The End of Eternity (Isaac Asimov)

I’ve never had much time for Asimov, partly because of the media hype that surrounds his name. The problem I have with his writing here is that emotional situations seem to be taken to extremes: going from dry clinical detachment to wildly-in-love, blackmailing, murderous and suicidal, without any sort of in-between. Also, for a supposedly thoughtful and incredibly precise guy, his ability to jump to extreme conclusions based on minimal evidence is very jarring. His style is immature and his characters are flat. They are people who are so superficial and tedious that it is hard to care about any of them. So, lets turn to the plot… [Read more…]

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The Secret Of Terror Castle ( The Three Investigators #1) by Robert Arthur

First published in the mid 1960’s, this mystery/adventure series of approximately forty books were written for 8-15 years olds and would be hard to beat if you want to find thrilling and original tales that don’t talk down to kids. Some of the plots pertain to ghosts, whispering mummies, talking skulls and other spooky or eerie themes although the stories always climax in some scheme in which a band of thieves, rustlers, con men or other non-supernatural element are attempting to snatch a lost or hidden treasure. I loved reading them as a child, and find that after all these years, they are still entertaining and packed with adventure.  [Read more…]

Salems Lot (Stephen King)

This novel brought up my lapsed Catholicism. About one third of the way in I had taken to wearing a crucifix. I was so absorbed that I only put the paperback down to sprinkle drops of holy water around my bedroom. Hell, why stop there. I even asked the dog and cat to help me out with a few Hail Marys. Back to the book: this is a busy tour de force of how evil small towns can be. Of course that’s total BS but it works for a fictional setting. There is a wonderful intimacy on display with so many characters we can relate to. From the paranoid bus driver aghast at how unpatriotic kids are in 1975… to a Peeping Tom old bag, Mabel Werts, and her binoculars… to the slut-shaming of a teenage girl because she has big boobies. Magic stuff.
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Our Man In Havana (Graham Greene)

Havana, frozen as it is in time since 1959, is a special, exciting and fascinating place to be. The Havana described by Greene from this 1950s slice of fiction is still very much there to see, albeit in its 21st Century version. Anyway, this light hearted novel is uncannily reminiscent of The Tailor of Panama. A spymaster and an expat on the ground in Cuba manage to concoct between them, but entirely without each other’s knowledge, a fantasy international plot, which allows the “source” to receive generous ex-gratis payments, and the spy to convince his masters in the UK that he is doing something useful, thus worthy of a generous budget. The joke wears off when people start to get killed; but they’ve started so they have to finish.
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Nightmare In Pink (John D MacDonald)

Nightmare in Pink is the second book in John D. MacDonald’s 21- novel Travis McGee series. Although McGee gets involved in mysteries, he is not a police officer or a private investigator. Instead, he is a “salvage consultant” who lives on a houseboat (“The Busted Flush”) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He prefers to be a beach bum, get a tan, reel in some fish, drink some beer, etc and seems a little uncomfortable in the big city. He is also a ladies’ man. [Read more…]

Phantoms (Dean Koontz)

At the beginning of this novel, the author has added an apology for writing it and I understand why. Phantoms is scary! There is something so extraordinarily powerful, capable of wiping out a whole town, capable of being everywhere at once, something omnipresent and omnipotent…and yet I had no clue what it was for a good chunk of the book. But I was aware that everyone in that town pretty much got their asses kicked (and worse), and I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t there with them. But I won’t give away any major plot spoilers. [Read more…]

The Hour Of The Oxrun Dead (Charles L Grant)

Those staples of horror–the rundown graveyard, the sinister shape in the fog, the strange noises in the night–they’re all here in spades, but rather than feeling clichéd, the late Charles L. Grant (who wrote under 5 other names as well) has fashioned them into an engaging little novel of 1970s paranoia. And his style is very moody and languid. He makes you wait, and if you enjoy the journey, that seemed to be his goal. Grant was a leading proponent of the quiet horror movement. Other than the odd quirk that might annoy the reader, like his heroine repeatedly fainting, if you like misdirection and mystery this just might be your cup of tea.
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Forrest Gump (1994 USA)

FG seems like it was written by a whole committee of campaigning politicians trying to ingratiate themselves with what they believed was the typical American movie goer. It’s the most hollow, contrived piece of baby-booming, politically correct rube-ish ever projectile vomited onto the public consciousness. The viewer’s intelligence is insulted by the minute. The makers of this slop are saying  no, it’s not just popular entertainment, it’s the stuff that makes up your existence and defines you as a person, and that’s all you need. Hence the embarrassing clips of dead rock stars and presidents. Just to make you feel smug and cosy. [Read more…]

Noble House (James Clavell)

Ignore the “New York Times Bestseller” blurb on the cover. That is like an Oscar. Very annoying and no guarantee of quality. (But this is a good novel, despite the New York Times endorsing it) It’s rare for a book of this size to maintain its pace, but this one manages it. A great business novel with a large cast of larger than life characters from governors to coolies in the cauldron that is Hong Kong. The plot twists and turns with many unexpected turns and stories within stories. The characters themselves are far removed from anyone I have ever met and operate in a moral framework that is utterly alien. Yet one can’t help but sympathize with them as every one of them goes about achieving their own aims with ruthless rationality. [Read more…]

The Dog Of The South (Charles Portis)

This is one of those books that will make you shake your head in wonder at how much contemporary fiction is dull, lifeless trash, just because it’s so subtle and hilarious that to admire its virtues is to bring the flaws of others into sharp contrast by implication. The Dog of the South provides a sprawling panoramic view of a particular strain of American culture, with its mix of simple, uncomplicated religious belief and modern economics that seems to winnow the very life and meaning out of the country.  The prose style is very artful and the character of the doctor is an American type very reminiscent of the traveling hucksters and other marginal types found in Mark Twain’ or in O’ Tooles “Confederacy of Dunces”. [Read more…]

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