Following the money – or not… by Tess Makovesky

I loved the first two seasons of Danish crime drama Follow the Money. It was different, it was involving, the characters were fun but believable. So when I saw, a few weeks back, that season three was coming to BBC4, I could hardly wait. But in the end, it was a disappointment.

 

What was so great about the original series was that it broke the mould. Almost every crime drama these days starts with a murder, and some kind of detective – professional or otherwise – investigating it. Follow the Money steered clear of that in favour of crime of a different kind: fraud. In season one, it was corporate skulduggery involving multiple ‘shell’ companies in the green energy sector. In season two, the rich seam of rogue bankers was mined. There were deaths, but they were only ever the fallout of the monetary crime and were treated as an intrinsic part of the ongoing investigation.

 

The detectives weren’t from Homicide, but from the Danish equivalent of the UK’s Serious Fraud Squad. Mads was the senior officer, vastly experienced but with a tendency to ditch protocol and rush off on his own. Alf (rather charmingly pronounced ‘elf’ in Danish) was his by-the-book assistant, brought in by his bosses to temper his impetuous approach with dull but effective methods like trawling through company accounts or CCTV footage for hours. They worked brilliantly as a team, each using different skills but each getting results. Suspicious at first, they gradually gained each other’s respect and friendship, bickering, bantering and helping each other out of a variety of crises at work and in their personal lives. They seemed like genuine people that we could really care about.

 

In addition to the cops, Follow the Money introduced a variety of criminals ranging from crooked executives, via the menacing character of ‘The Swede’, to bumbling wide boys Nicky and Bimse, two young mechanics drawn into a life of petty crime. Whilst the main ‘baddie’ changed between seasons one and two, the latter three became a recurring theme, as The Swede took Nicky under his wing and groomed him into something a good deal more sinister.

 

Season three picked up on this, as Nicky returned from time away in Spain to set himself up as a major drug dealer. However, much of the rest of Follow the Money‘s carefully-established fabric had disappeared. Some of this was unavoidable as previous characters had already been written out, but other bits felt like they’d been ditched or altered for no good reason. Chief of these was the loss of main character Mads. Presumably the actor, Thomas Bo Larson, was unavailable, but he left a massive gap. The writers did their best to fill it by promoting Alf, but clearly felt his meticulous approach was too dull for prime-time drama, so had him suffer from PTSD after being shot in season two. This might have worked on paper, but was less believable on screen. His personality changed completely and he was so unstable it’s a wonder he could still hold down a professional job. And the very skills that had made him so good in previous seasons were cast aside in favour of shocking decision-making and lots of rushing about.

 

The plot, too, had suffered. Gone were the complex, multi-layered money trails I’d come to know and love. In their place, the storyline focussed heavily on the conflict between Alf and Nicky, who’d been a suspect in past investigations but who’d always got away. The early episodes showed Nicky setting up his drug smuggling business, and laundering the proceeds via dodgy Bureaux d’Exchange with the help of a bored-housewife-style bank employee called Anna. The writers presumably hoped this would provide enough money-following interest, but although Anna became a major character in her own right, the thread was ultimately overshadowed by the Alf vs Nicky stuff.

 

There was some good cat-and-mouse psychology between these two (particularly in the scenes involving Nicky’s heavily-defended apartment) but the whole thing turned into too much of a standard psychological thriller, with elements of soap opera involving Anna’s marriage, Alf’s on-off relationship with a colleague, and Nicky’s equally on-off relationships with his neglected son and a Palestinian woman he met at a party. So much time was devoted to these romantic entanglements that the main plot got a bit lost and too many loose ends remained untied. For starters, the first episode featured the macabre discovery of several Romanian refugees dead in a cellar, but it was never fully explained who they were or why they’d been killed. And while I get that Nicky’s impression of himself as a master criminal might not have matched up to reality, I still don’t understand why his impressive criminal ‘field craft’ deserted him just when he needed it most.

 

I won’t reveal details about the ending in case anyone hasn’t seen the series yet, but it was so bleak it left me wondering what the point of the whole thing had been. I can’t find any information on whether there’ll be another season of the drama, and in a way I hope there won’t. Unless they bring back Mads, find some way for Alf to recover from his over-done PTSD thing, and get back to what they’re good at, which is unravelling the threads of complex corporate fraud. In other words, following the money, dammit!

Follow

2 From Jake Hinkson by Paul D. Brazill

jake hinkson 2

THE DEEPENING SHADE

An alcoholic cop, a Jesus freak, a pregnant homeless teenager, a stripper, a cop in debt to a gangster, and the manager of a fast food joint who is in the wrong place at the wrong time are all  part of the rich and varied cast of characters in The Deepening Shade, Jake Hinkson’s superlative short story collection.

The writing is vivid, lyric and brutal. The stories are powerful and involving. The characters are human, all too human.

Every story in this collection is a gem but standouts for me were Makers And Coke, Night Terrors, The Serpent Box and Our Violence.

The Deepening Shade

HELL ON CHURCH STREET

Paul is a troublemaker. A rough and ready kind of guy, he loses his job in a Mississippi plastics factory after getting into a fight with the Foreman.

So, he hits the road and ends up in Texaco. Running low on cash, he decides to rob a fat man and steal his car. But things don’t go to plan.
The fat man introduces himself as Geoffrey Webb and he tells the harrowing story of his time as a youth minister at a small Baptist church in Arkansas and his seemingly inevitable descent into something painfully close to a literal hell as his life spirals out of control and ever downward.
Hell On Church Street  is Jake Hinkson’s impressively confident debut novel and it is simply magnificent.
An incredibly dark but richly hued blend of Jim Thompson‘s brand of noir and Camus’ The Fall, Hell On Church Street is both gripping and chilling. Beautifully written, perfectly paced and full of harsh insights into the innate duplicity (and self-duplicity) of human beings. Absolutely brilliant.
Hell On Church Street is currently out of print in English but hopefully this will be rectified soon. However, it is, along with more of Jake Hinkson‘s books, available in Italian and  French
Hell On Chirch Street in French

Portrait Of The Artist As A Consumer: Jaka Tomc

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BOOKS

I love reading almost as much as I love writing. I rarely read a book in one sitting, because I like pauses between chapters. Sometimes they last a cigarette, sometimes a week. I like reading books that haven’t been read by many people. I feel special when I do it.

There are some books that deserve to be mentioned. Maybe you’ll like them as well, maybe you won’t like them at all, but that’s life. Here they are in no particular order …

Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

On Writing – Stephen King

The Test – Sylvain Neuvel

Sea of Rust – C. Robert Cargill

How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

The Murderbot Diaries (series) – Martha Wells

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Replay – Ken Grimwood

A Dirty Job – Christopher Moore

MOVIES

Movies are fun! Usually they take less brain power, compared to reading a book. That being said, I’m still waiting for a movie that would surpass its written predecessor.

