Book Review: Ten Plus One by Ed McBain

It’s been a while since I visited the officers of the 87th Precinct, but I’m glad I did as this book is easily one of my favourites of the series so far.

mcbain tenplusone

On a sunny day a businessman is gunned down in the middle of the street, and Detectives Carella and Meyer have a new case. When a second body drops, followed quickly by a third the detectives have to face the fact that the killings could be random. Unless they can discover some kind of connection between the quickly growing list of victims.

When they finally uncover the link the case is more baffling, why are people being killed because of a decade old connection, and with no apparent reason? Slowly, Carella and Meyer start to make progress, partly because the list of suspects is dwindling, and partly through good old fashioned police work. Can they find the killer before all the names are crossed off their list? Or before only one remains, at least?

I loved this book, which features a compelling mystery at the centre, which keeps the reader engaged and unfolds in a well paced, entertaining manner.

As ever, the strongest asset is McBain’s writing which manages to strike a variety of tones across the novel. There are funny moments, particularly in the fast paced, bantering dialogue of the detectives and the wry, sardonic tone of some of the narration. But there are other moments where the writing is almost poetic before shifting to cold, grim realism.

It’s also elevated by the fact that McBain fleshes out all the characters, from the detectives and the victims all the way through to the witnesses and minor figures. There’s one sequence where the cops talk to the son of a victim, and it’s genuinely moving, the way that McBain quickly, but fully, captures the sense of a man shattered by grief.

This book serves as an example of all the things that the 87th Precinct series does so well, and rises right to the top of the pile.

Verdict: A wonderfully written yarn that shows McBain at his best. One of the best instalments so far. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: The Trinity by Chris Philbrook

This is the seventh and penultimate instalment in Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series, which follows our narrator as he attempts to survive after the dead rise. Unlike a lot of zombie stories, Philbrook has added a supernatural element to proceedings, with Adrian Ring, the ex-marine who keeps a journal being one of the key players in deciding whether mankind will be saved or not. His actions, along with the other two members of the trinity will be judged and mankind’s fate depends on how they do.

It’s been a while since I read book six in the series, so at the start I couldn’t quite remember where this picks up the story. Thankfully, Adrian’s diaries quickly brought me back up to speed. We see Adrian have to deal with a rival group of hostile survivors, and also with more weirdness.

philbrook trinity

The book fills in the blanks and adds more clues as to where all this is headed, but for the large part Adrian is still merely trying to survive and keep his people safe. His diary entries are still filled with profanity and dumb jokes, but there’s something endearing about this regular guy forced into a position of responsibility and command due to strange events.

Philbrook ties the different story strands together quite well, and ensures the plot moves along nicely. There are new threats and twists along the way and the introduction of new problems and characters. There’s also a growing sense that as the pieces in the game gather that the endgame is due to start soon. What this final judgement will be is still a mystery at this point, but the final part of this series is high on my “to read” list now.

The action is quick and the diary entry continues to be a handy tool for building tension, leaving the reader wondering what has gone down when there are lengthy gaps between entries and leaving threads hanging. Adrian’s conversational tone ensures that it remains entertaining and engaging, and the humour undercuts some of the more grim moments.

I was hooked throughout and loved that seven books in this story still moves in new directions I didn’t see coming, and the supernatural side of the story adds more mystery to the novel. This whole series has been hugely enjoyable and I hope the ending keeps the streak going.

Verdict: Philbrook develops the world he’s created and there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. His vulgar narrator continues to be a likeable character, and easy to sympathise with. It builds the suspense and tension well, and the sense of the approaching ending ensured that I ploughed through this quickly, eager to see where this is all going. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Final Score

During an interview with Jonathan Ross I heard this movie compared to Die Hard, which is fair enough given that this has a similar plot of a lone hero going up against a gang of terrorists. But really the film that this is most like is the Jean Claude Van Damme flick Sudden Death, the only difference being that instead of taking place during an ice hockey match, this is during a football game.

final score pos

Dave Bautista plays Mike Knox, an ex-soldier who comes to London to visit the family of a fallen comrade, who he was good friends with. He is an uncle figure to the man’s teenage daughter, Danni (Lara Peake), who he surprises with tickets to go see West Ham in the European Cup semi final (one of the more far fetched parts of the movie). While there he starts to suspect that something isn’t right and stumbles across a bunch of Eastern European bad guys.

Unfortunately, he also loses Danni, who sneaks off to see her boyfriend who is sitting elsewhere in the ground. Incidentally, the boyfriend is one of the worst written characters in recent memory, I get that he’s meant to be a douche, but you’ve got to show at least some charm that explains why Danni is into him, but here he’s just a turboknob in every scene.

