Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

books, classic, crime, fucking creepy, fucking scary, murder, mystery, reviews

I’m supposed to be reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead at the moment. I started in October and got about halfway before I decided it was time to read some more appropriate reading for the scariest month of the year. It might not be the first choice for a Halloween read but I decided it was about time to reread And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I always find it a bit weird to reread a crime novel because it has a completely different feel when you know whodunit. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to know because you start to pick up on things that you didn’t the first time. I guess a more pedantic person might try and pick apart the plot knowing what you know but, for me, I think it’s just worth reading a classic Agatha Christie novel whenever you can. She is still the Queen of Crime for good reason. Something that I find worth celebrating as we reach the 100th anniversary of the publication of her first novel. I’ve tried to read contemporary crime fiction but, to be honest, I’m fucking bored of psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators and super dark themes. Every other week we’re being introduced to ‘the new Gone Girl‘ which would be fine if I’d actually felt that Gone Girl was actually worth finishing. I found it tired and predictable. It was obvious we were being played with but it wasn’t a good enough book for me to let myself be taken along for the ride. These days, it always seems like crime writers are just trying to one-up the last big sensation and it’s getting too out of control. Girl on the Train was not worth my time and every book I’ve read that tried to build off that was abandoned early on. I know classic novels like Agatha Christie’s seem tame in comparison but they are based on well-crafted narratives and not cliched plots. If you call yourself a fan of thrillers and you haven’t read anything by her then you’re really doing this reading thing wrong.

What is the greatest crime thriller of all time? It’s a difficult question and one that will, undoubtedly, have different answers depending on who you ask. If you look at numbers alone then I’d say that And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie has to be in with a shot. It is, using estimates of all time sales, one of the greatest selling books of all time and most probably the number 1 selling mystery novel. It’s certainly one of my top Christie novels trumped only by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd simply because I adore that novel’s unprecedented twist ending. Although, I have to agree that And Then There Were None is one of the best crafted mystery novels ever written with an ending that will keep first time readers guessing until the end. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

And Then There Were None brings together a group of 10 strangers on an isolated island and kills them off one by one. Each character is drawn to the island by a mysterious letter but, when they become stranded due to stormy weather, they are left fearing for their life when it becomes clear that one of their number has set them up for their murderous games based around a well-known nursery rhyme. Each guest is accused of committing their own murder on a dark stormy night and, moments later, the first of their party is found dead. With no sign of anyone else on the island, they have no option but to suspect each other. As their numbers dwindle the tension increases and it becomes harder to work out who can be trusted.

And Then There Were None is a deceptively simple novel from the outside. It is very self-contained with the list of characters sticking to the main 10 and the narrative taking place on the island over the space of a few days. There isn’t a great deal of action beyond a few searches of the house and there is a lot of sitting around waiting for stuff to happen. However, there is so much more to this novel. Christie’s narrative is so well-crafted that it will, genuinely, leave readers guessing who the killer is up until the last minute. You’ll forever be trying to second-guess everything and read too much into the little details. It’s a fantastically fun novel to try and unravel. It’s also incredibly tense and, in it’s own way, scary novel. Yes, it’s lost something over the years as we get used to authors taking horror further and further but this novel has enough atmosphere to keep you unnerved.

This mostly comes down to the sense of claustrophobia you get. Just as the guests on the island are stuck with nowhere to go as the weather rages outside, the reader is kept very insular. This is a novel that doesn’t venture further than it needs to. We barely get a glimpse of anything beyond the walls of the house and very little happens between the murders. Everyone is just sitting and waiting for the next strike and trying to figure out which of the party could be capable of such awful crimes. It has a pretty big body count in the end but And Then There Were None could hardly be described as bloody. Each death is described in a suitable manner for the period in which is was published. It all feels very British as the murder is swept under the carpet to keep the true horrors up to the imagination of the reader.

