Sunday, 31 December 2017

The bad... redux

I guess I should apologize to the makers of Safe House. Last week I droned on about how this was the worst thing I’d seen on TV in 2017. With only 10 days left in the year I doubted it was possible for anything worse to come along. Then along came Bancroft.


With a stellar cast of Sarah Parish, Kenneth Cranham, Art Malik and, er, Ade Edmonson it sounded like a good drama, but it started off badly, went downhill fast and ended in the gutter. Somehow it managed to take all the bad things in Safe House and crank them up a notch.

I poked fun at Safe House for ‘restaging’ a scene from Line of Duty. Bancroft went one better and ‘restaged’ the entire plot from LoD, with cops shooting cops, evidence tampering, cops interrogating cops, secret meetings in a police van etc all happening in exactly the same points in the story. Except LoD had Ted Hastings and his meticulously gathered stack of compelling evidence to destroy the bad guy and Bancroft had Eddie Hitler and his illegally obtained used condom (don't ask) so Bancroft walked away without a stain to her character.

Safe House had a daft solution to the murder mystery, so Bancroft went one better with the killer, who was straight, killing her lesbian lover because the lover had only pretended to love her in revenge for having had an affair with her husband, or something like that.

Safe House failed to have a single scene that made sense because nothing was explained, so Bancroft went one better and had stuff that could never make sense even if everything was explained. At one point the title character fire-bombed the house of the key witness she was supposed to be protecting as part of her cunning plan to discredit another cop, and got away with it, and this didn’t even get in the top 5 implausible things to happen between the commercial breaks.

I’ve always thought there should be more shows where the bad guy is the main character and they get away with it. Then I watched Bancroft. I never want to see another show do that again.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The king is dead. Long live the queen

So it’s goodbye to Peter Capaldi and welcome to Jodie Whitaker. When the news first broke about the identity of the new Doctor I was disappointed. I reckoned Doctor Who needed a shake up and I liked the idea of a change of dynamic with a female Doctor, but I wasn’t sure about the choice.

 

If the new showrunner wanted an actress from Broadchurch, JW wouldn’t have been in my top 3 choices. Phoebe double-barrelled something, the bookies’ favourite, was tall and quirky enough to pull it off, Vicky McClure’s eyebrows are just as watchable as Capaldi’s, and Olivia Colman is great in anything, but having seen Jodie being the Doctor for a few seconds I reckon she’ll work – provided she gets some decent stories.

Seeing PC try his best to spark life into yet another plot-free story just showed that a new take on Doctor Who is long overdue. PC should have been the greatest ever Doctor. Heck, he’s Malcolm Tucker. The guy can do comedy, tragedy, menace and drama, often all at the same time, and yet he just never got the chance to let rip. The ending brought this home to me when his nostalgic look back on his achievements only produced a sick dalek from an episode I’d forgotten about and a couple of dopey assistants looking sad.

I watched David Tennant’s regeneration episode over Xmas and his prolonged death scene is annoying, but I have to admit it was deserved as he did have numerous great call backs to be nostalgic about, but sadly PC just didn’t have any epic moments. He was a brilliant Doctor trapped in a poor run. So as even his closing monologue was pedestrian, I thought I’d recall Malcolm Tucker’s closing monologue (edited for language) from The Thick of It, as curiously it works for the Doctor, too. Now that’s how a character should leave a show with his head held high.

"You know Jackie effing Chan about me. You know eff all about me. I am totally beyond the realms of your effing tousle-haired effing dim-witted compre-effing-hension. I don't just take this effing job home, you know. I take this job home, it effing ties me to the bed, and it effing effs me from arsehole to breakfast. Then it wakes me up in the morning with a cup full of piss slammed in my face, slaps me about the chops to make sure I'm awake enough so it can kick me in the effing bollocks. This job has taken me in every hole in my effing body. "Malcolm!" it's gone, you can't know Malcolm because Malcolm is not here. Malcolm effing left the building effing years ago. This is a effing husk, I am a effing host for this effing job. Do you want this job? Yes? You do effing want this job? Then you're going to have to swallow this whole effing life and let it grow inside you like a parasite, getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it effing eats your insides alive and it stares out of your eyes and tells you what to do. I'm going to leave the stage with my head held effing high. What you're going to see is a master class in effing dignity, son. The audience will be on their feet. "There he goes!" they'll say. No friends - no ‘real’ friends. No children, no glory, no memoirs. Well, eff them."

Friday, 22 December 2017

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Around this time of year I usually have a moan about something I've seen on TV, usually Sherlock, but as thankfully that's unlikely to ever annoy me again I thought that this year I'd bang on about the best, the worst and the most entertainingly daft things I've seen this year.



First, the good: Twin Peaks, Season 3, Episode 8, Gotta Light. When I first heard that Twin Peaks was being revived I wasn't too enthused despite the fact that the original makers were behind the endeavour. I loved the show during its original run, but then again, thinking back, I struggled to work out why.