There are a lot of great movies out there. Here are some that touched me the most …

Stargate

Amelie

Garden State

Pulp Fiction

Love Actually

Life of Brian

Fight Club

No Country for Old Men

Cidade de Deus

American History X

Full Metal Jacket

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Amores Perros

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Mulholland Drive

MUSIC

In the last years music is my loyal companion when it comes to writing. I tried writing in silence, writing in pubs and other crowded places, but nothing compares to writing while listening to music.

Here are some of my favorite tunes that get my brain cells going and my imagination flowing …  

Drum and Bass mixes (no lyrics, just beat that puts me in a special writing mood)

System of a Down – Toxicity

Interstellar OST

Amelie OST

Kurt Vile – Pretty Pimpin

The Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet with Butterfly Wings

Big Black Delta – Hugging and Kissing

The National – About Today

Daft Punk – Instant Crush

Hozier – Movement

Kid Cudi – Pursuit of Happiness

Angus & Julia Stone – Chateau

PLACES

I like to travel, but I don’t like flying. That doesn’t mean I never flew. But lately I’m trying to avoid it and travel by ground transportation.

Of course I have some favorite places on our beautiful planet. Here we go …

Arles – France

Aiuges-Mortes – France

Montpellier – France

Vinales – Cuba

Santa Clara – Cuba

Pune – India

Siena – Italy

San Gimigniano – Italy

Taormina – Italy

Marrakesh – Morocco

Amsterdam – Netherlands

Barcelona – Spain

(I conclude my list with the place I always come back to)

Ljubljana – Slovenia 

BIO: Jaka Tomc started writing at the age of four. He tried to write his first novel soon after but was too occupied with other kids’ activities. He loved writing essays and stories in school. However, it took him many years to gain courage to write and publish his first novel. In his first interview he said that he’s going to sell more books in Slovenia than Dan Brown. The challenge remains. His sixth book was translated to English and published under the title 720 Heartbeats. It won a Breakthrough Fiction Award in Thriller/Suspense category. Jaka believes that his next book will be his best work.

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Paul D. Brazill interviews filmmaker Andreea Boyer


Andree bonus

PDB: Poet, filmmaker or actress? Which of those descriptions do you identify most strongly with?

AB: I would say all, and I’m also interested and active in other work areas. I’m also the Festival Director for my Mabig Film Festival in Bavaria, Germany. International submissions to my film festival can be made online on FilmFreeway. I grew up with and I love the creativity, the writing and so every work that needs my creativity.

PDB: You’ve travelled extensively, and now live in Bavaria. How did you end up there?

AB: I was born next to the Vampire Castle in Transylvania in Romania. My mother moved with me to Bavaria when I was 8 years old and since then I have lived in Bavaria. Now I’m 23 and I love the nature here. The forests, the seas. My favourites are the spring and the summer seasons here when everything is in full bloom and green and I can enjoy the sunrays at the weekends. I guess we all agree on that. Spending time outside in the fresh air, close or in the nature, is very important for our health so I love to walk in the countryside. It also that helps me to reflect, relax my mind a bit and get new energy for my creative work.

PDB: Do you have any plans for further travel?

AB: Travels occur with projects and work so there are always travels. And I recommend everyone drinking a small glass of water with a bit of fresh lemon juice and a bit of sugar, this helps to feel energised and it’s also healthy.

Julia 17

PDB: What’s the story behind your feature film Julia 17?

AB: Julia, the 17-year-old daughter of a multi-millionaire businessman from New York City and a gipsy woman from Romania, is banished by her older brother after she live broadcasts her suicide attempt. Julia subsequently travels the world searching for the truth with her hacker boyfriend.

A mysterious director promises Julia to initiate her into the world of film in Hollywood, but instead she ends up working in a brothel in order to make ends meet.

After confronting her mother in Munich, Julia returns to New York for her 18th Birthday where she experiences another state of emergency. She decides to leave everything behind her, and she follows the director to Brazil for a new proposal and with the hope of finding inner peace.

It is a story about abandonment, inner turmoil and self-recognition…

Forgotten and ignored, real and tragic events in our society are reflected and revealed in the role of a young woman who tries to identify herself while she is facing the dark side of her life.

The story is fiction. Only the Hollywood scenes reveal some real events.

PDB: How did you meet the rest of the film’s cast and crew?

AB: My feature film Julia 17 could not have been possible without the amazing cast and crew. I worked on my film Julia 17 as the director, producer, the writer, the main character, among other fantastic actors who played main roles as well, and I was also active behind the camera as one of the camera operators. I had a specific vision and I wanted to be sure that it was filmed exactly the way I wanted it to be. The other actors who played main roles are; Wolfgang Flatz, Mikael Schallock, Ulli Lommel, and Berivan Kaya. It has been a great chance for me to bring my directing, writing and acting skills into practice. I am also the post-production supervisor and this also includes the job of choosing the right music for the scenes and working together with the editors very attentively on every moment and scene in my movie and even if it is completed, it is important to watch the result again a week or so later, and to be sure that there is no aspect to be changed and if so, then to be willing to change it. It can be a scene which has to be shorter or maybe adapt another song to a scene or switch scenes or the title format has to be changed, things like that. Once again, thanks to the cast and crew. I met them on set or during casting and I had contact first with some their agencies. The crew members have been easy to find as projects in the film world are very welcome here in Germany.

PDB: Julia 17 is available via the likes of Amazon Prime, Prime Video, iTunes and Google Play. How difficult was it to arrange this?

AB: I worked for it by the typical plan for the system. So once the films are ready for distribution then you search online for the suitable distributors and you submit your film for a view and if your film is accepted then they will answer. This takes time and effort but don’t give up and keep contacting them all.

Andreea 1

PDB: What projects do have planned for the future?

AB: I have started my Mabig Film Festival which is ready for international submissions via FilmFreeway and there are other events and other projects that I will tell you all about once those are also ready. I like to announce my new projects after accomplishing the work.

andreea 2

BIO: Born in 1995 in the shadows of the Transylvanian castle in Romania, Andreea started training in gymnastics at Romania’s best athletic school at the age of three. Andreea immediately impressed her coaches and she was thought of as the best upcoming athletic.

But instead of pursuing gymnastics, Andreea began loving the movies at age four and she started acting at the age of five in the theatre. At age eight, she moved to Germany, near Munich, with her mother, where she subsequently became a German citizen. She developed her passion for writing and painting and has since written several collections of poems and numerous screenplays for feature films.