With the stadium cut off from the outside world by the terrorists, and the police not believing him, Mike has to find a way to stop the villains and find Danni.

The problem with this movie is that a lot of it feels very familiar, as it lifts wholesale from other movies. There’s a fight in the kitchen which reminded me of Sudden Death and Under Siege 2, and Mike gets the attention of the cops by dropping a body off the roof just like John McClaine did. And one of the goons he takes out as a vengeance seeking loved one in the crew, like the brothers in Die Hard.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t fun, the action sequences are pretty good, particularly a motorbike chase and the kitchen fight which features two inventive ways to kill a bad guy. Bautista is a decent enough lead, although due to his massive size the “everyman” aspect of the scenario is hurt a bit, and the dialogue he’s given is pretty generic. He’s likeable enough in the role, but he definitely lacks the charisma of many other action stars.

final score bautista

The film does deserve praise for the set up actually making sense, with the crew led by Ray Stevenson’s Arkady attacking the stadium during a match because they’re actually looking for one particular person, his brother, the former leader of their revolution who faked his death and relocated due to the bloodshed that was happening in his name. Aware that he lives in London and will be attending the game, they spring into action. It’s a clever, neat set up and gives them a believable motive.

Pierce Brosnan plays the brother, Dimitri, and is criminally underused in a dull role. It’s especially galling as this is supposed to be the figurehead for a revolution, so you would expect him to be quite a charismatic figure, but Brosnan plays it very dry. This robs the movie of the point of having a big name in a supporting role, as you feel any middle aged actor could have played the role. At least he doesn’t sing, I guess.

final score brosnan

However, this is undercut by the fact that Ray Stevenson’s villain is unforgivably dull. While he’s shown to have a ruthless streak and military background that make him a legitimate threat, he gets no unique traits or flourishes to engage the audience. I miss when villains were more colourful.

In a way, he serves to illustrate the movie’s major flaw- it’s fine, and does the job, but in an extremely workmanlike fashion. There’s very little flair or charm to elevate this above the standard action fare you got in the early ’90s. It’s a decent enough popcorn movie, the kind of thing to pass the time of an evening, but it’s miles off the Die Hard level.

Verdict: A distinctly average action flick which is let down by a lifeless script and characters who don’t jump off the screen. Does the job, but without any flash. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: 14 by Peter Clines

I’ve really enjoyed Peter Clines’ “Ex” books, which pit a group of superheroes against the hordes of the undead in a hugely entertaining and inventive series. I knew he’d written a few other books, and after some recommendations on Twitter, I decided to check this one out.

I may have found my favourite fiction book of the year.

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Nate Tucker works a dull data entry job and needs to find a new place to live in Los Angeles. A co-worker recommends he check out the Kavach Building, an old apartment block with cheap rents. Nate moves in and soon discovers the building has plenty of odd quirks and general weirdness. Neighbour Veek soon introduces him to even more mysteries, and they decide to snoop around and see if they can discover the building’s secrets.

What they discover is far more bizarre than what they suspected and could threaten all of mankind. And they’re not the only ones interested in the building. Will they be able to find the truth and keep the world safe? Or will the dark forces known only as The Family find what they seek and cause chaos?

What I loved about this book was that it genuinely surprised me, as the zombie books I’ve read by Clines have been fairly light, with a couple of dark moments. This, however, is a very different proposition, with a great sense of building tension and creepiness. Clines does a great job of slowly building the weirdness of the building, adding to it piece by piece and creating a sense that something bigger is going on.

Some of the revelations are genuinely surprising, and the final reveal is brilliantly handled. There is one twist that is easy to spot, but even that doesn’t stop this from being one of those great books that absorbs you completely, making you reluctant to put it down and keeping you utterly hooked as the plot unfolds.

I really enjoyed it, Clines balances humour in the dialogue and the regular everyday stuff with the growing sense of unease. It’s marvellously written and I loved every page, keen to get to the end but regretting that there wasn’t more. Confirms that Clines is a talented and smart writer, and I’m definitely going to check out even more of his stuff.

Verdict: A gripping, suspenseful science fiction thriller which ratchets up the tension and oddities nicely, and goes in interesting directions. Clines’ dialogue is great as is his ability to keep the reader fascinated. 9/10. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: August Update Part 2: Saw That Coming

So, yesterday I finally climbed onto the scales for the first time in a while.

It didn’t make for good reading.