I enjoyed the weird backward-talking dancing dwarf side of it and I liked the murder mystery element. The optimistic Coop and the folksy Truman are probably my favourite cop double-act, ably backed up by mystical Hawk, goofy Andy and even goofier Lucy. Other characters such as Leland, Ben, Norma, Denise and the Log Lady were superb, Bob will always be the scariest character ever to appear on screen, and things like the Invitation to Love soap in a soap and Josie getting turned into a doorknob are still memorable. Then there's the other stuff.

There's the endless teen angst. There's the filler material like little Nicky, James's noir exploit, and Nadine becoming superhuman. There's the theme tune blurting out ten times an episode. There's James singing, Audrey dancing, Bobby being cool. . . The list of annoying scenes and sub-plots and characters is longer than anything else I like, so whether a return would work depended on the balance between the soap-opera, the murder mystery, and the surreal. To my surprise the return got that balance right. It even included James singing, Audrey dancing and Bobby being cool and made them all work.

Someone once said that revivals of once-popular shows should give viewers what they need rather than what they want. Most shows try to do the latter and they usually fail because no two fans of anything can ever agree about what they want. Twin Peaks gave me what I needed, which was something that had little to do with Twin Peaks and more to do with a retrospective look back at the highlights of David Lynch's film career.

Episode 8, Gotta Light, was the thing I needed the most. I hadn't considered it before seeing that episode, but a sequel to Eraserhead was something that was missing from my life. It was an hour of mainly silent, black and white surreal imagery of scruffy blokes shuffling around in search of a light interspersed with the first atom bomb, the giant floating in a music hall and the convenience store mentioned in passing by the one-armed man twenty-eight years ago. Nothing else I've seen this year, or perhaps any year, was as inspired or as perfect.

In essence it was a Bob origin story, but unlike every other origin story I've ever watched in which explaining the motivations and forces that create a memorable character only go to diminish the character, this origin tale worked. Although that could be because I missed seeing Bob's face in the pile of goo, so I ended up watching it three times before I even realized it was a Bob origin story. This was pure story-telling that worked on an emotional level without any consideration given to character, plot or any of the usual techniques. But before I get too pretentious in trying to explain why I liked it I'll just say: this is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and the dark within.

 

If quoting those lines didn't send you to sleep, I'll move on to the bad: Safe House, season 2, episode 4. IMDB's rating for this episode is 3.6. This is very low. It's also too high.

Safe House has an odd history. Season 1 starred Christopher Eccleston as a maverick cop who left the police under a cloud after an undisclosed incident and who now battles the demons of the past while trying to single-handedly solve an old crime and run a safe house with his wife. It was entertaining and ended on a cliffhanger that was interesting enough to make me watch season 2.

It was then that the bad news broke. After a falling-out behind the scenes the cast, production crew and location were replaced, so series 2 ignored the cliffhanger and started a new story. This one concerned another maverick cop who left the police under a cloud after an undisclosed incident and who now battles the demons of the past while trying to single-handedly solve an old crime and run a safe house with his wife.

The first three episodes were formulaic, but watchable. The cop is the only one who believes that the serial killer known as the Crow, who is behind bars, had a partner in crime and when the killings restart he sets out to find him. He's blocked by his ex-boss who doesn't want the truth to come out, while he tries to find the kidnapped victim before she's killed and at the same time keep other potential targets safe. Everything was set for a final episode that revealed all. That didn't happen, and although I'd normally applaud any show that confounds expectations, the ending was just as bizarre as Gotta Light, but not in a good way.

First the episode took the novel approach of ignoring everyone and all their plot strands from the first three episodes. The kidnap victim, the incestuous daughter, the dodgy bloke from the village, all the suspects, the controlling ex-boss, the prisoner were all absent. In addition to their sub-plots being left unresolved, we didn't find out why the Crow's son was recreating the crime scenes in his bedroom, or why the Crow set up tents in his victim's living-rooms, or even why he was called the Crow. Instead the episode concentrated on the big reveal that the actor Jason Watkins was the real Crow, which every viewer would have figured out before the titles rolled in episode 1 as Jason Watkins is always the killer.

The revelation itself was strange. Jason is in the safe house as the cop fears he'll be the Crow's next victim and nobody suspects that he is, in fact, the Crow. Jason makes a fatal error in packing the Crow's trademark balaclava in his overnight bag. His son gets drunk and spills wine on his jumper and Jason suggests he gets a clean jumper out of the overnight bag. The son opens up the bag and discovers the balaclava. He's seen the scene in Line of Duty where Jason Watkins pulls a balaclava out of an overnight bag and astounds the viewers with the shock revelation that he's Balaclava Man, so he wanders off into the night and isn’t seen again. Jason realizes he's been rumbled, so he restages the balaclava scene from Line of Duty and attacks the cop.

Jason is fat, short and middle-aged. The cop is a macho hardcase who in the previous episode chased after a bus for ten miles and arrived before it without getting out of breath. Jason easily overcomes the cop and ties him to a chair. He reveals that his original killing spree was to get revenge against the men who had affairs with his wife and he returned to serial-killing because he was annoyed that his son had to work in Manchester. Then he kidnaps the wife and despite having got away with the perfect crime, he leaves the cop alive to ponder what's so terrible about Manchester.