At age twelve, she fell in love with the camera, and saw the world from there on out in a cinematic way. Andreea wrote her first screenplay about her autobiographical Gothic experiences at the age of thirteen when she discovered her passion for screenwriting. Three of her early poems have been published in the Anthology “ Novum Pro” in 2010 in Europe.

Later on, she studied filmmaking and screenwriting at ILS University in Hamburg, and she has since produced several short films.

From October 2013 Andreea worked for Campo Bahia in Brazil. She also performed in front of the camera as herself and interviewed several prominent people, like Oliver Bierhoff, the manager of the German national football team and the team’s head coach, Joachim Löw. (Loew). Among other important people Andreea interviewed also musician Abi Ofarim, who was impressed by her work and both worked together on new music.

In February 2014, Andreea founded her company, Mabig Movies, in Germany, so she can work internationally in the world of films and sales. In 2015 Andreea studied acting at Jack Garfein Studio in Paris and soon after she went to the Royal School of Speech and Drama in London where she studied Shakespeare. While in the UK, Andreea also played in Marcus Warren‘s suspense thriller, Snapshot. And after a couple of other movies, she met Mr. Jack Gilardi from ICM Partners in Los Angeles, who told her about writing screenplays for action films.

One of the most famous pianists and composers of our time, William Goldstein, composed a song for Andreea entitled “Andreea’s Three Notes.

Always continuing her passion for screenwriting, Andreea has recently finished several new screenplays for feature films, which are ready for the international market.

Her upcoming 96 minutes feature film “Julia 17”, which Andreea wrote, directed, produced and plays the main role in, was finalized in 2017 by Andreea and it has already been accepted by several international film festivals including the Headline International Film Festival where it won an award of merit, the prestigious Accolade Global Film Competition, where it won an award of recognition, a coveted honour that does not come easy. Entries to the Accolade Global Film Competition are submitted from around the world, from large film companies as well as bright new talents.

“Julia 17” is also a semi-finalist at these great film festivals: the Los Angeles CineFest, at the European Cinematography Awards in Poland, at the Hollywood Screenings Film Festival in Los Angeles and at the Near Nazareth Festival in Israel. “Julia 17” is available on Amazon Prime, Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play etc in all English speaking countries including USA, Canada, UK etc. plus in many more countries.

In June 2018, Andreea published her poetry book STAR on Amazon worldwide and she wanted to have the tone of this lyrical journal “Simple and Imperial.” This book came into her mind spontaneously, during the moment of breath between the release of her feature film “Julia 17” and her next film projects. She would love it if “STAR” penetrates your souls and awakens the creative beings in each one of you. It is her great honour to also have two significant reviews from known personalities in her book.

“STAR is a soul diary, self-compensating act…, It is the message of a young woman who does not endlessly accept counterfeiting…” – Mark L. Lester

“Love and distance. These are just two of the themes in STAR, Andreea Boyer’s haunting and provocative collection of poems…” – N. J. Burkett – American journalist and TV correspondent from New York

In July 2018 Andreea has published her second Poetry book “Humanoid or Human?” in that she included also two significant reviews from two famous personalities.

Mr. N. J. Burkett wrote: “Can we know what it means to be human by examining what is not human?… In her latest collection of poems, Andreea Boyer uses a contrast between humans and humanoids to achieve an awareness of our own, unique characteristics…”

And Mr. Ricardo Chavez – Mexican Actor and Author wrote: “This is not a regular work of poetry, it is a book that’s made me wonder about not only our humanity and fragility but also about the blessing that it is to be human in this evolutionary stage…”

Andreea is currently working in the world of films, also writing more screenplays.

Andreea started as the Festival Director her Mabig Film Festival in March 2019 and international films can be submitted via FilmFreeway to her Film Festival.

andreeea

Love is a Grift by Victoria Squid

 

Love Is A Grift song
The theme song for Graham Wynd‘s new noir LOVE IS A GRIFT available from from FoxSpirit.co.uk. ‘Four cities, one woman… and a trail of bodies.‘ This song is what brought her to that point. See GrahamWynd.com for more.

Lyrics

Love is a Grift
©2019 K. A. Laity

Love is a grift, love is a con;
The only sure thing is he’s putting you on.
He’s a schemer, a thief and a dreamer.

Love is a grift, love is a con;
The only sure thing is he’s putting you on.
He’s a loser, a cad and a boozer.

Love of a stranger
Can lead you into danger,
And trusting in the one you know
Can take you places you shouldn’t go.

BRIDGE

Champagne and whisky
Then play time gets risky.
The night runs hot, you get a lift.
Love is a scam but it’s also a gift.

Love is a grift, love is a con;
The only sure thing is he’s putting you on.
He’s a chiseler, your heart is a prisoner.

Love is a grift, love is a con;
The only sure thing is he’s putting you on.
He’s a cheater, stealing is sweeter.

It’s a gift, it’s a grift, it’s a con…
Lead me on.

Credits

released March 20, 2019
LOVE IS A GRIFT

© 2019 K. A. Laity — Nicnevin Music / ASCAP

Victoria Squid -Vocals
Julie Beman -Piano
Eric Bloomquist -Bass
Rich Germain -Drums
Brian Slattery -Trombone
Produced and arranged by Julie Beman and Eric Bloomquist
Engineered and mixed by Eric Bloomquist at Cool Ranch Studio
Artwork by S. L. Johnson Images

love-is-a-grift

Jolly New Songs by TRUPA TRUPA

Jolly New Songs

Jolly New Songs by TRUPA TRUPA

‘A cracking album from this fabulous Polish Avant Rock group. Highly recommended and a great follow up to their superb 2015 album ‘Headache’. In fact, I think I like this a bit better. They have their own unique sound, but the easiest elements to nail are the psychedelic feel that permeates the overall atmosphere and occasional melodic interventions reminiscent of The Beatles. Favourite track: COFFIN. ‘ – Gavin Hellyer

Trupa Trupa

Tom Ripley’s Film Career by K A Laity

talnted ripleyThe film version of The Talented Mr Ripley from 1999 did a lot to bring some attention back to the works of Patricia Highsmith. By the time of her death in 1995, she had done a lot to drive people away from herself (read Joan Schenkar’s biography to get a vivid picture of the author’s demons). Her pet snails probably didn’t help either. While her own demons may have drowned her, her novels live on with surprising strength due to her keen psychological insight.