I’ve put back a bit of weight and the gains I made a couple of months back have been wiped out.

There’s no excuses, this is all on me. While I have been getting a fair amount of exercise in the form of walking more, I’ve also been guilty of snacking and overindulgence. This shit has got to stop.

It’s like I’m sabotaging myself, and when I do then check in on the scales my confidence takes a knock and I feel crappy. This cycle needs to stop, I joined the gym a while back and haven’t been yet, which speaks to my laziness, and frankly isn’t good enough. I don’t have the money to throw away, and so starting from the next payday I’m going to set aside some cash to ensure I can bus to the gym a few times every month.

Also, wasting days off on the sofa is out, and every day I’m free I will take the dog for a walk and try to eat better.

I really need to lose weight, doing so will not only help my physical health, but it will also help me mentally and curb the self loathing that strikes now and then. Dark Chris has had a field day over this news, and I was pretty low yesterday.

Time to stop talking and get doing. Hopefully the September update will show some improvement.

Not a fun post to write, and probably not that fun to read. Apologies, but still in a bit of a funk over this.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


And the Fans Played On: Denmark Vs Wales

After Wales ran wild on Ireland on Thursday night (see here), it would have been easy to get carried away for the second Nations League match. I must admit I did daydream that it would be great if we got back-to-back wins, putting us in a commanding position. But it wouldn’t be an easy match, with the Danish defence being incredibly hard to breakdown and their keeper, Kasper Schmeichel, is superb and recently broke his father’s record for clean sheets.

Wales travelled to Copenhagen with plenty of support and full of ambition, Ryan Giggs continuing to give his young players a chance and Gareth Bale putting on the captain’s armband as Ashley Williams didn’t even make the bench.

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Bale has a chance on goal

Unfortunately the game didn’t go that well with Wales not being able to get through the defence much, and Schmeichel impressing whenever they did. Denmark put them under pressure and Wales never captured the fast paced, confident style they managed against the Irish. It wasn’t a terrible performance, but it exposed a few of Wales’ weaknesses, particularly at the back, and it didn’t help that Aaron Ramsey struggled a bit, as he’s a key man for us.

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Ramsey, who struggled

Christian Eriksen proved to be the Danes’ best asset, bagging both their goals and coming dangerously close to getting his hat trick. His first showed the skill of the Danish attack and Welsh defensive frailties, while his second came from the penalty spot. I appreciate that I may be biased but I thought that the penalty was highly questionable, with Ethan Ampadu being judged to have handled the ball, but I think it was unintentional and a bit of a harsh call.

After the second goal any hopes of Wales getting anything from the match died off, we hadn’t looked particularly dangerous going forward, and while we may have been able to sneak one back, needing two or three to get anything from this seemed beyond us.

A bit of a downer after the high of Thursday, and it shows that Giggs’ team is still developing and evolving, but I admire his faith in the youngsters, and I think that as the team gets more experience we’ll improve, but it may take time. Still, the players didn’t dishonour themselves, and with some tweaking in game plan and lineup we should put up stiffer resistance when we welcome the Danes to Cardiff in November.

wales denmark team

One positive is that our fans continue to be amazing, with the clock ticking down and the game lost, it was wonderful to hear “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” ringing out around the stadium, and they were vocal throughout. They did the country proud and I love that even in defeat they keep supporting and backing the team, it reminds me of how much I admired Crystal Palace fans when they came to the Liberty and kept singing even as they got thumped and slid towards the wrong end of the table.

Well done to the fans, and I hope to join them in the stands soon.

wales denmark red wall

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: I’m Sorry, I Love You: A History of Professional Wrestling by Jim Smallman

Jim Smallman explains his choice of title near the start of this book, explaining that he chose the words delivered by Shawn Michaels to Ric Flair at WrestleMania XXIV, not only for their importance in the world of wrestling, but because they serve as his own words for a passion which for years he kept hidden or denied.

smallman sorryloveyou

Smallman would later become a more outspoken fan, talking about it in his stand up and even setting up his own wrestling company, PROGRESS Wrestling. And now he turns his hand to writing about the history of the business.

The book charts the course professional wrestling has taken, going from being a real sporting contest to the sports entertainment we have today. Smallman focuses largely on US wrestling, but does take time to discuss the history in Japan, Mexico and the UK.

For wrestling fans some of this will be familiar territory- Vince McMahon’s vision in expanding and growing the WWF he took over from his family, the Monday Night Wars, the rise and fall of ECW and the Montreal Screwjob. But there is some stuff I didn’t know about, the formation of the NWA and a lot of the early years of the sport were fresh to me.