The cop can't figure it out, but thirty seconds later he escapes. Unfortunately he's too slow to stop Jason driving off with her. He chases around a bit and can't find him, but obligingly Jason returns and parks on the beach. The wife isn't with him, so the cop demands to know where she is. Jason laughs, so the cop tries to drown him. Then the police arrive and save him. They ignore the cop's serious assault on a suspect and arrest Jason, leaving the cop to fall to his knees in the surf and curse the sky. Roll credits.

I can only assume something went wrong during filming as none of this made sense. Perhaps it was paying homage to the ending to Seven, but then again we don't know what happened to the wife, or the son, or how the Crow persuaded someone to join him on his killing spree, or, basically, why anyone did any of the things they did. In Gotta Light I didn't need to know if the girl at the end was Sarah Palmer or what Laura Palmer's face in the orb implied about the nature of time and destiny, but here I needed answers, although as nobody behaved in a way that any human being has ever behaved it was hard to care. Which brings me to my next choice, the ugly. . . .

 

The Loch, season 1, episode 4. This series is set in the Scottish town of Fort Augustus at one end of Loch Ness where a serial killer is on the loose. Its two leads were in Breaking Bad and Happy Valley, so it was reasonable to assume this would be a quality production, and yet it managed to have a dafter solution to the mystery than Safe House's killing spree due to a son's relocation to Manchester. Here a doting mother fears her eldest son will go bad like her husband did, so she drugs the younger son and keeps him comatose in bed for years while passing her twenty-something son off as the teenage good son. This cunning plan fails when the good son wakes up and roams around and the bad son kills lots of people. Unlike Safe House this was so daft it was a lot of fun.

The series would make a good drinking game, but only for alcoholics as there are so many things to count. There's the number of times the cop finds clues. This is amusing because everyone reckons she's incompetent as her previous greatest achievement was finding a missing blow-up Nessie, but despite that somehow she blunders across every single vital clue, all of which gathers her no recognition. Then there's the times her daughter is so annoying you want the killer to get her next, or the times when the supposedly brilliant psychologist is kicked off the case for incorrectly identifying someone as the killer, but carries on investigating only to get it wrong again. Best of all, there's the times that people behave in ways that nobody would ever behave.

I can only assume that the makers of the show had never encountered a member of the human race before as nobody in a small Scottish town that has never had any serious crime before is concerned about a killer being on the loose. Children are allowed out at night to roam around in the dark. Teenagers are nearly killed and don't tell anyone. At one stage there's a mass killing by a school kid who tries to gun down everyone in his class during a day trip. Nobody notices the kid wandering around with a massive rifle strapped to his back and afterwards all the dead bodies generates absolutely no reaction by anyone. It ought to be headline news around the world, but it gets dismissed in a few lines of dialogue in which one person asks another whether they'd heard about the shootings and the other says 'Aye'.

Then there's all the random weird stuff. There's a creepy teacher with his mysterious locked room that interests nobody until the final episode. There's the woman whose child gets impregnated by the even creepier homophobic bible-thumping doctor, so she locks the kid in her bedroom and spends the next six months with a cushion up her jumper pretending she's pregnant so she can pass the baby off as her own. She even goes for phantom check-ups with the creepy doctor. There's the only gay in the village who gets his brains dragged out through his nostrils for no reason that's ever explained. There's the Nessie tour guide who can't bring himself to tell his wife his dark secret, which is that he doesn't believe in Nessie. . .

I started finding all this nonsense amusing in episode 4. There's a scene where two actors have an altercation by the canal and I recognized the location. I've been to Fort Augustus a few times and last year I'd taken the dog for a walk by that canal. He'd started to fall back, so I tugged him only to find he'd taken a walking dump leaving a trail of pellets over the last twenty feet, and all in front of a row of foreign tourists eating their lunch. So I couldn't take the dramatic scene seriously knowing that the actors were standing on the very spot where my dog did a particularly sticky poo.

From then on I found it hard to stop smiling, and episode 4 turned out to be a classic filler episode in which a new character arrives in town and then departs for no good reason beyond the need to pad the show out to six episodes. This new character is watching the TV when he sees his old serial-killing partner being interviewed by a news reporter about the mayhem in town. He deduces that the partner has got a new identity and has now returned to serial-killing, so he tries to join him on his latest exploit. The partner explains that he's a red herring, but the bloke's not convinced and he spends the episode trying to prove he's still got what it takes to be a mass murderer by gibbering inanely and comically hiding in the shadows trying to find someone to kill.

