REVIEW: TRACE- WHO KILLED MARIA JAMES?

Trace: who killed Maria James?Trace: who killed Maria James? by Rachael Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely jaw-dropping, compelling reading. I felt like I needed to have a shower after I’d finished. Having not been aware of the podcast, it was all new to me, and I was utterly gobsmacked. The pacing is perfect, the revelations astounding, the writing a pitch-perfect combination of the journalistic and the personal. This is the best true crime book, and the best book about becoming involved in the investigation of a crime, that I have read in a long time. A superb achievement.

View all my reviews

REVIEW; THE VIOLATED, BY BILL PRONZINI

The ViolatedThe Violated by Bill Pronzini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellently constructed, multi-level narrative utilising a wide range of points of view and narrative strands. A simple crime builds in complexity and consequence, and the red herrings that constitute the secondary narrative are perfectly weighted and timed to create suspense and confusion. A slightly weak ending and reveal do not diminish the satisfaction.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: MR. MIKE- THE LIFE AND WORK OF MICHAEL O’DONOGHUE

Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'DonoghueMr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue by Dennis Perrin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining, but on reflection superficial, examination of an author who was a major influence in the establishment of both National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. There were obviously worms underneath the psyche of O’Donoghue, but as portrayed by Perrin, he comes across as a massively talented adolescent with the emotional control of an angry toddler. There’s a frustrating lack of depth or analysis. The acknowledgements page betrays a possible reason– despite O’Donoghue’s life touching a cast of thousands across both the Lampoon and SNL, as well as the rest of his varied career, only O’Donoghue’s wife Cheryl Hardwicke stands out, as well as Tony Hendra, Matty Simmons and Lorne Michaels for glimpses of their own works about the man. While the likes of Chevy Chase and Anne Beats discuss him in passing, the opportunity to really dig through the memories of those who knew him best seems to be shied away from.

The book is an entertaining read, and it skims across the major points of a complex and driven artistic soul, but it’s hard not to feel that the opportunity for a major examination of O’Donoghue’s influence on his contemporaries and industry has been missed, here. In all probability, this was the only chance, and it’s now been missed. Try as he might, Perrin never gets beyond the image of O’Donoghue as a tortured enfant terrible, leaving us with only glimpses of what might exist beyond that role.

It’s a book to treasure for those of us who were, and remain, fans, but it’s a bittersweet fandom: we never really get to know the man, just the image.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: THE LIFE OF GRAHAM GREENE VOL. 3– 1955-1991

The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 - 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3The Life of Graham Greene Volume Three: 1955 – 1991: 1955-1991 Vol 3 by Norman Sherry

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The first two volumes of Sherry’s biography of Greene skirted hero worship by dint of sheer volume of reportage– Greene’s life was filled with momentous happenings, and simply relating them kept Sherry’s over-ripe familiarity mostly at bay. Here, unfortunately, as the subject’s life begins to wind down, there are no such brakes– what has been, until now, a mildly cringing sycophancy devolves into full blown toadying. Anyone who is apposite to Greene is portrayed as deluded, jealous, or outright wrong. Greene himself is a warrior for truth, a noble of unsurpassable grandeur, Sherry’s personal hero. The author even begins to insert himself into the narrative in an effort to tie himself to his famous subject. This is the weakest, and most tedious, volume in the series, deeply flawed and worthwhile only for a sense of completism, because Sherry has committed the cardinal sin of the biographer: he has fallen in love with his subject.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, BY MICHELLE MCNAMARA

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fine piece of investigative journalism by Michelle McNamara into the identity of the East Area Rapist and the connections between him and other, unsolved crimes attributed to other personae. Unfortunately, as has been well documented, McNamara died before the book could be completed, and the text has been completed using a composite of notes, transcripts, and commentary by her husband and fellow amateur sleuths who occupied the message boards she frequented. The result is a patchwork narrative of wildly varying quality, and while the depth and rigorousness of McNamara’s pursuit shines through, the book as a whole feels like exactly what it is: a cobbled-together, unfinished work.

Had McNamara lived to complete the work– especially, had she lived to see the recent arrest of Joseph DeAngelo on DNA evidence– there’s no doubt that this book would have been a superb account of the piecing together of the jigsaw trail leading to him. As it is, it remains frustratingly raw and incomplete, a glimpse of the book we might have had, and have to be content with. Three stars for McNamara’s superb job, but no further because the book, ultimately, does not go the rest of the way.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: MONSTRESS VOLUME 1, AWAKENING

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening (Monstress, #1)Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely stunning combination of artwork, non-traditional and traditional fantasy tropes, sexual politics, and quest narrative that hits the mark at every available opportunity. Looks utterly beautiful, is complex in both its character motivations and story, and just excels in every way it is possible for a comic book to do so. Books like this are the reason why the comic book format exists: to tell a story that cannot be encompassed by text or image alone, but by both forms combined. A wonderful and wondrous work.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: THE LIFE OF GRAHAM GREENE, VOLUME 1– 1904-1939

The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 1: 1904-1939 by Norman Sherry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dense and exhausting tome covering the first 35 years of Greene’s life, from birth to the dawn of WWII. Sherry delves deeply into not only Greene’s own memories, but interviews with those who knew him at the time and a mass of collected documentation– sometimes too deeply, as after fascinating accounts of his schooling and University day, a long and tedious picking apart of love letters with his first wife Vivien when courting threaten to derail the reading experience. Thankfully, the narrative regains its momentum when the minutiae of a very ordinary courtship are over and the book returns to detailing the extraordinary course of Greene’s life, closing with his solitary journey through a savagely Anti-Catholic Mexico and returning to England to find war preparations very much afoot.

Although Sherry can’t resist the occasional moment of hero-worship and self-aggrandisement, he generally lets Greene’s life speak for itself, and the result is an impressively collated and thoroughly enjoyable examination of the insipirations and influences on one of the most important literary figures of the 20th Century.

View all my reviews