Tom Ripley was by all accounts her favourite character, one she identified with to the extent that she signed a letter to a friend “Pat H, alias Ripley” and claimed that he was writing his own adventures through her. He’s an intriguing character: one who wants the good things in life and will go to great lengths to obtain them—including murder. But I’m always mystified when people call him charming. He’s anxious, needy, resentful even and short on empathy.

plein.solei_purple.noon_

I guess the films create that impression. In Minghella’s film, Matt Damon plays Ripley as bumbling and gauche at first and definitely attracted to Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf. Highsmith didn’t think Ripley was gay but she had him wonder about it without really pursuing the question. The 1960 film Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) avoided that complexity all together. Instead Alain Delon’s Ripley is hot for Marie Laforêt’s Marge and kills Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to get her as well as the money.

The 2005 film of the sequel Ripley Under Ground follows the anti-hero into his new sub-rosa career in art forgery. Barry Pepper’s Ripley is gagging for the ladies yet so blandly uninteresting. He’s far too wacky, too—hiding his landlady’s cat so he can return it for her gratitude and little latitude on the rent. He bumbles into the art forgery world and stumbled into crime. For Tom forgery is really the highest calling, more taxing than ‘real’ art (according to his creator). In the novels Heloise is the shallow rich bourgeois wife who might guess that her husband has shady dealings but would never look deeply into the matter because the nice surface is all that matters. In this film, she’s his partner in crime. This film wastes a terrific cast in minor roles (Willem Defoe, Alan Cumming, Claire Forlani, Ian Hart, Simon Callow, Tom Wilkinson), which is always unforgiveable.

americanfriendposterThe two versions of Ripley’s Game come off a bit better. Wim Wenders’ Der Amerikanische Freund pits Dennis Hopper’s Ripley against his dying neighbour Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz) who gives him the high hat at an art auction. With the help of fence he knows, Ripley gets him involved in the assassination of a criminal in order to have money to support his wife and child after he dies. Then things get more complicated. Hopper’s Ripley is a cool, calculating loner with a collection of art and American kitsch. It’s very much a Wenders film (so enjoyable and engaging with great music) but not entirely a successful Ripley.

ripleys gameThe 2002 version directed by Liliana Cavani exchanges France for Italy. Ripley is played as a sensual aesthete by John Malkovich. Most reviewers were swayed by that factor alone to hate or love it. Like Purple Noon, this highly sexualized Ripley misses the mark. Highsmith’s character is most passionate about things not people. It follows the novel in most other regards. Poor Dougray Scott’s dying framer insults Ripley at a party and pays the ultimate price after being seduced into crime.

Malkovich aims to make Ripley charming, but Ripley’s appeal is not the seductive charm but the ordinary—his embodiment of the familiar yearning we all have for things out of our reach. Life is unfair. Maybe if we had a little more talent or daring we’d be more like Tom Ripley. At least it’s fun to daydream about a little murder. As Highsmith would say, ‘Honestly, I don’t understand why people get so worked up about a little murder!’

LAITY author photoK A Laityis an award-winning author, scholar, critic and arcane artist. Her books include How to Be Dull,White RabbitDream Book, A Cut-Throat BusinessLush Situation, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, Chastity Flameand Pelzmantel. She has edited My Wandering Uterus, Respectable Horror, Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and Drag Noir, plus written many short stories, scholarly essays, songs, and more. Follow her on TwitterInstagram or Facebook. She also writes crime as Graham Wynd.

 

Tchao Pantin (So Long, Stooge) by Jim Shaffer

Tchao Pantin (affiche)Lambert drinks. He works the night shift as a pompiste at a 24/7 petrol station in a quartier called Belleville in the northeast of Paris. Ensconced in the petrol station’s tiny office, Lambert sits alone and drinks. On his way home from work in the morning, he stops by a bar and drinks. Arriving home, he drinks some more. Falling into bed in a drunken stupor, he sleeps, numb from the alcohol and indifferent to the daylight. When night falls, the cycle begins again. 

      He’s nocturnal. In his night-time transient world, the customers come and go, just passing through. Except for a few empty words with the station’s clients, he speaks to no one. He has no friends. “Je suis mort,” he says. Dead, disconnected, withdrawn from the real world. In its place, he creates his own, an alcoholic stew, a fog that blurs the present. Anything to keep the past at bay. 

     Enter Bensoussan.  A young man, half-Jew, half-Arab, part of two opposing worlds. That’s fine with him. On the streets of Belleville, he chooses his own way. A low-rung drug dealer and petty thief, he works out of a bar called Chez Rachid. He sells drugs for Rachid. On the side he makes his own deals, some cash for a rainy day.

     He lives in a one-room flat at the end of a rabbit warren of dank, dark passages and crumbling stairways. One wall of the flat is filled with a library of Que sais-je? (What I know). He hides his cash and stash between the book’s pages.

     As a thief, his speciality is mopeds and motorcycles. He carries the right tools, bolt cutters, pliers, and possesses an acute sense of the streets, how much a small-time thief can get away with.

     One night he steals a dodgy moped. It’s pouring rain. It breaks down. He can’t get it re-started. A police car pulls up behind him, its blue lights flashing on the wet street. He panics. Desperate, and hoping to elude the police, he pushes the moped into Lambert’s petrol station. Lambert thinks he wants essence (petrol). No. He says he thinks it’s la bougie (spark plug). Lambert looks half-heartedly for moped spark plugs. Says he doesn’t have any. Then glances through the window through the rain at the police car pulled up at the edge of the station. Bensoussan looks out at the police car, then turns toward Lambert. Lambert stares at Bensoussan as the police car pulls away. That is the beginning of the story, and those few scenes define the balance of their relationship. It’s not a friendship. More of a kinship. Maybe they see reflected in each other something they recognize in themselves.

     Then Lola appears, une jeune femme punk, spikey-bleached hair, a clubber, full of attitude, hangs with the punk crowd. And she loves motorcycles. Bensoussan steals motorcycles. Voilà! If he can’t steal one, he “borrows” Rachid’s. Not the best move, and it could be the worst if Rachid knows. But it’s worth it for Lola. Anything for Lola. One night he takes her pour faire un tour (a spin) through the streets of Paris on Rachid’s motorcycle. And so it begins.

     Bensoussan tells Lambert about Lola. As an unusual twist on the femme fatale, she becomes the link between the two men and the catalyst for rooting out Lambert’s past. Lola plays a large role in bringing the story to its climax.

     Things come to a head when the police get involved. That happens when there’s been a suspicious death or a murder. In the course of the investigation, Lambert comes to the attention of Bauer, a Paris police detective. It’s through him we learn the details of Lambert’s past. It’s the past he drinks to forget.

 

     In William Faulkner’s 1951 novel, Requiem for a Nun, he says, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And in the film, Tchao Pantin, the past is very much alive.