It ends with a great scene where he decides to kill the cop's husband, who has gone walking in the hills. The bloke follows him across several miles of the kind of Scottish bog that sucks your boots off, all without being noticed. Then, when he's sneaked up on his victim, he coughs to alert him before he stabs him. An altercation ensues and things look bad for the husband, but the cop then arrives on the scene. Curiously in every other scene in the show she's wearing impractical pixie boots, but luckily she's suddenly wearing wellies. She ignores her husband, who is bleeding to death in a puddle, while she and the bloke discuss the plot at length. Then she reads him his rights, marches him over several miles of bog, gets him into a police car, stands around until it's getting dark, and then reacts in horror when seemingly for the first time she sees her half-dead husband being stretchered into an ambulance. The husband gasps that he doesn't reckon he'll die, so she shrugs and wanders off, presumably so she can get changed back into her pixie boots for the next scene.

As I said, never once does anyone behave like a real person does, and this show is all the better for it. Roll on season 2, I hope, and roll on season 4 of Twin Peaks, but, please, no more Safe House.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Bullet Catch Showdown in paperback

My 2014 Black Horse Western in now available as a large print paperback.

 
I really like this cover. The happy-go-lucky critter with the cheeky grin is different to the hard-bitten cowpokes that usually appear on my westerns. As the story is a bit different and involves a magic show it feels appropriate. This one is my 25th Linford Western.

Stage magician Malachi Muldoon is the world's most dangerous practitioner of the arcane arts with his performance of the notorious bullet catch. His show in Bear Creek draws the interest of Adam Clements and Deputy Hayward Knight. While Clements is keen to join Malachi on stage and become part of his act, Hayward is out to try and solve a mystery: it seems that, wherever Malachi Muldoon performs, a trail of bodies is left behind...

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Paperback version of Massacre at Bluff Point now available



Ethan Craig picked the wrong day to start working for Sam Pringle’s outfit. Within hours of joining up, Ansel Stark’s bandit gang bushwhacked the outfit at Bluff Point and Ethan saw all his new colleagues gunned down in cold blood.
He vowed to get his revenge, but before Ethan could get his manhunt underway his bad luck continued when for the second time he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and Sheriff Henry Fisher arrested him. His presumed crime was being a member of the very gang he’d sworn to track down!
With nobody believing his innocence and a ruthless bandit to catch, can Ethan ever hope to succeed?
 
Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Riders of the Barren Plains now available on Kindle

Riders of the Barren Plains is now available on Kindle. This was my 17th Black Horse Western and the 5th Cassidy Yates yarn.
 
 
This novel heads back to the Barren Plains, a place that has featured in several of my stories. Like many of the Cassidy Yates yarns it has a split narrative alternating between him and another character. In this case the other character is the criminal that Cassidy is after, and writing about both the investigation and the attempt to evade detection was fun as it let me write about the side of the story that I don't usually cover.
It's now available from all good amazon stores.

Jeff Steed rode into Carmon looking for work, but when he got caught up in a bank raid he found himself running from both Sheriff Cassidy Yates and the bank raider Blake Kelly. To escape from the net that was inexorably closing in on him he assumed the identity of a dead man. But as that man was the leader of a supply convoy, he had to undertake a hazardous journey across the Barren Plains to the silver miners at Bleak Point.
With the convoy being escorted by the lawman who had been trying to catch him and the bandit he double-crossed hiding out in the Barren Plains, can Jeff ever hope to survive?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Paperback version of Six-shooter Bride now available


 
Slammed in a jail cell after killing a man in a crooked poker game, Ethan Craig’s future looks bleak. Then a witness, Amelia Ash, comes forward and offers Ethan a way out. But there’s a catch. Amelia needs someone to escort her on a treacherous journey across bandit-infested country to her forthcoming wedding.
Ethan agrees to take her, but with raging rivers to cross and Buck Lincoln’s outlaw gang on her tail, it isn’t long before he realizes just how treacherous this journey will be. There’s danger every step of the way in this gripping western.


Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Paperback version of Wanted: McBain now available




Sheriff Cassidy Yates couldn’t believe his eyes when he read the Wanted poster. His ex-deputy, and friend, Nathaniel McBain was both a wanted man and a member of Rodrigo Fernandez’s ruthless outlaw gang.
There’s nothing worse than a lawman gone bad, and Cassidy knows it’s his duty to arrest McBain. But when he finds him, McBain claims the Wanted poster is wrong and his true intention is to infiltrate Fernandez’s gang and bring the outlaw to justice.
Is McBain really working undercover? Only one thing is certain: when Cassidy learns the full truth about McBain’s plan, it will test to the very limit the strength of his friendship and his duty as a lawman.


Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dad's Army: The Movie

I’ve finally just got round to seeing the film version of the eternally popular 70s sitcom Dad’s Army. The mixed reviews it received meant I wasn’t enthused about seeing it, but in the end it was slightly better than I expected.

The thing I found most interesting was seeing the acting choices that each member of the ensemble cast took, which came down to either trying to play the character or trying to play the actor who originally played the character. The results were a mixed bag.

Of those who tried playing the character, I reckon Captain Mainwaring and Corporal Jones both failed to work. I had thought that Toby Jones would be a good Mainwaring, a man who’s a pompous idiot with an inferiority complex, but who, for all the slapstick, is prepared to lead from the front and die for his men and country. I didn’t get any of that, with Mainwaring just being a fat bald bloke who’s in charge. This was doubly irritating as in the BBC’s Dad’s Army biopic John Sessions was a perfect Arthur Lowe in both looks and mannerisms.