Smallman’s writing is free of pretension and conversational in tone, making this an easy read that delivers the information, along with interesting asides and informed opinion, in a way that avoids becoming dry or dull. It’s not a complete history, but Smallman never sets out to do that, instead capturing a sense of how wrestling has evolved and changed over the decades.

It benefits from Smallman’s fandom, and also his inside knowledge of the business, and he often uses this perspective to offer explanations for some of the more controversial decisions made by some promoters. I also liked that he includes various top ten lists throughout the book, explaining his choices briefly and introducing me to some new names.

It’s a good read, even if has left me with a whole list of matches and wrestlers to seek out. It might not go into great depth on the whole history, but for most fans this will give a good overview and is a good place to start learning more about the background.

Verdict: A good, short history of the professional wrestling business told in an easy, engaging way. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Irish Eyes Aren’t Smiling: Wales vs Republic of Ireland

It’s been a pretty crappy week for me. Work has been rough, I’ve been crabby and WoM and I have both been snappy with each other. I thought for sure that the Universe would seize on this opportunity to kick me while I was down. That Wales’ first match in the new Nations League would prove be a rancid cherry bomb on the top of the s**t sundae.

Thankfully, whatever plans the Universe had were upset by Ryan Giggs and his team of utter heroes.

Trapped at work for much of the first half I had to rely on sneaky glances at my phone. Luckily the news was all good. Six minutes in, Tom Lawrence gave Wales the lead, from a beautiful Joe Allen pass (just seen the replay).

A little over ten minutes later, Gareth Bale extended the lead with a goal which is just amazing, with a cross-field pass from Ben Davies finding him. He cut inside beautifully, and then curled a corner from the edge of the area. Brilliant. Thanks to everyone who posted a video of this on Twitter!

wales ireland bale

Aaron Ramsey would add a third shortly before the break, by which point I was almost home. I cracked open a Thatcher’s Gold (product placement in the vain hope they send me some free cans), and settled in for the second half. It’s usually my luck that I miss when Wales are on top and then tune in for a heartbreaking collapse.

While the second forty-five wouldn’t be quite as much fun as the first must’ve been, it was far from a disaster. Wales were the dominant force, passing the ball about wonderfully and creating chances.

A fourth goal arrived courtesy of Connor Roberts, who capped a fantastic move. Receiving the ball from Bale he controlled it and then struck a sweet half-volley past the Irish keeper. Beautiful.

wales ireland roberts

Ireland pulled one back in the 66th minute after Aaron Ramsey lost his footing on the edge of the area, allowing Shaun Williams to grab a goal that felt like little more than a consolation.

There was a time that I would have been afraid that this was the point that Wales would fall apart, but we’re a different animal now and this minor blip didn’t throw Wales off their game. In fact, Giggs was so comfortable and confident that with quarter of an hour to go he took off Bale, our talisman and brought on Tyler Roberts, making his international debut.

Roberts impressed on his first game in the red, going on a cracking run from the halfway line, beating a couple of Irish lads and then, after a neat one-two with Ramsey forcing a save and earning a corner. I can’t wait to see more of the lad, even if it puts me in the unusual position of actually liking a Leeds United player (I think the late Gary Speed was the last one).

Wales had a series of corners and a few more opportunities, and somewhat greedily, I was hoping for a fifth to completely kill it off, but it didn’t arrive. The closest we came was when David Brooks was through goal, only for Enda Stevens to pull off a fantastic tackle and dispossessed him just before he could shoot. It’s one of those tackles where there was no margin for error, if Stevens had been an inch off or a second later, it would have been a penalty, but to his credit, he timed it perfectly.

After this the game settled down, Wales still knocking it about well, but with less urgency, as they cruised in for the win.

It was just what I needed after a crappy day, and as “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” rang out at the ground I sang along on the sofa, goosebumps on my arms and my eyes a little misty. Thanks to the team, and for the progress Welsh football has made, it’s a long way from me angrily storming to bed after yet another defeat.

wales lineup ireland

Thanks to these magnificent bastards

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Happytime Murders

Having seen the trailer for this movie I didn’t go in with especially high hopes, I thought it would be good for a few laughs, but the trailer appeared quite crude and silly.

happytime pos

So, it was a pleasant surprise when the movie began with a film noir style narration and an interesting twist on the puppet aspect of the film. While the puppets appear in a variety of shapes and sizes, they are all clearly identified as puppets. The human characters don’t just go along with it as they do in The Muppet movies, they see them as puppets. This is the basis for one aspect of the film, that it takes place in a world where puppets are real, but treated as second class citizens.

