love a good mystery and through the years have devoured Sherlock, Marlowe and, lately, Marple adventures with relish.  So the supernatural sleuth is one of my happy places.

Jones has assembled a thoroughly enjoyable assortment of variations on the theme although with the focus very much on work produced in the later part of the 20th century,  the exception to this being one of William Hope Hodgson's Thomas Carnacki tales, 'The Horse of the Invisible'.

Kim Newman
Interwoven through the book is a serial of shorts by Kim Newman featuring various of his creations such as Charles Beauregard, Edwin Winthrop & Genevieve Dieudonne most of whom are in some way connected to his Diogenes Club books (which hopefully Titan Books will rescue from overpriced eBay hell and reissue sometime soon).  The serial travels from ancient Egypt to the near future and traces the impact of a 'jewel' named the 'Seven Stars'.  Newman is always a fun read and never more so than when he's playing with his penny dreadful / pulp novel toys and twisting them into new shapes.  This serial alone makes the book worth the cover price and it's only 'one' of the many delights inside.

The book itself opens with a fabulously informative essay on the theme of the 'dark' detective by Jones and the prologue of the 'Seven Stars' serial before we are cast into the strange world of the uncanny, except we sort of...well...aren't.  Newman's scattered story aside, of the first three tales, and with the exception of the very end of the Carnacki story, all turn out to have mundane, if not essentially identical, denouements.  Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma story, 'Our Lady of Death' and Basil Copper's Solar Pons story 'The Adventure of the Crawling Horror' both confronted by the inexplicable only to unmask it Scooby Doo style, as does Carnacki but at least there we get a fleeting and murderous clopping of hooves.

Brian Lumley
So, it's up to the marvellously monickered Manly Wade Wellman to launch us into the supernatural sphere with his tale 'Rouse Him Not' featuring his sword cane wielding occultist John Thunstone.  It's a fairly light but fun affair taken straight from the Robert E. Howard school of brawn and brawling fantasy writing.  Much more interesting is Brian Lumley's Titus Crow story 'De Marigny's Clock' (which proves to be an enjoyable little tale of crooks, clocks and comeuppance.

Pausing only swivel around Mr Newman who by this point is romping through the groovy spy-fi of the 1970s we arrive at what, for me, was the revelation of the book, R. Chetwynd-Hayes' 'Someone is Dead'.  It's not so much the story, the plot is fun and lively but the utter joy of the two investigators,  Francis St. Clare & Frederica Masters, who just burst from the page in a riot of wit and sparkle.  I adored this and wanted to read it again as soon as I'd finished it.

Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes
Brian Mooney's 'The Vultures Gather' featuring his scruffy, immoderate and slightly lazy investigator, Reuben Calloway,. alongside his priestly compatriot, Roderick Shea.  the pair are drawn into the investigation of a rich man's death thanks to a postprandial promise made by Calloway some years previously.  It's entertaining but suffers from coming after the Chetwynd-Hayes story - anything would - as it just can't match it's predecessors joie-de-vivre although I suspect a re-read will prove it's merits.

There are a couple of authors whose popularity mystifies me as I find them almost entirely unreadable, Clive Barker is one of those and he's up next. I've tried reading him on and off for 20 something years now and have always had friends who are big fans but his stuff does nothing for me and a few years ago I swore off him for good.  Today though in the shape of a short Harry D'Amour story called 'Lost Souls' I broke my promise and I'm glad I did.  There's nothing here to make me want to read more but what is here is an enjoyable pulp noir, hard boiled detective story that maybe feels a little too much part of a larger story to entirely get the juices flowing but it's fun nonetheless.

A quick leapfrog over Mr Newman as his endearing but slightly hapless Sally Rhodes investigates a missing person brings us to a rather inconsequential story about John Wayne's transvestite proclivities by Jay Russell about which I'm going to say it's brief, it's not terrible but it is brief.

Neil Gaiman
The book closes with two Newman's sandwiching a Gaiman.  In 'Bad Wolf' the eminent Neil provides a prose poem about a lycanthropic investigator named Lawrence Talbot who is hired to rid a beach of an unwelcome visitor.  Truthfully it isn't classic Gaiman but even off form he's always well worth reading.

The final two Newman's are in many ways a single piece that sees many of the story's previous characters re-united in a final climactic assault on the malevolent jewel in a cyberpunk near-future wasteland.

Jones is an anthologist with an impressive history and it shows .  With only a couple of moments where I felt his choices were a little off topic this proved to be a terrifically readable collection that had me hooked from the off and has given me lots of pointers for where to go next for more of the same.

But it here - Dark Detectives: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Enemy (books 4-7)

Charlie Higson
Puffin Books

I recently spent a couple of afternoons working my way through the first three books of Charlie Higson's fantastically bloodthirsty post-apocalypse series, 'The Enemy'.  It has to be said I enjoyed them immensely and so over the next couple of weeks I worked my way through the other four.

You can find my write up of the first three books in the series here.
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Book 4: The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice picks up after Small Sam and The Kid arrive at the Tower of London at the end of The Dead. Though Sam finds safety and friendship at the Tower with Jordan Hordern's crew, he can't settle down. The only thing he wants is to be reunited with his sister, Ella. Despite Ed's protests, Sam and the Kid strike out westward, through the no-go zone.

 Book 4 in Higson's 'Enemy' series continues with the overlapping narratives that have characterised the first few as we get to see  what's happening with another group of characters.  This time out we get to see the return of two of the series' most fun characters as Small Sam and The Kid return for the first time since book one.