     The French noir film, Tchao Pantin, was released in 1983. It won a César (French equivalent of the Oscar) for Best Picture. It’s a story of les paumés, the isolated, the lost, the disoriented, the ones who live on the edge of reality. In the end, it’s a story of vengeance, of righting past wrongs, of love and a little hope, and more, an attempt to speak for the dead as some form of redemption.

    

     The starring role of Lambert is played by Coluche (Michel Gérard Joseph Colucci), a much-loved stand-up comedian in France. Considered the “clown prince” of comedy, he delivered his irreverent social commentary in his trademark striped bib overalls, yellow t-shirt, yellow boots, and frizzed-out hair. Most of his film roles (28) were in comedies. Lambert was Coluche’s first important serious role, and maybe it’s fitting it should have gone to a comic. After all, who knows more about the serious side of life than those who can laugh at it. Coluche is quoted as saying, “I am capable of the best and the worst, but in the worst, I am the best.” No truer words than in his role as Lambert in Tchao Pantin. Coluche won the Best Actor César for his portrayal of the drunken petrol station attendant.

     The two young actors, Richard Anconina (Bensoussan) and Agnès Soral (Lola) both started their film careers in 1977. Anconina, with his dark looks and wavy black hair, is convincing and memorable as the smart-ass hustler, Bensoussan. For this role, he won the César for Best Supporting Actor. Agnès Soral, in playing Lola, the bitchy jeune punk, fits in perfectly between the deux autres paumés, Bensoussan and Lambert. She gives as good as she gets and takes no shit from either one. Soral won a César for Best Promising Actress for her role as Lola.

     It’s a small role but an important one. Philippe Léotard plays Bauer, a Paris police detective. Léotard is probably best known for his starring role as Dédé in Bob Swaim’s La Balance for which he won a César for Best Actor. He’s appeared in 105 films, and his presence in this one lifts the film and its story to another level. His several meetings with Lambert prove his worth as a detective but fail to penetrate Lambert’s stony indifference.

       

     Claude Berri directed the film and was nominated for a César. A well-respected director in France, most famous for directing the two Marcel Pagnol films, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. Camera angle and placement are essential to telling a story on film, and Berri knows his stuff. At times, the way he holds the shot on Lambert’s empty face is unsettling.

     The film is based on the novel by the same name by Alain Page (pseudonym for Jean-Emmanuel Conil). He and Claude Berri co-wrote the script, also nominated for a Cesar. Through to 2015, Page has written scripts for film and TV as well as over a hundred novels, including romans policiers and espionage. Tchao Pantin is an intimate story. It takes place in a small community in Paris with a limited number of characters, and as Page said himself, they are all les paumés.

     Bruno Nuytten shot the film. He was the cinematographer on the two Pagnol films that Berri directed. The look of Tchao Pantin is reminiscent of the gritty, rain-soaked streets of Taxi Driver. Since most of the film takes place at night, the colour film almost resembles black and white. The film is dark but lacks no detail and meshes well with the portent of the story.

     The soundtrack/music for the film is a first-time outing for pop-rock musician, Charlélie Couture (Bertrand Charles Elie Couture). The soundtrack was nominated for a César. Couture left the music scene in the nineties and now calls himself a “multist”, presenting his creative work across several disciplines. The music in the film is mournful, despairing, with phrases that, in their repetition, suggest a return to something, perhaps to the past, a place Lambert is all too familiar.

That’s it. Tchao Pantin. Great story, great characters. It’s well worth a watch. You won’t forget it.                

Brit Noir Films by Cathi Unsworth

Cathi USE THIS ONE - May 2015 - Credit Julian Ibbitson [at] www.ibbitsonphotography.co.uk.jpg

Pic (c) Julian Ibbitson.

Brighton_RockBrighton Rock (Boulting Brothers, 1947) Hard to imagine now, perhaps, but Richard Attenborough was perfectly capable of personifying evil and the first time he achieved it was in his seemingly effortless depiction of juvenile delinquent Pinkie in the first adaptation of Graham Greene’s peerless seaside noir. Ably abetted by a young William Hartnell, often a partner in the ‘Spiv Cycle’ of films that lasted from the post-War period to the late Fifties, the 23-year-old Dickie swaggers the boardwalks with a shiv up his sleeve and the gullible young Rose (Carol Marsh) on his arm, a baby-faced killer. The film’s ending may have departed from the book’s, at the behest of the British Board of Film Censors, but still retains a wholly fitting sense of disgust and darkest irony. The well-intentioned recent remake only makes you value this classic more.

 

italwaysrainsonsunday1It Always Rains on Sunday (Robert Hamer, 1947) Ealing Studios smash hit of the year was this adaptation of Arthur La Bern’s brilliant novel by doomed genius Hamer. The director’s favourite leading lady, Googie Withers, plays Rose Sandigate, a bored housewife whose mundane but safe world crashes around her when her ex-lover and now fugitive convict Tommy Swann turns up in the Anderson shelter at the end of her garden. Faithful to its source material, the film depicts the old Jewish East End with real veracity and there is further inspired casting of Sydney Taffler as spivvy bandleader Morry Hyams, John Slater as his brother Lou and Jack Dixon of Dock Green Warner as DS Fothergill. But the film belongs to the pairing of Withers with her real-life husband John McCallum as Tommy, risking it all for one backwards glance at what might have been.

 

they made me a fugitiveThey Made Me A Fugitive (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947) Trevor Howard is far from the romantic lead that Brief Encounter has sealed in memory in Brazilian auteur Cavalcanti’s audacious noir. As Clem, a former RAF pilot unable to adapt to civilian life, he takes up with bad boy Narcy (Griffith Jones, King of the Spiv Cycle) who runs his empire from a funeral parlour, where the coffins come in handy for all sorts of things and the signs on the wall remind everyone: It’s later than you think… This being Britain, class war soon erupts between the two over Narcy’s plan to start dealing drugs, with the result of Clem being framed for murder, banged up in Dartmoor and forced to follow in Tommy Swann’s footsteps and become the titular jailbreaker, hell-bent on revenge. The performances of the two leads, Noel Langley’s darkly humorous script, Margery Saunders’ super-fast editing and Otto Heller’s intense cinematography all add up to a dark star of post-War cinema.

 

odd man outOdd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947) Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker made dramatic use of the city of Belfast to tell the story of the last journey of IRA man Johnny McQueen (James Mason), from city centre heist-gone-wrong to docklands denouement. The doomed man’s progress is seen through the eyes of the children who find him hallucinating in a bomb-shelter with a bullet in his guts; the English nurses who try and patch him up in their terraced parlour; the cabbie who unknowingly gets him past the cops; and the drinkers in the wonderful Crown Bar (landlord: William Hartnell). The surreal beauty of the piece is further heightened by the performances of stalwart Irish actors FJ McCormick as the wily bird-seller trying to profit from Johnny’s plight, WG Fay as his humane counterpoint Father Tom and Robert Newton as the mad artist who wants to paint the last moments of a dying man – inside a crumbling mansion, while snow falls through the roof. In all, it can be safely said that 1947 was a hell of a year for British film noir.

