The James Ellroy Reading Challenge – An Update

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I am making my way through the James Ellroy books that I’ve not read yet – I promise this is true!

Blood’s a Rover took me a week to read and whilst not quite up there with the previous books in the American Tabloid trilogy it was still bloody excellent and proved a fitting end to it. A fuller review will be posted on here in due course.

I’m currently reading My Dark Places which I first started some seventeen years ago and was defeated by. I’m obviously older and wiser now and have already progressed way further than I did back then!

My aim is to finish it and then do a review of both books so far.

My James Ellroy Reading Challenge

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Five years ago at a Waterstones in Bristol I bought the paperback of Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy. I’d read a lot of his books over the years preceding its release in paperback and I really liked a lot of what I read and if I’m going to be honest some not so much but I did consider myself a fan.

I never read Blood’s a Rover – it’s still on my to read list over on Goodreads but this evening having sorted out the books on my Kindle I made a decision to undertake a blog reading challenge which I have given the following snappy title:

“Gruffsdad Goes Back to Ellroy and Reads the Books by Him That He’s Not Read Yet.”

First up will be the aforementioned Blood’s a Rover just as soon as I’ve finished Garnethill by Denise Mina* who is also another author whose back catalogue I’m currently making my way through.

I don’t know how long this challenge will take but I know that you my loyal and patient blog readers will wish me luck and I’ll report in to let you know how I’m getting on. As a bonus to get you back here, over the next few weeks I will post the following things:

  • A review of Denise Mina’s Garnethill
  • A review of a Super Furry Animals gig
  • A review of a Belle & Sebastian gig
  • A restaurant review

So that’s it for now but please come back soon.

* I’m on course to finish it tomorrow – parenting got in the way of my reading today.

Broadchurch – This isn’t about Meera Syal’s legal wig.

My name is Anthony, I live in Dorset and I’ve given up watching Broadchurch.

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Oh God that feels good.

This is my first blog in ages and it’s about Broadchurch, the crime show that is filmed near where I live in Dorset oh and other places too that the Dorset Echo never refer to but for the record include Clevedon – where my Auntie Hilary lives – Exeter, North Devon and I think possibly Sherborne where my wife and I once saw Jill Dando driving an Aston Martin DB5.

Broadchurch is big down here, well as big as anything can get in West Dorset, the local paper the Dorset Echo when not covering such important stories as a man not being able to use the staff toilet in Superdrug* have a massive stiffy for the show. Their website has a special section for it and details everything down to the minutist detail – we’ve had stories about the cast – understandable, they are big stars! The locations – it’s a beautiful place, who doesn’t want to see it as often as possible? The shops and restaurants where it’s filmed – hmm not so interested to be honest, not so much as an article, more a free advert for featured establishments. The filming schedule – losing me now, and the self-proclaimed “Broadies” who organised a coach trip around the locations – the Dorset ones only mind, a trip up to Clevedon wouldn’t have been cost effective – and I’m gone.

The thing is that I don’t think it’s that good.

This isn’t a reaction against the populist nature of the show, or the mass coverage it gets down here. I’m not really that bothered with the list of mistakes that appeared in the papers at the weekend nor do I really care about the generic “Alright my lover!” West Country accents that bedevil the show – if the producers had gone for a full on Dorset accent like the one my father in law has then nobody would have understood a bloody word. I’ve known him 19 years and still struggle to know what he’s talking about half the time.

We’ve had conversations over the years that have gone like this:

Him: “Something, mumble, something, mumble, something, lardy cake.”

Me: “Did you see that thing about cows on the news?”

Him: “Thaaaaat’s whaaaaaat eye’ve bin taaaalking ‘bout!!!!” **

No I just don’t rate it. I think I know what the producers were going for, a reaction to the Scandinavian dramas that BBC4 have shown on recent years and which I have watched and have enjoyed  – save for the ending of the series three of The Killing, what the hell was that about?!? So they’ve aimed impressively high but they don’t quite make it.

The main stumbling block for me is that I don’t like any of the characters in the show – no not even national treasure Olivia Coleman – she’s great as always but she’s not sympathetic but rather she’s pathetic and weak and gets trampled oncontinuously by everybody else in the show. I know that in the second series he’s been through a trauma which might explain that but she was like that in the first series before she went through all that. Danny’s family – horrible the lot of them. That bald bloke who works for Danny’s dad – a yokel simpleton – I could go on – nobody in the show warms the heart and I don’t care for them.