And Then There Were None is a very clever novel and is classic Agatha Christie. I don’t read her novels as much as I should anymore. Every time I do I get that familiar sense of joy and admiration. She remains one of the most loved mystery writers for a good reason and this novel is probably the perfect example of why. It can be a bit of mind fuck working out where to start with Christie. You’re tempted to start with a Miss Marple or Poirot story but that begs the question of where to start. Do you try and get them in the right order or do you just go with the most popular ones? I’m sure there are people out there on the internet who have found the perfect order but I can’t say that I’m clever enough to have worked it out. If anyone asked me where to start then I, at least for the time being, would probably recommend this one. It exists as it’s own novel but is such a Christie trademark. It’s pretty perfect… no matter how many times you read it.

Tuesday’s Reviews – One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

books, crime, fucking awful, fucking obvious, meh, murder, review

If you lookup ‘YA’ on my blog then you’ll come upon a recurring theme: I’m basically always disappointed. I don’t intentionally hate YA fiction but I think it happens to be too simplistic. I don’t remember reading much YA as a child. The only book I vividly remember, which means the only one I really liked, was Postcards From No Man’s Land. I can only have been about 12 when I read it but I loved it. Mostly because I found the stuff about World War 2 so interesting but also because it felt like a grown-up book. I don’t think my love affair with YA fiction really got too far beyond Postcard’s From No Man’s Land. Unfortunately, I grew up and realised that adult books got even more grown-up and even more interesting. I’ve never really been your typical teen reader so the paint-by-numbers style of these books just never really did anything for me. When I read YA now I tend to find it too obvious and full of the same tired cliched. I have always been a lover of bad teen cinema but that doesn’t mean I need the same nonsense to filter into literature. There’s a massive difference between seeing Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray being hyperbolic teen lovers on screen and reading another Romeo and Juliet wannabe YA novel. Anyway, despite all of this, I always get sucked in by the latest breakaway hit in YA fiction. I’ll read about something on Instagram or hear a synopsis and think “maybe this is the one”. Karen M. McManus is one of those YA writers who knows exactly how to lure in potential readers: by ripping off one of the greatest 80s teen movies of all time. How could I ignore it?

Technically, I was born in the 80s. Yes, I was only alive for the last 2 years so my memories of that era are nonexistent but that shouldn’t matter. My love of 80s culture is just about passable. It does, though, make my hatred of younger people’s love of all things 80s kind of hypocritical. I don’t know why but seeing hearing teenagers talking about how “random” it is that they love electro really gets my blood boiling. There’s a 20 year old guy I work with who keeps saying “I was born in the wrong era” because he enjoys listening to Depeche Mode. I mean, seriously? Who doesn’t like a bit of Depeche Mode. It doesn’t make you special. Anyway, the 80s has a weird hold over young people today and writers of YA fiction know it. That’s why Karen M. McManus has taken the premise of The Breakfast Club and turned it into an Agatha Christie novel for One of Us is Lying.

A Geek, A Jock, A Criminal, A Princess
A Murder
Who would you believe?”

So we have a direct link to John Hughes movie right there in the tagline to force people in. It’s blatant pandering that made me super angry; mostly because it fucking worked.

So, the basic premise of One of Us is Lying is that five kids enter detention one day but one of them ends up dead. The four remaining students are all suspects in his murder because, as we find out, the dead guy knew a whole bunch of secrets about them all. The rest of the book is divided into the perspectives of the four students as they make their way through the investigation and try to find out who is guilty. The problem is, it’s super fucking obvious from the very beginning who did it. Even before the murder happened I’d called it and then had to spend the rest of the book waiting for the inevitable. I have no time for any crime book that signposts the ending so brightly but still acts as though its a huge mystery when the big ‘reveal’ happens.

The title of this book is One of Us is Lying but, when it comes down to it, everyone’s lying. Most notably Karen M. McManus herself. Instead of weaving an intricate plot that fools her readers, McManus purposefully keeps information from her readers until the right time. I mean one of the narrators literally says “And then I remember. Mikhail Powers is gay.”. It’s a revelation that, considering the information we receive afterwards, this character shouldn’t have forgotten but did until McManus needed her to remember. It’s just shoddy and lazy writing: just reveal vital bits of the plot when it’s relevant instead of creating red herrings to keep up guessing. It’s not how to write a decent crime novel and, if I’m honest, I really regret associating this tripe with anything Agatha Christie ever wrote.