 

ThirdManUSPosterThe Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) The second outing in this list for Reed, cinematographer Krasker and writer Graham Greene is a film which continues to haunt nearly 70 years after its release, a pitch-perfect depiction of bombed-out Vienna and its literal underworld in the aftermath of World War II. There is so much alchemy in this production it is hard to know where to start. Does its magic lie in the casting of Austrian actors Paul Hörbiger, Enrst Deutsch, Siegfried Breuer, Erich Ponto and the octogenarian Hedwig Bleibtrau, all allowed to speak in Viennese dialect with no dubbing or subtitling? The distinctive zither theme by Anton Karas, discovered by chance, playing for tips in a Viennese café? Perhaps it’s the climactic chase through the sewers? The veracity of Greene’s plot about a penicillin racket run by charismatic psychopath Harry Lime, a man based upon the author’s former MI5 spymaster Kim Philby? Or Orson Welles as Harry, appearing from the shadows with a smile upon his lips? What do you think, old man?

 

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The Blue Lamp (Basil Dearden, 1949) Prompted by the murder of Alec D’Antiquis, shot in cold blood by a gang of robbers in 1947, this film tapped into public fears of a London rife with ‘cosh boys’ armed with the weapons that were so easily available after the War. Dirk Bogarde plays Tom Riley, a dark, unknowable young sadist – the sort of role he excelled at. Trying to keep the streets safe from this likes of him is Jack Warner as avuncular PC George Dixon and Jimmy Hanley, his youthful protégée, both vastly different characters from their last meeting in It Always Rains on Sunday. This could almost be an Ealing comedy, but for the sudden, shocking twist of Dixon’s murder at the hands of the coolly dispassionate Riley. Dearden – a lynchpin of British cinema for the next two decades, until his tragic death in a car crash in 1971 – uses great location shots for the car chase down Ladbroke Grove and climax at White City dog track, with the tic-tac men choreographing Riley’s impending doom. Dixon proved so popular that he was resurrected for a successful TV series, Dixon of Dock Green, that lasted from 1955-1976.

 

yield to the nightYield To The Night (J Lee Thompson, 1956) Diana Dors was Britain’s answer to Jayne Mansfield, a blonde bombshell with a wicked sense of humour. But it wasn’t until Thompson cast her as murderess Mary Hilton, condemned to death for shooting her lover, that the full range of her acting depth and talent was revealed. From the stark surroundings of her death row cell, Mary’s story is told in flashback, with many echoes of the true case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain: an affair with smooth-talking nightclub pianist that turns to jealousy, paranoia and ultimately, a smoking gun. It was to Dors’ credit that her rendering of the vulnerability under her character’s hardboiled exterior hit such a chord that the film became an effective tool in the campaign to abolish the death penalty, which had just been achieved by the time of its release. It also brought Thompson to Hollywood, where he would go on to direct one of the most astonishing noirs of all time, Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum, in 1962.

 

hell driversHell Drivers (Cy Endfield, 1957) ‘Manly’ Stanley Baker, the son of a coal miner from The Rhondda, was the alpha male of Fifties/Sixties British cinema. Even a youthful Sean Connery, appearing in one of his first roles here, seems a bit fey beside him. As ex-con Tom Yately, he picks up a job as a lorry driver for a haulage contractor, hoping just to keep his head down and gradually rebuild his life. Unfortunately, his boss Cartley (William Hartnell) is as bent as they come, and working a scam with his top driver Red (a homicidal Patrick McGoohan) that results in such cinematic luminaries as Baker, Connery, Herbert Lom, Sid James and David McCallum having to drive tons of gravel at alarming speeds down perilously narrow and winding country roads. The strange setting, amid the frantic pace of them post-War rebuilds, authentically renders the itinerant lives of the drivers, with their long days at the wheel and nights in the alehouse, and makes this oddball, gritty drama really work.

 

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Beat Girl (Edmond T Gréville, 1959) A heady cocktail of beatniks, property developers and strippers mixing it in Soho to the sounds of the John Barry Seven. Beat Girl slid in some sly social commentary amid the wild antics of the titular Jenny Linden (Gillian Hills, the English Bardot, who would ironically find more success as a ye-ye chanteuse in France) and her teenage rebel crew, who also numbered singer Adam Faith, a youthful Oliver Reed and Shirley Anne Field, without whom no teensploitation film of the period could properly be made. While Jenny lives for kicks, racing cars, playing chicken on the railway and getting involved with sinister strip club owner Christopher Lee, her architect father Paul is busy constructing the concrete City 2000 from his luxury Kensington mansion. While a stripping sequence involving a boa constrictor saw it heavily cut on release, the car chase scene was later mirrored in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (in which Hills also took a role), and John Barry’s score is still straight from the fridge.

 

LeagueOfGentlemenPosterThe League of Gentlemen (Basil Dearden, 1959) We are now entering a period where most of the best British movies will involve the trinity of Basil Dearden, Bryan Forbes and Dickie Attenborough. In this, Dearden directs, Forbes writes the scathingly witty screenplay and both he and Dickie star in the gang of compromised ex-servicemen recruited by the disgruntled Colonel Hyde to pull off the perfect bank job. The ensemble cast – the awesome Jack Hawkins as the Colonel, Nigel Patrick as his louche adjutant Major Race (a man with many similarities to Harry Lime), Terence Alexander as chinless wonder Major Rutland-Smith, Roger Livesey as faux clergyman ‘Padre’ Mycroft, Forbes as feckless nightclub pianist Captain Porthill, Dickie as randy garage mechanic Lieutenant Lexy, Kieron Moore as closet homosexual Captain Stevens and Norman Bird as the browbeaten Captain Weaver – are all superb, as is every minute of the film they inhabit. Ostensibly a heist movie, this is really an inspired satire on the end of Empire that catches the mood of change in British society as the Sixties began.

 

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Sapphire (Basil Dearden, 1959) A year after the Notting Hill race riots, Dearden attempts to address the thorny topic of integration by working the problems of a socially evolving London into a murder mystery frame. A beautiful young woman (Yvonne Buckingham as the eponymous Sapphire) is found murdered on Hampstead Heath, an autopsy revealing the further outrage of her pregnancy. When her doctor brother (Earl Cameron) arrives to identify her body, detectives Hazard (Nigel Patrick) and Learoyd (Michael Craig) are startled by his blackness – Sapphire had appeared to them to be a white girl. Illusions continue to be shattered throughout the course of their investigation, which leads the blatantly bigoted Learoyd and more circumspect Hazard into the nightclubs and youth clubs through which Sapphire passed, collecting more impressions of intolerance and ignorance from all sides as they go. A real litmus test of the prevailing values of the age, it remains uncomfortable and thought-provoking viewing to this day.