Corporal Jones was even worse bearing in mind that Tom Courtenay is one of the UK’s best actors, but his Jones was just an annoying bloke who couldn’t be bothered to say most of his numerous catchphrases. I think the mistake in casting was that Clive Dunn was a young man playing an old man, so Jones was an amusing caricature who could do all the slapstick nonsense, but getting an old actor to play an old character just falls flat.

On better ground was Bill Nighy, who made no effort to be either Sergeant Wilson or John Le Mesurier, which was the right thing to do as only one man could ever master Wilson’s affable ennui, and instead he did what he does in every film role I’ve ever seen him in and was just Bill Nighy wandering around in a daze. Personally I think they missed a trick, though, in not getting Ian Lavender to play Wilson, which would have cemented one of the original sitcom’s best running jokes. Bill Paterson was also acceptable as Private Frazer, although he had little to do, playing a dour Scotsman rather than attempting to be John Laurie although, again, I reckon Ralph Riach in the BBC biopic was a better Laurie.

The actors who decided to play the original actors feared much better. Michael Gambon pretty much stole the show as Private Godfrey with all the best lines and a perfect mimic of Arnold Ridley’s mannerisms and way of moving. Daniel Mays was a fine James Beck, both looking and sounding like Private Walker, and I was most surprised by whoever they got to be Private Pike. I don’t who that actor was, but I quickly started to think of him as being Ian Lavender.

Having got together such a large ensemble cast, with most of the cast being acceptable enough to make the reboot work, the strange thing was the decision to ignore them for lengthy sections and instead waste time on telling a story. The sitcom always worked perfectly when it was just the platoon standing in the church hall listening to Mainwaring explain a perfectly simple mission to find German parachutists disguised as nuns, while Wilson yawns and questions whether Mainwaring is being wise, Godfrey gets told off for being awkward and asks to be excused, Frazer pours scorn on Godfrey for being senile, Jones tells a rambling story about the Sudan while waving his bayonet and getting slapped down for going off in the realms of fantasy, Stupid boy Pike says his mum won’t let him stay out late, and Walker offers to get his hands on some nuns’ habits cheaply.

Frankly, ninety minutes of that would have kept me amused because that’s what the show is: a group of blokes coping with the boredom of waiting for something bad to happen by irritating each other, but being always ready to go into battle or at least extract Jones out of a combine harvester. Instead too much time was taken up with the war, spies, romance, and other uninteresting nonsense, which often made me think I was watching a comedy war film instead of Dad’s Army, which is a character comedy set during the war.

On the other hand the decision to spend more time with the usually underused female characters worked well. Giving Mrs Fox and Godfrey’s sisters something to do was fun, even though I was irritated to see Godfrey lived in town, and Mavis having a role other than being Pike’s mum was entertaining. Strangest of all was the decision to have Mainwaring’s wife on screen, which at first felt like sacrilege, but is a good example of when it’s best to ignore canon. Maintaining the running joke that we never see her wouldn’t work well in a one-off film, so it was better to make her into a female version of Mainwaring.

I'd guess the inspiration for the story came from one of the sitcom's best episodes Mum's Army, in which Mainwaring decides to use the womenfolk to help out, which leads to him falling for one of the recruits. In half-an-hour that episode managed more laughs than the film managed, and the romance plot was more believable. Despite that, on the whole, the film was a decent revival that works best if you’re in a good mood, although I’d have still liked a few more jokes and a few more scenes where the cast are standing together in the church hall trading catchphrases and rambling on pointlessly.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Incident at Pegasus Heights now published

My 36th Black Horse Western is now available.


This is the second book to feature fossil-hunter Jim Dragon, except this time he's the main character. As with last month's Devine's Mission this book previously appeared as a Kindle title, which is still available.

This time Jim gets a sidekick in Elmina Fay, and I enjoyed writing her scenes so much I reckon she might just appear with Jim again one day . . .

When fossil-hunter Jim Dragon is on his way to Bear Creek to sell his latest discovery, he goes to the aid of a woman in distress, Elmina Fay. Unfortunately, Pierre Dulaine takes advantage of the situation and steals his fossils. Jim vows to reclaim his property and Elmina offers to help him, but only if he'll do something for her. She has heard a tale about the bones of a winged horse being found nearby and she wants Jim to find Pegasus' remains for her. At first, Jim is sceptical about embarking on such a mission, but before long he discovers that the truth behind the tale is even stranger than he could ever have imagined.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Paperback version of The Last Rider from Hell now available




Staked out under the baking heat of the desert sun by Frank Chapel’s riders from hell is no way for any man to die. Only someone as resilient as Matt Travis had the courage to endure the heat and the vultures and survive. When finally he manages to escape a gruesome death only one thing is on his mind – revenge.
But his memory has been blasted to oblivion and he is even unsure of his own name. All he knows is that everyone wants him dead!
Justice must be done and Matt will be judge, jury and hangman. First, though, he must face up to the truth of his past and, that accomplished, lead begins to fly.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Return of Elmer Drake

It always amuses me when characters that have appeared in the cover art of one of my books make a guest appearance on the cover of someone else's novel, so I was pleased to see the return of Elmer Drake in the latest batch of Black Horse Westerns.

