Review: Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper

Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper by Michael Bilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper


Forensically detailed and exhaustive study into the reasons why the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper went so spectacularly wrong, with first-hand accounts from many who were involved in the search, and a compassionate stance towards the victims of his crime. Bilton chooses not to focus on the Ripper himself, in an effort not to afford Sutcliffe any more notoriety than he already has. Instead, he shows us the other side of the mirror– something closer to the truth of life during that period, without the dark glamour that tends to accumulate around the cult of serial killers.

If there is a flaw with the book, it is that her is, perhaps, too lenient on the senior officers who mangled the case so badly, and gives too great an allowance to the pressure and scrutiny they were under as reasons for their errors. But the sheer weight of research and verisimilitude that comes from the page gives the reader the opportunity to believe that this allowance is genuine: it all feels incredibly real, and makes for compulsive reading.

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The Incredibly Strange Film BookThe Incredibly Strange Film Book by Jonathan Ross

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Up until now, I’ve only been aware of Jonathan Ross from his work on TV, where he comes across as an overwhelmingly obsequious, arse-kissing lickspittle. So it was a surprise to read that some of his early work was in presenting a show about the sort of obscure cult films that I love to watch. This book is the accompanying text to that show, and while it might present new information to anyone approaching cult movies for the first time, it does little to dispel my previous impression of Ross. The text rarely searches for depth, instead presenting simple narratives that read like the result of the most cursory skimming of other works on the subject; the humour, such as it is, is glib and only pointed towards the easiest of targets (a chapter pretending to outline the stunted career of ‘forgotten’ actor Jack Nicholson is particularly wearisome); and while some of the objects of Ross’ adulation seem designed to establish some sort of alternative film cred, they are presented in exactly the smarmy, grovelling tones that make his talk shows, for example, such an odious chore.

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Review: Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Entertaining set of stories– when they are, at least, stories– offset with just a few too many vignettes that start out as stories and go nowhere. The originality of Mieville’s voice is never in doubt, here: there are some beautiful ideas floating around, such as icebergs reconstituting themselves in mid-air, a cabal of creatures whose bones have been scrimshawed while they are still alive, and secret playing cards that open up a secret world of playing structures to those who play them. But a template to Meiville’s storytelling quickly becomes apparent, which leads to the collection, as a whole, beginning to feel rather samey– again, and again, stories fall into a pattern of “here is an amazing secret, discovered by a character; here is the character trying to ascertain the universal truth of this secret; here am I, the author/narrator/antagonist, confirming that the searched-for universal truth exists; no, I will not explain how or why.”

Taken individually, some of these stories are wonderful. Collected together, they are to similar in narrative structure, and cut through with too many sprinkles of nothingness, to truly astound.

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Review: Blood Stain

Blood Stain
Blood Stain by Peter Lalor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detailed and descriptive examination of one of the most gruesome murders ever committed in Australia. Author Peter Lalor delves deep into the lives of Katherine Knight, her victim Johnathon Price, and the motley collection of bogans, drunks, losers and utter no-hopers that surrounded them in the dead-end shithole of Aberdeen, New South Wales, painting a compelling picture of the stresses and weaknesses that led this violent, cunning psychopath to stab her lover 37 times, skin and behead him, and cook a meal of his buttocks and head to present to his children. Marred slightly by the occasional confusion in tenses, and by an attempt to speak in the language of the area that comes across as artlessly casual and irreverent, this is still one of the most fascinating books of its type I’ve read in the last couple of years. Recommended for those with a strong stomach.

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Review: The Hollywood Hall of Shame

The Hollywood Hall of Shame
The Hollywood Hall of Shame by Harry Medved

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good clean fun for the most part, this semi-affectionate skewering of some of film history’s most pompous, pampered and deluded film projects makes for delightful reading for the dedicated fan of schadenfreude. With sections devoted to children’s movies, musicals, obsessive tycoons, dictators, and a place of honour for serial turkey Goddess Elizabeth Taylor, there’s something here to tickle the palate of all comers.

The only sour note is struck by the occasional bout of comedy racism of the “so solly” variety, which mars the general tone of popcorn superiority. Get past it, and you’ll thrill to the sound of money being torn up and flushed, over and over again.

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Review: The Bloody White Baron

The Bloody White Baron
The Bloody White Baron by James Palmer

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Unreadably bad. Palmer is clearly a writer with a passion forMongolia, and a political point to make, but his long asides and diatribes, coupled with footnotes that vary between simple references and long, unsubstantiated opinion pieces, turn this mess of a book into an utter farrago. Ungern-Sternberg is clearly a compelling character, and there’s bound to be a fascinating biography of the man out there somewhere, but this isn’t anywhere near it. Did not finish.

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Review: The Four Just Men

The Four Just Men
The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written in 1905, this remains a gripping and exciting character piece that examines the effect of political terrorism on a passive populace. While the characters of the police who pursue the titular four are never more than loosely drawn, those of the men themselves are the clearest fascination, and the gaps in their characterisation just encourage the reader to fill them in by himself.

The plot whips along, the tension palpably increases as the annointed hour of the act moves ever closer, and while the climax has a whiff of the deus ex machina, it’s allowable in the realms of what is, clearly, a pulp novel that outstrips its boundaries.

It’s exciting, stirring stuff, with the added benefit of — quite unconsciously– being a fascinating glimpse into the bigotry and superciliousness of the Edwardian Englishman.

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