Where’s the Sara Lund whose jumpers I desire or the Martin Rohde who my wife compares me to and who she’ll miss more than words can say from series three of The Bridge?

That’s my main problem and why I gave up on Broadchurch it last week. Okay so I’ll backtrack yes the glaring mistakes do matter – it’s not like a show being set in the 1950s featuring a train from the 1960s, it’s worse than that and it affects the storyline. ITV have said that it’s a fiction and they’ve had support in that from eminent critics such as Mark Lawson but when the writer bends the law to enable a story to develop down a route which it wouldn’t have been able to develop without the bending then I have an issue.

I’ve done jury duty and have seen at first-hand how boring a criminal case can be but that’s no excuse for painting a false picture of what goes on in a Crown Court. Kavanagh QC never felt the need to do it and frankly it’s lazy writing on the part of Chris Chibnall to resort to such tactics.

I know what it wants to do and I really wanted it to work but Broadchurch has become more like a soap as it’s progressed and this process has been aided by the blatant shoe horning in of the David Tennant back story which we are meant to believe is something that was going on during the entire first series – oh come off it!!! Stop now please.

Maybe I was spoilt by the shows the preceded it and inspired it but Broadchurch can’t hold a candle to The Bridge or The Killing and no matter how hard it to tries to do so, I don’t think it ever will and I won’t be back to watch it.

That’s my other main issue, I want my crime drama to fascinate me, to keep me wanting to come back for me, to tease me, to shock me and to get my heart racing – Prime Suspect did that to me but Broadchurch just doesn’t and it has failed to do so since the very first episode. Characters came and went, were spooky or scary without ever really explaining why and the best character they had in series one – come on you know it was Pauline Quirke – was shamefully underused.

Maybe television has moved on from the days of classics such as Alec Guinness in the Smiley adaptations or Bob Peck in Edge of Darkness and my favourite, Ray McAnally in A Very British Coup.

These are dramas that decades on are still fondly remembered, eulogised over and watched with new eyes are drop dead classics of British television– will Broadchurch be so fondly remembered in five, ten or twenty years time? Getting quality actors such as Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Rampling into a production was a casting coup for ITV – it just seems such a shame to have put them into such an underwhelming thing as the second series of Broadchurch.

The word subjective comes into play here and means that some of you will be saying “Yes” and some “No” – I fall in the latter camp but I’d honestly  – and despite what I’ve just written would rather be in the former.

*Here he is! http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/news/localnews/dorchester/11687754.Loo_refusal_causes_customer_outrage_in_Dorchester/

** No, not racist, Dorset people are not a race.

Gruffsdad’s reading all 10 of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books challenge (which I completed back in February – sorry)

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I have completed my Harry Hole challenge! It took me three weeks and 5 days to read all ten books in the series having read them all (and re-read one of them) I can safely say that I enjoyed it thoroughly. As I finished The Phantom and began to read Police (For now the final book in the series) I got so excited that I had reached this point and much as I wanted to read it so I could get back to the pile of other books that I have to read I didn’t want it to end. 

I’ve read in reviews that some people feel that Nesbø could do with a better editor but I never felt that re: the actual stories. Despite the length nothing seemed superfluous, the twists when they came felt rational and each book made me want to read the next one, I took a break three books in which was a mistake as when I was reading a book by a different author all I wanted to do was get back to seeing what Harry Hole was doing. I enjoyed getting to know Hole and the people around him, characters came and went and occasionally there was some frustration that maybe Nesbø didn’t quite know what to do with the interesting people he had introduced to the books, he kills them off, gives them interesting back stories but then they might not feature much (if) at all in the next book and if they do then it’s almost a cameo appearance during which their back story is repeated again before they disappear into the background again. 

Hole himself is damaged but principled even if the thought of an alcoholic drug taking cop doesn’t quite fit the profile of a principled policeman. He has a few close friends, a woman who he truly loves and a chronic drink problem. He’s only tolerated because he is so good at his job – as he says in The Leopard all he wants to do is capture murderers, he doesn’t care about the politics inherent in the Police or climbing his way up the greasy pole and it’s this fundamental stubbornness that leads to his battles with the authorities, witnesses and the press. I liked him but at the same time God, he was a frustrating man. 