Elmer appeared in the Linford Western version of Beyond Redemption, and I was delighted with that picture as Elmer is a religious nutjob and the cover had him lurking in bottom left hand corner appropriately brandishing both a gun and a cross.


Now he's appeared in Sam Clancy's Valley of Thunder where he's got a star pinned on his chest, presumably because he's given up on the cross and got hold of another gun.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Paperback version of The Ten Per Cent Gang now available






Sheriff Wes Creed has suffered yet another disastrous day. Earlier, Clayton Bell’s bandit gang raided a cash shipment bound for Lincoln’s bank. And while Creed fruitlessly pursued the bandits, the vigilante organization, the Ten Per Cent gang, calmly tracked and reclaimed the stolen cash. And for their trouble, the vigilantes retained their usual fee – ten per cent of the cash.
With the Ten Per Cent gang now threatening to enforce all justice in Lincoln, Creed realizes he has to slap them in jail, even if it means riding roughshod over every law in the land.
So Creed has no choice but to forge an alliance with the only man who hates the Ten Per Cent gang as much as he does – Clayton Bell.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Devine's Mission now published.

My 35th Black Horse Western is now available.



This book is the third to feature Marshal Jake T. Devine as the central character, and he's still using his traditional approach to law-enforcement of killing anyone who makes the mistake of threatening him.

I'd previously published this book as a Kindle title and it's still available now that the book has gone to hardback.

When Lachlan McKinley raided Fairmount Town's bank, the four-thousand dollar bounty that was posted on his head attracted plenty of manhunters, but everyone that went after him ended up dead. Bounty hunter Jonathon Lynch reckoned he could do better. Lachlan was Jonathon's step-brother and his mission was personal, but when he joined the hunt he soon discovered that all was not as it seemed and Lachlan may, in fact, be innocent. Worse, U.S. Marshal Jake Devine was also after Lachlan. Devine is more likely to destroy the peace than to keep it, and so can Jonathon bring the guilty to justice before Devine does his worst?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Paperback version of Death or Bounty now available

 
 
Spenser O'Connor's luck has finally run out. After years of riding with Kirk Morton's outlaw gang, he's been caught and slammed in Beaver Ridge jail. The noose beckons. Then two bounty hunters, Nat McBain and Clifford Trantor, offer him a choice – die at dawn or help them track down Kirk Morton. Not surprisingly, Spenser chooses to help them. But this unlikely team soon discovers that Kirk is an ornery and ruthless quarry. Worse, they're not the only ones after him and the other bounty hunters will stop at nothing to capture Kirk. When the bullets start flying from all directions, it isn't long before Spenser wonders if the noose might have been the better choice.

Available as a paperback and download from all good Amazon stores.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The demise of the British Library

February is that time of year when British authors get a welcome payment from those nice PLR people. Every time a book is loaned out of a library in the UK authors get a small credit and those credits mount up nicely, and they also give authors confirmation that somebody out there is actually reading our books, or not . . .

For the first twelve years that I received payments, it was good to see that my total number of loans were rising. This was entirely down to the fact that I was writing more books, but it was still good to see that every year more people were reading my stuff. Then three years ago that all changed. Dodgy Dave needed to pay for all those bankers' bonuses somehow and one of the ways was to destroy the library system. So libraries started closed and that's reflected in the number of loans.

Since that peak three years ago my loans have dropped by 35%, and that's despite more books coming out suggesting I've actually dropped, book for book, by around 50%. Back at the peak I had several books getting borrowed around two thousand times each year, but this time nothing was borrowed more than a thousand times.

Saddest of all was The Outlawed Deputy was loaned out zero times. That book was my first, published in 2001, and even last year it mustered some loans, but now it would no longer seem to be out there. Sob.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Paperback version of Bunty the Bounty Hunter now available



Fergal O’Brien and Randolph McDougal have suffered bad times before, but when they walk into Paradise they are at their worst. Footsore and hungry, they don’t have a cent to their names, but when Fergal hears about a contest between the old and new parts of town, he sees an opportunity to rebuild their fortunes. The only trouble is, the contest is a cricket match and Fergal has no idea what cricket is. Worse is to follow when Fergal and Randolph are victims of mistaken identity leading to Sheriff Merryweather suspecting they are outlaws. Then the fearsome gunslinger Tex Porter sets out to raid Paradise’s bank, which claims to be unbreakable. If Fergal is going to complete his plan to make a lot of money quickly and then leave town, he’ll have to find a way to appease Sheriff Merryweather, defeat Tex Porter and, hardest of all, learn the laws of cricket.