This interesting beginning is never capitalised on, and while there is a subplot of anti-puppet bias it never pays off the way I expected or hoped it to, that this silly film would actually have a serious message at heart. But the puppets don’t fit as an analogue for any marginalised group in real life, and so it just feels like a clever touch that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s also inconsistently handled in the film, with some puppets being accepted or successful while others are mocked and struggle.

The noir style pays off a lot better, with our hero, the puppet PI Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) being the typical noir hero, a sarky, chain-smoking, hard drinking disgraced cop who gets caught up in a larger web. Phil’s backstory, that he was the first puppet in the LAPD before being kicked off when it was speculated that puppets won’t or can’t shoot other puppets.

happytime phil

Phil is approached by a young puppet, Sandra White (Dorien Davies), who is being blackmailed. The trail takes Phil to a puppet adult bookstore, where he bumps into an old acquaintance Mr Bumblyplants (Kevin Clash), while Phil investigates files in a backroom, a mysterious figure arrives, gunning down Bumblypants and the other puppets in the building.

The case is investigated by Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), Phil’s former partner who testified against him. She believes it to be a robbery gone wrong until Phil points out that all the cash was left behind.

Mr Bumblyplants formerly worked with Phil’s brother Larry (Victor Yerrid) on a successful television show, The Happytime Gang, which is now going into syndication. Larry, who has attempted to look as human as possible through surgery, is excited by the new earnings this will bring.

Shortly after, Larry is killed too, torn apart by dogs released into his house. Phil, eager to catch his brother’s killer reluctantly agrees to work with Edwards and the two discover that The Happytime Gang cast all stand to earn substantial cash from the syndication, which is divided equally among them. If a cast member dies it transfers to their spouse, but if unmarried, their share is divided between the other cast members.

Which one of the Gang is behind it? And are the other cast members safe? And is there more to the case than just greed?

The plot is surprisingly clever, with a couple of red herrings and twists, in keeping with the noir inspiration. In fact, it unfolds quite nicely and genuinely caught me by surprise. Similarly, the relationship between Phil and Edwards is handled rather well, and provides the emotional core of the movie.

Unfortunately, this emotion is undercut because the filmmakers are always trying to sneak another gag in, not letting the quieter moments breathe properly. The gags come quick and fast throughout, but a lot of them feel lazy and easy. While seeing puppets doing things like having sex and abusing drugs is initially novel and amusing, the film overplays this, skewing towards the crude and vulgar.

I laughed a fair few times, but it always feels like it should do better.

It’s decent enough to pass the time, and amuses in places, but on the whole this feels a little flat and the kind of movie that once seen you don’t have any real desire to see it again.

Verdict: A few nice touches and a clever, noirish plot are let down by some lazy gags, over reliance on gross out and attempts to shock. Merely “alright”. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: August Update: The Great Unknown

I realise that this weight update is a couple of days late, but I was away at the end of last week, and Monday was the date with the scales.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t make Chub Club on Monday evening, and so, I have no idea what my current weight is. You’d think that this would render this update pointless, but I did make it one of my resolutions to have a monthly update. So, technically I’m keeping that going.

I’m not sure how I feel about not weighing on Monday, as obviously it was bad, but on the other hand kinda good.

I say kinda good, because I’m worried that August hasn’t been a great month for me, diet-wise. I’ve stuck to it for the most part, but WoM went away last week for a few days, and my eating there wasn’t great.

Similarly, while I have done a decent amount of exercise this month, it was less than I’d intended. Thanks in part to work getting on top of me again, and the whole cramp issue. So, while I’d been hopeful for August, I don’t think I’ve made much progress.

Of course, not weighing does have it’s negatives.

I have no idea how I’ve done.

This leaves it up to my mind to make wild guesses.

Logically I know it can only have swung a little bit, but I will admit to not knowing which way it has gone. Unfortunately, logic doesn’t help silence the inner voice that tells me I’m a failure and that I’ve probably gained heaps this month.

This negative voice, who I’ll call Dark Chris (or DC), is always there in the background. Much of the time, I can silence him or defeat him with common sense. But the realm of body image and weight issues is where he shines. It’s DC who offers the unhelpful commentary when I catch sight of myself in a mirror, who tells me I’m gross when I’m all sweaty through exertion.

I weigh on Monday and hopefully will be able to shut DC up then. At least I’ll have an accurate sign of how I’m doing. There’ll be an update after that, but I’m trying really hard to be good this week.

Whether this pays off will be revealed next week for the more accurate August update.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.