One of Us if Lying isn’t just bad YA fiction; it’s straight up bad writing. McManus starts with the final act and then finds a really convoluted way to get back to the beginning. It’s just stupid and, when you really think about it, the final reveal just wipes out everything we’ve just read. It makes everything the characters just went through null and void. It made me so fucking angry to get to the end. And that’s before we’ve even considered all of the major cliches that she’s included. For one thing, the so called “geek” is a super attractive, fairly popular girl who has boys fall madly in love with her at first sight. The “criminal” comes from a broken home and has endless terrible things lead him down a terrible path. The “jock” is hiding the most cliched secret of them all and is written in a truly unrealistic way. And the “princess” is the worst of the bunch. She goes through a supposedly inspiring transformation but it’s just superficial. These characters don’t have depth. They’re just stereotypes who fit into McManus’ plan.

This book is the epitome of everything that I hate about YA fiction but amped up to 11. It assumes that the people reading it are stupid or have no real care for good story telling. It’s written as if it’s for children but all of the teenage characters seem far too mature. A lot of YA fiction wants the best of both worlds. It wants readers whose tastes are immature enough to appreciate the writing but who also identify with teenagers who act like adults. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it was a super easy read. Mainly because there is no depth involved. You don’t even have to pay attention to what’s going on and, really, there’s not much going on. If you like The Breakfast Club, I suggest you do yourself a favour and just rewatch it. This rubbish isn’t worth your time.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (2017)

boring, cops, films, fucking awful, fucking weird, meh, murder, Netflix, reviews

This week there was Cannes controversy when audiences booed the film Okja during its screening at the festival. It comes within a week where the French film festival has condemned the online streaming service despite 2 of its current titles being included in this year’s line-up. It all started when Cannes changed its rules to only allow entries from films that have been shown in French cinemas. This year’s jury president, director Pedro Almodóvar, made a statement proclaiming that nothing can stand in for the real experience of watching a film in the cinema and said that it would be a huge mistake to award the Palme D’Or to a film that audiences watched at home. Netflix has changed the way in which we are all digesting film and television but Hollywood is still trying to catch up. There are some bigger issues at play here, including French laws, but it should open a debate on what counts as a film. Netflix is loved by certain creatives because it gives them more freedom and room to create. However, it can sometimes come across as the company who make the films nobody else would bother to make. Especially with it’s comedies. There have been numerous times when trailers have caught my attention only for the final product to be really underwhelming. So when I first saw the trailer for Jeff Garlin’s Handsome I was in two minds about it. Surely it wouldn’t be as wonderful as the trailer was making it seem?

Handsome is the third feature film from comic Jeff Garlin, . The trailer set up Garlin’s classic deadpan delivery and the ability to keep his poker face in the midst of absolute absurdity. In the film, Garlin plays Detective Gene Handsome as he investigates the murder of his new neighbour babysitter. The day after Gene first meets the young woman in question he is faced with her chopped up remains on the front lawn of famous actor Talbert Bacom (Stephen Weber). Considering this films calls itself “a Netflix mystery movie” it isn’t so caught up on an investigation narrative. It’s more like a selection of sketched set in Los Angeles that are interspersed with talk of murder and lies. This is fine in itself but it doesn’t really push an audience into staying glued to the screen. The narrative plods along never quite committing itself to be anything specific.

Although, there are a handful of great moments within Handsome but it’s unfortunate that all of these moments are separate from the plot. This film is at it’s best when Detective Handsome is going about his daily business or having quiet interactions away from work. There is a lovely moment when he discusses hopes and dreams for the future with his neighbour. It’s a sincere and moving scene that could easily have been the basis for a much more entertaining film. Intersperse some deep and meaningful moments like this with a few scenes of Handsome giving too much attention to his dog and we’d be on the right track.

Instead, we have a film that paradoxically manages to be both too long and too short. The story develops too slowly to keep your attention but ends so quickly that you don’t really have time to realise what’s happened. There are plenty of absurd moments and outrageous comedy but the actual laughs are few and far between. There are plenty of running jokes that are just uncomfortable and never really land. Like the cheap jokes about Gene’s super horny partner, Fleur Scozzari (Natasha Lyonne), and the super awkward and unfunny moment when his superior officer (Amy Sedaris) sexually harasses him at the office.