Available as a paperback and a download from amazon.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Star Trek: Beyond

I’ve just got round to watching Star Trek: Beyond, the latest Trek movie, and I was mildly disappointed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first of the re-boot movies despite the fact that most long-time fans are dismissive of it. And I thought the second one wasn’t that bad even though die-hard fans tend to spit blood and start screaming abuse about magic blood at the mention of the film. But this one had the approval of the fans, so I was expecting to be entertained and yet I wasn’t.

Maybe on repeat viewings I might grow to enjoy it. Heck, I’ve learnt to find the good in the Final Frontier and even the Motion Picture, but right now I’m at a loss to find anything good to say about it. Yes, it was nice that Nimoy’s passing was acknowledged. Yes, there are some scenes with McCoy and Spock bickering. Yes, it was good that a main character was revealed to be gay, even though I thought this supposed taboo was broken by Jadzia Dax and Garak’s interest in Dr. Bashir over 20 years ago. But having more character moments when, for instance, they involve McCoy flying spaceships, doesn’t get to the heart of why these characters worked in the first place.

The main problem, though, is the flaming CGI, which saps the life out of every action scene and even the quieter scenes. A good example is the now obligatory Enterprise crashing scene. When it happened in Into Darkness it was over-the-top, but there was at least some feeling of peril and of it furthering the plot. Either way, it was vastly inferior to the previous time the Enterprise crashed in Nemesis, or the time before that in Generations. And they were all considerably less interesting than the first time the Enterprise crashed in the Search for Spock. Back then, the scene had only a few seconds of special effects and so relied on tension and plot development and great dialogue so that even the access codes are memorable, along with an iconic shot of the crew watching the ship go down. Less is more, every time.

This time round it took what felt like several hours for the ship to go down with the camera swooping around all over the place running along the walls, ceilings and floors before finally standing still for a millisecond to give us a hint of what’s supposed to be happening, and by the time you’ve figured out that something could be happening in engineering involving someone in a uniform and an alien, the camera swoops off to confuse us somewhere else.

Once stuff has stopped swirling around the screen we reached the point in the story that most Trek reaches before the opening title credits have rolled, and the story that followed could have been a good one if we hadn’t have had to wait for an explanation of what that story was until about five minutes from the end. An old MACO soldier from season 3 of Enterprise getting disillusioned with Federation policy and fighting back is a decent premise, but there’s no reason to keep that a mystery until it’s too late to actually deal with the implications.

The thing that makes the story telling in Trek work is that the moral dilemma comes very quickly in the story and the tale then deals with an attempt to find a solution that in bad Trek involves creating a subspace inversion field in the positronic matrix, in good Trek involves everyone agreeing that tolerance and finding common ground between divergent species is the only way forward, and in excellent Trek has Kirk punching a man in a monster suit and showing a green-skinned woman what pressing the lips means.

Beyond didn’t manage any of that because for most of its length there was no moral dilemma other than how do the main characters find their way off a planet, while being repeatedly interrupted by interminable CGI scenes where yet again I hadn’t got a clue what was going on.

For me escaping from a planet isn’t a great hook for a Trek story. Voyager did the very same plot at the end of season 2, except they had a moral dilemma, had redshirts getting chomped by dinosaurs, Ensign Suder’s redemption, Seska’s demise, with plenty of time left over for the Trek message of tolerance and common understanding. In short, when I watch a Trek movie and I start thinking to myself that Voyager did this better, something’s wrong.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Marshal of the Barren Plains now published

My 34th Black Horse Western has now been published by Crowood.


This story returns to a location that I've used several times before of the harsh lands beyond the town of Redemption where few men would ever go if it wasn't for the silver mine at Bleak Point. The mine has been mentioned many times in previous books and several characters have set off for it, but this was the first time anyone has ever got there.

On first draft the story was called Walker of the Barren Plains as it revolved around a mysterious man known as the Walker who is sometimes seen out on the plains, but who is thought by many to be a ghost. As with many of my stories when I started writing I had no idea who the Walker was, what he wanted, or why he was doing what he did, but thankfully all the clues were there and by the time I got to the end he told me who he was.

Amusingly, while I was somewhat surprised by the solution to the mystery, since sending the book to the publisher this solution has cropped up several times in news reports from all around the world, so I guess it was nice to be topical for once . . .


When Marshal Rattigan Fletcher failed to stop Jasper Minx raiding the town bank, the angry townsfolk forced him to leave Ash Valley in disgrace. Rattigan went west in pursuit of Jasper, and in the inhospitable Barren Plains he got a chance to put right his mistake.
 
Rattigan is hired to find out why men from the Bleak Point silver mine have been disappearing in mysterious circumstances. As Jasper now works at the mine, Rattigan doesn't have to look far for a culprit, but Jasper claims he's not responsible. With the miners siding with Jasper, Rattigan will need to rediscover his tarnished instincts as a lawman if he is ever to solve the mystery and bring his Nemesis to justice.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Paperback version of More Six-shooter Tales now available



Six western short stories featuring familiar characters in unfamiliar situations: A Leap of Faith (Nat McBain), Truth is the Final Victim (Sheriff Cassidy Yates), Lucky Tooth (Jim Dragon), Don’t Look Back (Ethan Craig), Devine’s Justice (US Marshal Jake T. Devine), A Taste of Your Own Medicine (Fergal O’Brien).