 

The_Criminal_film_posterThe Criminal (Joseph Losey, 1960) Fleeing from the McCarthy blacklist, Joseph Losey’s arrival in Britain was America’s loss and Brit noir’s gain. With Robert Krasker as his cinematographer and Stanley Baker playing villain Johnny Bannion, this is arguably the first film to realistically portray the inside of a British jail, where rival gangs clash under corruptible guards and a dark streak of humour is essential for survival. Baker based his character on his friend Albert Dimes, the swaggering bodyguard of gang boss Billy Hill, and the details of his immaculate wardrobe and jazz hipster pad are as meticulous as Baker’s performance. With roughly half of the film spent on each side of the bars, Bannion leaves prison to find a bunch of upstart criminals moving onto his patch, just as, in London gangland, Billy Hills’ firm were about to be usurped by the Kray twins – though tellingly, in Losey’s film, the new breed are American. Things come to a head, as they tend to do, at a racecourse, the footage of which is ripe with real life characters, notably the black tipster Prince Monolulu who dressed as an African chief.

 

the frightened city

The Frightened City (John Lemont 1961) Normally in lists of Brit noirs, Val Guest’s 1960 Hammer production Hell is a City with Stanley Baker would be up next. But Sean Connery, his Hell Drivers cohort Herbert Lom and Alfred Marks steal a march with this neglected gem, which might not have such a great title but thankfully comes with out an embarrassing subplot about the detective’s need to impregnate his wife. The Frightened City very much reflects the memoirs and pulp novelisations of Scotland Yard’s finest from this era, with a plot about protection rackets, greedy accountants and property developers that still resonates today. Connery has grown into a magnetic persona to match his saturnine looks, Lom is ever-reliable as the mastermind and Marks is superb as the owner of a Tiki bar and organiser of the local muscle. It is the villains and not John Gregson’s lantern-jawed but strangely uncharismatic DI Sayers who own this film, which is also blessed with early Britbop mogul Norrie Paramour’s evocative score.

 

Victim_1961_posterVictim (Basil Dearden, 1961) After spending the Fifties playing amiable medical man Simon Sparrow in the Doctor series of comedies, Dirk Bogarde risked all with this film. Having just left the Rank Organisation that had made him a huge star, he portrayed a closeted barrister who puts himself on the line to defend the blackmailers of homosexuals, at a time when to be a gay man was still a criminal offence. The deeper irony being, of course, that Bogarde himself was a closeted homosexual who was viewed as a heartthrob, lending the scenes between his character, Melville Farr, and Sylvia Sims as his beautiful wife Laura, an extra level of poignancy. Like The Criminal, Victim is laced with brilliant period detail: the furtive language employed by the clandestine gay community and the murky characters who inhabit the pubs and drinking dens around Charing Cross where blackmail victims are stalked. With wonderful supporting turns from the ever-urbane Dennis Price and a demonic Derren Nesbitt, this is perhaps Dearden’s finest hour.

 

_The_Boys__(1962_British_film)The Boys (Sidney J Furie, 1962) One of the best time capsules of post-War, pre-Swinging London is this courtroom drama about four young East-enders on a night out that ends in murder. Retold in flashback, two different narratives take shape as the antics of the four – routinely described as ‘Teddy Boys’, the scourge of the nation – are seen from contrasting angles. All are simply eager to escape the confines of their family homes. Ginger (Tony Garnett) an apprentice builder working on the new high rises, is dying to show off about his new job. Stanley (a mesmerising Dudley Sutton) needs respite from his dying mother. Barney (genuine bad boy rocker Jess Conrad) has an eye for the ladies and Billy (Ronald Lacy) merely wants to have fun. As they traverse the city from the condemned slums of the East to the bright lights of the West, so too do they cross all the heavily entrenched class boundaries within this literally shifting landscape. Canadian-born Furie had an eye for youth culture – he would go on to delve into clandestine biker and gay culture with 1965’s The Leather Boys, casting Sutton in another memorable role, then make the ultimate Cold War cool of 1965’s The Ipcress File.

 

the l shaped roomThe L-Shaped Room (Bryan Forbes, 1962) Forbes’ second film as director was an adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks’ novel about a pregnant, unmarried young woman adrift in the boarding house land of early Sixties London, who finds solace in the company of fellow outcasts. Transferring the book’s setting from Fulham to Ladbroke Grove, Forbes pinpointed exactly where a woman in such straits might find succor in a carved-up Victorian terrace, alongside an angry young man novelist, West Indian musician, ageing lesbian actress and a couple of working girls, all ruled over by imperious landlady Doris. Forbes wove magic casting Leslie Caron as the compromised Jane, Tom Bell as her inky-fingered suitor, Brock Peters as jazzer Johnny, Pat Phoenix as the tart with the heart, Avis Bunnage as Doris and Cecily Courtenage as the lonely thespian. John Barry’s score – particularly the scene where Johnny’s band play of the locale’s ‘mushroom clubs’ — perfectly captures both the hopeful spirit and melancholic undertow of the time and place.

 

The_Damned_1963_movieThe Damned (Joseph Losey, 1963) Hammer were so aghast Losey’s mash-up of juvenile delinquency, science fiction, Pop Art and horror that they sat on this film for two years before daring to release it. Today their fears seem absurd – this is one of the finest, most original movies ever to emerge from the Studio That Dripped Blood. Opening with a memorable, finger-clicking paean to black-leather, we are introduced to Weymouth’s fearsome bikers, a gang led by King (Oliver Reed, looking like a prototype Droog) stalking tourists lured away from the safety of the seafront by his jailbait sister, Joan (Shirley Anne Field). But this soon gives way to a much stranger and more resonant storyline about a secret nuclear research facility just across the water on the Isle of Portland, where sinister experiments have been taking place on innocents. This haunting vision of the nuclear age is was also where the first band of punk took their name

 

the small world of sammy leeThe Small World of Sammy Lee (Ken Hughes, 1963) From the opening shots of dawn breaking over the sex cinemas and beat clubs of Old Compton Street to the sound of a dustbin lorry and Kenny Graham’s mournful jazz score, this film more than any other evokes the true Soho of the era. As the strip-club compare who has 24 hours to repay his gambling debts to the local firm or have his face rearranged with a razor, Anthony Newley gives a monumental performance as Sammy Lee. Running from his brother’s shop on Petticoat Lane and back across town to the pool halls, jazz basements and powder-strewn dressing rooms of Soho in his frantic quest to raise funds by any crooked means necessary, he must also deal with a summer fling (Julia Foster as Northern innocent Patsy) who’s turned up on his doorstep looking to rekindle his fickle flame. His frantic journey is beautifully captured by DP Wolfgang Suschlitzky, with a brilliant cast including Warren Mitchell as Sammy’s long-suffering brother and Miriam Karlin as his much wise wife, Robert Stephens as sleazy strip club manager Gerry.