Hole’s alcoholism is graphically written about and maybe this is one of the strongest aspects of the books. Nesbo writes unflinchingly about Hole and his drinking, the benders, the abstinence, the collapse back into drinking, the reactions of his friends and colleagues – it’s all there in some detail and I found it fascinating. Never once does Hole want sympathy for who he is, he is accepting of his alcoholism, it isn’t pleasant but it isn’t voyeuristic, it’s just honest and at times I found myself getting angry with Hole when yet again he reached for the bottle. Alcoholism is a disease but that doesn’t stop you getting angry with those who suffer with it cf George Best who at times has been eulogised but at other times in his life sympathy with his plight was in short supply. 

The only times I felt my incredulity button being pressed was perhaps with the amount of times that Hole was allowed to resign and then re-join the Police, the amount of leeway he was given throughout the series at times amazed me but the story arcs, the development of Hole and those around him was expertly done and when starting the tenth book it did feel like everything was coming together but there was also the feeling that things wouldn’t go smoothly and the reality is that I didn’t want them to! 

I’m am really glad that I waited to read the books from the beginning (with the exception of The Snowman which I read 4 years ago due to my incompetence) – I read a review on Goodreads which said that English language publishers had ruined the series by not publishing them in order, you don’t need this to happen to you now. All ten are out in English and I’d a) recommend the series and b) insist that if you do that you read them in order.

Quick review: Ray Banks – Matador

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“He wakes up screaming, a bullet in his head and his body buried in a shallow grave. He has no memory of life before this moment, just a single clue to the past: a ticket to a bullfight crumpled in his pocket with a phone number on the back.” 

The Ray Banks books that I’ve read in the past have been set mostly in the North West of England – a lot of them featured Cal Innes and I’m a big fan of his. Matador is different though, it was originally released as a series of Kindle chapters before being compiled into a single novel which is how I read it and I devoured it in quick time. 

Banks doesn’t make it easy for the reader, things aren’t as straight forward as you might like and the reasons behind the situation the Matador of the title finds himself in doesn’t become clear until right until the end of the book but this is never a frustration. Rather it acts as a spur to read on and to find out what the hell is going on. 

Banks writes about the ex-pat community in Spain and let’s be honest it’s a particularly unsavoury section of that community and how they cope when things go wrong and when they come under attack. There is corruption, a lot of violence, a lot of violence. Is there any redemption for the characters? Possibly not.

Banks doesn’t resort to the stereotypes of fat British people living abroad in the sun drinking and eating a full English – I mean don’t get me wrong there are characters like that in the book but are they really stereotypes? I liked the view of the foreigners in Spain from the viewpoint of the Spanish characters and the combination of these viewpoints makes for an interesting look at how the two communities interact. 

I’d put off reading Matador as I wasn’t sure about it but I needn’t have worried – Banks hasn’t written a bad book yet and I’m glad I took the plunge and finally read it and if you haven’t read the Cal Innes books yet then do.

Mini book review – Ghostman

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A Ghostman is the person who comes in and tidies up after a crime goes wrong. In this case the Ghostman is hired to clear up after a raid on an armoured truck delivering cash to a casino in Atlantic City goes wrong. The hunt is on for the surviving thief and the cash before it explodes and through the GPS inside the bag the whereabouts of the cash is discovered.

Ghostman does work as an engaging thriller which flips between the story in Atlantic City and a previous job in Malaysia which went wrong explaining why our Ghostman had to take the job in Atlantic City. There are a lot of guns, lots of cars, shootings and gangsters plus their henchmen but taken as a whole it just didn’t do it for me.

I’m sure there are Ghostmen out there but I just felt that the story needed such suspension of disbelief that I laughed in places where I probably shouldn’t have laughed. The reader is expected to believe that by a quick use of make up it easy to change one’s appearance so to such an extent that a member of the FBI wouldn’t know that she’d spoken to you half an hour before. Can you really change the appearance of your face to similar extent simply by scowling a bit? Kill three people and be let go by the FBI because the female agent has taken a shine to you?

It was situations like those that overshadowed the terrific and punchy writing that flowed throughout the book but if you’re willing to overlook them or if you think that I’m totally wrong and that such things do happen regularly in the criminal world then this is the book for you.