Sam is still looking for his sister and as much as he likes Ed and the Tower of London crew he's eager to be off.  Into his life comes a girl from elsewhere in London who convinces him to brave the no go area thereby throwing them into terrible danger.  Alongside this we continue to see Shadowman's pursuit of the massive horde of adults that he's named 'The Fear' and his unsuccessful attempts to convince other kids of their danger.

This time out much of the book took a bit of a Stephen King turn as we are bombarded by all manner of religious bamboozle which has always been a bugbear of mine with King's work - the religious zealot endlessly quoting scripture - and it got on my nerves here too.  I know it was meant to but I just don't buy it, especially amongst modern British teens.

The book also takes a major change of direction with the addition of a major new character with the potential to change everything.

So, 4 books into the series and with the halfway point behind us 'The Enemy' shows no signs of slacking it's relentless pace.  The reappearance of The Kid lent this one a very welcome lightness as he's an joy to read whenever he's on the page but you can feel that Higson is winding himself up for his finale here which, with a trilogy of books remaining, means it's likely to be a doozy and I really do hope so as I'd hate to see this series embrace another King-ism and have a lousy ending.

Buy it here:  The Sacrifice (The Enemy Book 4)

   
Book 5: The Fallen

The Fallen by Charlie Higson is the fifth awesome book in The Enemy series. First the sickness rotted the adults' minds. Then their bodies. Now they stalk the streets, hunting human flesh. The Holloway crew are survivors. They've fought their way across London and made it to the Natural History Museum alive - just. But the fight will never end while the Enemy lives, unless there's another way...The kids at the museum are looking for a cure. All they need are medical supplies. To get them means a journey down unknown roads. Roads where not only crazed, hungry sickos hide in the shadows. Suddenly it's not so clear who - or what - they're fighting.

The perspective flips once again in Higson's post-apocalyptic series as we once again join the Holloway crew of Maxie, Blue, Ollie & Achilleus who have arrived at the Natural History Museum and found a group of kids actively working on a cure for the sickness.

Recognising their usefulness as fighters and scavengers the museum kids enlist them in a search for scientific supplies that leads to the discovery of something far more unusual.  Along the way we get to know some of the odd ways of the Museum kids that has echoes of 'A Canticle for Leibowitz', and there's a sweet little love story of sorts.

With the Tower kids of Ed, Kyle, Small Sam and The Kid making a cameo near the end we are starting to see all the strands of the story draw together for the last two books in the series and the already furious tempo clicks up a notch.

Buy it here:  The Fallen (The Enemy Book 5)


Book 6: The Hunted

The Hunted is Charlie Higson's sixth terrifying installment in the thrilling The Enemy series. The sickness struck everyone over fourteen. First it twisted their minds. Next it ravaged their bodies. Now they roam the streets - Crazed and hungry The others had promised that the countryside would be safer than the city. They were wrong. Now Ella's all-alone except for her silent rescuer, Scarface - and she's not even sure if he's a kid or a grown-up. Back in London, Ed's determined to find her. But getting out of town's never been more dangerous- because coming in the other direction is every SICKO in the country. It's like they're being called towards the capital and nothing is going to stop them...In the penultimate book in The Enemy series, the survivors' stories cross with chilling consequences.

Book 6 and the scope of series suddenly explodes outwards to encompass the countryside and towns around London as Ed and a few others head off looking for Small Sam's sister, Ella.

Through the course of the book we get to meet a character who we haven't heard from since book 2 and experience some of the other towns and how the kids there have adapted. It's a welcome change of pace as the book delves into a characters backstory for a large chunk and then goes exploring for the rest.

So, the next book is the finale as the sickos have begun converging on London and it looks like poor old Sam is in the shit once again but hopefully Ed's army will make for a lively finish to the series.

Buy it here: The Hunted (The Enemy Book 6)


Book 7: The End

The end is coming.
The sickness struck everyone sixteen and older. First it twisted their minds; next it ravaged their bodies. Now the sickos—crazed and hungry for young flesh—are gathered in the center of London, lying in wait.It’s time for all of the survivors—kids spread out across the city—to unite. They must come up with a plan of attack to end the grown-ups’ reign of terror before it is too late.One thing is certain: surprises abound in the bloody conclusion to Charlie Higson’s Enemy saga.


And so we arrive at the final part of Charlie Higson's series of post-apocalypse shenanigans as all the various storylines and characters finally converge for the great showdown, the battle for London that'll decide whether it's the kids or the grown-ups that will be the future.

The now massive horde of adults swelled by their diseased kindred flocking in from the countryside make their final move on the only thing that can stop them.  In their way are the various groups of kids from the museum, parliament, the cathedral, the street kids and those from the Tower of London.  Bonded under the less than sympathetic leadership of Jorden Hodern they have to find the courage to fight the horde and also those more interested in power than survival.  As we now from the previous book, help is on it's way but can it arrive soon enough.

The constantly overlapping narratives of the series has meant that it's often felt like one very long book and that's no insult.  Higson maintains a furious pace across the series and has created a cast of real and sympathetic characters who, for the most part, you find yourself rooting for.  It's no surprise that he can do the funny parts but that he manages suspense, pathos and dynamism all equally well is a real treat.  His dialogue is occasionally a little cringeworthy but adult attempts at mirroring 'youth' talk often is but this never really detracts.

After a bit of a false start a few years ago I had a real craving to go back and do this series again and I'm so glad I did.  It was unexpectedly and unrepentantly vicious and entirely enjoyable.

Buy it here: The End (The Enemy Book 7)