Available as a paperback and download from amazon.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Paperback version of Six-shooter-Tales now available



Six western short stories with a sting in the tail: Once Upon a Time in Mirage, Last Throw of the Bones, Return to Purgatory, Five Hundred Dollars for a Dead Man, The Finest Deputy in the West & The Man Who Shot Garfield Delany.

Available as a paperback and a download from Amazon.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

My annual moan about Sherlock

I reckon that I always have a moan here about the TV series Sherlock whenever it returns and I am feeling an urge to whinge again, but this year I’ll cut it a bit of slack. After another episode featuring the usual mixture of clever dialogue, flashy direction and only vague hints of a story, I’ve come to the conclusion that the show hasn’t lost its way, after all. It’s just the same as it’s always been; it’s just that everything else on television has got a whole lot better.

When the show first started it was a breath of fresh air. TV detective shows were still trying to find the new Inspector Morse with their glum heroes battling inner demons and drink while listening to opera and solving routine mystery plots that went from A to B to C. I still enjoy those sorts of shows, but Sherlock showed that there was a different way with its story arcs and good yarns told in a fun way. As a result it created some must-see TV.

But that was seven years ago and now the viewer is spoilt for choice when it comes to the detective / thriller / mystery genre. Every show now has ambition to become the latest Internet chatroom sensation with eight part series constructed with compelling plots and all the narrative tricks to keep you tuning in to find out what the heck is going on.

In the last year shows like Marcella, which at the time I thought could well be the worst thing I’d ever watched, kept me interested to the end because the story was well-constructed, and I’ll probably watch series 2 while still wondering why. Even Paranoid, which probably was the worst thing I’ve ever seen, still kept me watching for several episodes before I had to admit I was wasting my time. The most recent DCI Banks, one of the few old-fashioned detective shows, even managed a compelling six episode arc story, and these are probably at the bottom of the pile as regards what’s now available.

Over the holiday period I binge-watched The Missing, Line of Duty and Happy Valley, and frankly they all far surpass Sherlock in every single aspect of story-telling.

Sherlock may pride itself on its clever hints of what’s to come, with details like Toby Jones’s face appearing on a poster, but plot points likes this, that once were great to spot, just don’t wash it any more. When compared to how The Missing deals with foreshadowing where a character will be happily pottering around their shop before a jump cut to the future reveals that they’ve had all their teeth knocked out. From then on every time that person is on the screen the tension is gut-wrenching as you wait to find out what hideous calamity will befall them. A face appearing on a poster just isn’t in the same league as regards building suspense.

Then there’s the matter of constructing a whole episode around killing off a main character, which in the old, pre-Sherlock days was always a big deal, except these days other shows do it so much better. Sherlock really can’t compete with Line of Duty for shocking plot twists where characters can get killed off no matter how important they are, and they stay dead. Jumping in front of a bullet is an uninspired and lazy cliché when compared to Tony Gates stepping in front of a lorry after his epic redemption, or DC Trotman getting thrown out of a window, or Lindsay Denton defiantly proclaiming her own murder scene as a forensic ground zero for the Big Bad and then cracking the case with her last dying finger twitch.

And then there's the clever dialogue in Sherlock that zings along so fast you miss more great lines than you hear, but which for all the craft just can’t compare with Happy Valley. In that show people talk and act like real people do and that draws you in to care about them as people so that when the hideous stuff happens you’re worried about them, rather than just sitting back and admiring the acting and writing talent on display but never once feeling that any of it matters.

So, yeah, these days Sherlock does as Sherlock does, but I find it hard to care about the rest of the series or whether it’ll ever come back. This week alone there are five detective shows starting up their new run, and sadly for me Sherlock is in fifth place by a big margin. I’m looking forward to giving No Offence a go even though I doubt it’s my sort of thing, Death in Paradise has better jokes, Endeavour has better characters, and Unforgotten is just light years better in every single capacity.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Paperback version of Clementine now available



When snake-oil seller Fergal O’Brien sells a bottle of his universal remedy to the dying Leland Crawford, Leland makes a miraculous recovery, for several minutes. Then he drops dead. In the few minutes before he dies, Leland bequeaths to Fergal everything he owns. Unfortunately, Leland’s only asset is his beloved Clementine, a 250-foot sidewheeler that once ruled the Big Muddy, until it sank. Worse, Leland is heavily in debt and now the creditors expect Fergal to pay up. With Fergal having no money, minstrel Dayton Hyde offers him a way out, but only if he kills Rivertown’s popular lawman Marshal Swift. To avoid carrying out Dayton’s unwelcome task, Fergal will need to use all his legendary cunning or like as not in this wet weather, he’ll share the fate of Clementine.

Available as a paperback and a download from all Amazon stores