 

The_Servant_(film)The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963) Scripted by Harold Pinter from a short story by Robin Maugham and shot across the road from his uncle Somerset’s pad on Royal Avenue, DP Douglas Slocombe’s lens captures the monochrome Chelsea where Look Back in Anger was first staged at the Royal Court and Mary Quant set up her Quorum boutique on King’s Road. Dirk Bogarde’s memorably menacing portrayal of the opportunist Northern butler who is not what he seems and his clueless prey, louche aristocrat James Fox, mine the uneasy tensions between the classes that are about to explode with the onset of the Angry Young Men, the march of the Miniskirt and the revelations of the Profumo Affair that would bring down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government in this year. By the end of the decade, Fox would be playing a Through-the-Looking-Glass version of his role in The Servant as the gangster Chas in Performance when society completed its spin cycle and the Swinging decade came to its murderous end.

 

_Seance_on_a_Wet_Afternoon__(1964_film)Séance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes, 1964) The most unsettling of all Forbes/Attenborough collaborations casts Dickie as reluctant kidnapper Bill Savage, who is urged by his Spiritualist wife Myra (Kim Stanley) to snatch the young daughter of a wealthy couple in order that she can demonstrate her clairvoyant powers to help police reunite them. Once the palm-drenchingly uncomfortable abduction is achieved, their unfortunate charge is confined in a room of the couple’s suitably gloomy pile made to look like a hospital ward. But it is Myra’s mental health that rapidly unravels. Forbes, who adapted the screenplay from Mark McShane’s novel, had real difficulties casting the female lead and at one stage considered changing her sex, envisioning Alec Guinness and Tom Courtenay in the starring roles. The dynamic between his eventual discovery, Broadway actress and Method devotee Stanley, and Dickie was every bit as fractious as their screen relationship, adding a further layer of barely-suppressed hysteria to the ectoplasmic atmosphere. Although nothing so terrible befalls the innocent here, in the summer of the same year, a real woman named Myra would begin spiriting children away.

(This article previously appeared  in the French Temps Noir.)

Bio: Cathi Unsworth is the author of six highly acclaimed pop-cultural crime novels, That Old Black Magic(2018), Without The Moon (2015), Weirdo (2013), Bad Penny Blues (2009), The Singer (2007) and The Not Knowing (2005, all Serpent’s Tail). She began her writing career at the age of 19 on Sounds and has since worked as an editor on Bizarre and Purr. She has written on music, film, pop culture and general weirdness for Fortean Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, Mojo, Sight & Sound and Uncut among others. Next year will see the publication of Defying Gravity, the biography of Jordan Mooney which Cathi has authored alongside the woman known as The First Sex Pistol. More at www.cathiunsworth.co.uk

 

Recommended Read: William Ryan’s Korolev Trilogy

William Ryan is deservedly getting a great deal of positive attention for his latest novel, A House Of Ghosts, but his first three novels – featuring Captain Alexei Korolev – were also more than somewhat tasty and are well worth checking out.

the holy thiefThe Holy Thief.

The first of the Korolev trilogy, The Holy Thief is set in Moscow in 1936, at the start of Stalin’s deconstruction of the city. Korolev, the star detective in the Moscow Militia’s Criminal Investigation Division, is sent to investigate the unusual and brutal murder of a woman whose body is found in a desecrated church. And, of course, this is a far from simple case, especially as it is carried out in the chilly shadow of the NKVD’s Colonel Gregorin, who believes that the case may well have political implications.

Korolev is a good man trying his best to complete his investigation whilst dealing with corruption, paranoia and the tangible fear of the times. A world that Ryan evokes very well indeed. The rich atmosphere of The Holy Thief is, in fact, one of its strong points and the book’s historical details all help move the story forward rather than bogging it down, as is common in some historical crime novels.

The Holy Thief is a deftly paced and constantly involving mystery with an interesting cast of characters and an immensely likable hero. It is a cracking good story, very well told and it confidently kicked off a deservedly successful series.

the bloody meadowThe Bloody Meadow.

It’s 1937 and at the close of a particularly harsh winter, Korolev receives an ominous knock on the door in the dead of night. Despite recently being decorated, he expects the worse – to be dispatched to certain death in one of Siberia’s frozen prison camps. However, he is, in fact, sent off to a film set in Odessa, to investigate the apparent suicide of a young woman who was a ‘very close’ friend of the Commissar for State Security.

The Bloody Meadow throbs with a sense of paranoia and fear, as Korolev carefully negotiates the tangled spider web of Stalinist Russia while trying to get to the bottom of the case. The Bloody Meadow is an immensely satisfying murder mystery that is packed with great characters -including some familiar faces from The Holy Thief – and strong on atmosphere. Korolev himself is a particularly likeable protagonist who constantly struggles with the duality of his position and the need to do the right thing.

Ryan’s great descriptive skills are really to the fore in The Bloody Meadow, which is sometimes so richly cinematic the it makes you wish that Carole Reed were still alive in order to faithfully adapt the book for the silver screen.

The Twelfth Department.

the-twelfth-departmentParanoia and tension once again permeate 1930s Moscow in The Twelfth Department.  The tightly-woven story kicks off with a fast-moving prologue, as Korolev and his cohorts capture the head of the Grey Fox gang in one of Moscow’s parks. This is a neat little scene with a great sense of time and place and smartly introduces us to some of the major players in The Twelfth Department’s cast of characters.

After this case, Korolev is supposed to be on leave, taking care of his estranged son Yuri for the week, but this is interrupted when Professor Boris Azarov, Director of the mysterious Azarov Institute is shot dead in an exclusive apartment, in the shadow of the Kremlin. Almost as soon as he starts his investigation, however, Korolev is taken off the case. So he heads off to the countryside with Yuri but there is a knock on the door in the middle of the night, Korolev is dragged back to Moscow and Yuri goes missing.

The Twelfth Department is an engrossing and satisfying follow up to its cracking predecessors. The story is a compelling, twisting and turning investigation and Korolev and the other characters are very well drawn- especially Count Kolya, leader of the Moscow Thieves.

All in all, fantastic stuff.

Find out more about William Ryan HERE.