I get what Garlin was trying to aim for with this film. There was potential for a murder mystery that was more laidback and sedate. A cop drama that was wholly uninterested in the cop or drama part . This could have been a super quirky, interesting and character driven affair. Instead it has neither enough characters, enough quirk or enough interest to keep you occupied. Every choice made about this film just seems off slightly. I don’t mind the lack of narrative in a film but Handsome needed something else to make up for it. If all of it’s attempted jokes had landed then it would have been fine but most of them are weak. It needed more identity and more confidence in itself. Instead it’s just another in an increasing line of forgettable Netflix original comedy films.

TBT – Finders Keepers by Stephen King

books, crime, fucking awful, meh, murder, readers, Stephen King, TBT, thriller, writing

Today has been so bloody hot again that I’ve done so little. I can’t focus on anything. I could easily have written this hours ago but, once again, we’re fast approaching the time at which I need to be asleep to function for my 7am start tomorrow and I’m finishing the damn thing. It’s not as if I can’t keep to a deadline I’m just in this hot weather haze where the idea of doing anything other than watch Netflix seems too taxing. I spent some time trying to organise my room and nearly fell off a step ladder earlier. It’s just one of those days. The thing I’ve done best at today is spent money on clothes that I really didn’t need. I mean I really really wanted them but I definitely didn’t need them. After that, I’ve been fairly successful at reading. It’s amazing how easy it’s become now I’m reading a book I actually want to pick up. His Bloody Project may be the only Man Booker Prize nominated book I’ve read but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be my favourite. Oh, what a difference it is to that End of Watch. I kind of wish I could get my time back from Stephen King after reading his Bill Hodges trilogy. You know, add up the minutes, take them off his life and put them onto mine. It only seems fair. That final book was ridiculous. Although, they kind of all were.

Tuesday’s Reviews – End of Watch by Stephen King

books, crime, meh, murder, review, Stephen King, trilogy

I know it’s getting to be a habit that I start every post by telling you I intended to write about another topic but I genuinely had plans to write about something else today. After finally watching Suicide Squad last week I had decided it was time to watch Batman vs Superman. I meant to watch it this weekend. I even tracked down a copy. It was the fucking ultimate edition and everything. With over 30 extra minutes of Zack Synder nonsense! However, when it came down to it, the idea of a whopping 3 hours of shit like The Man of Steel but with added Batfleck and Khal Drogo just didn’t appeal. So, in celebration of finally finishing this book after weeks of trying, I decided to give you my thoughts on the final part of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy. Mainly because I can’t find one person on the internet who doesn’t absolutely fucking love it. And, more mysteriously if you ask me, nobody is bemoaning the use of present tense which is still super annoying to read in. It utterly mystifies me. I mean, did King actually write these as film scripts but decide it was better to get them as novels first? It sounds so childish. Like the kind of shit you’d write in primary school but with actual punctuation and symbolism and shit.

TBT – See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

buddy comedy, crime, fucking awful, Gene Wilder, in memoriam, murder, Richard Pryor, TBT

Last week the great Gene Wilder died at the age of 83. Whilst the news was upsetting, I have to admit that a part of me thought he was already dead. Plus, in the ensuing days it really showed me that my ability to differentiate between Gene Wilder and Gene Hackman was sorely lacking. I lost count of the number of times I confused those two. Now, when a colleague mentioned the news the other day she referred to it as “the death of Willy Wonka”. Now, because I never miss a chance to argue with people, I declared this as being an insult to an actor with so much talent. What of his work with Mel Brooks and his films with Richard Pryor? Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is iconic, no doubt, but he is more than that. Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever really liked Wilder’s interpretation of the owner of the world famous chocolate factory. I’m fucking stubborn and it didn’t fit with my idea of the book. Still, Wilder was a phenomenal performer and probably had a huge impact on many people’s childhoods. I even considered reviewing it for this post. However, I’ve always been a bit freaked out by that one fucking creepy scene on the boat and didn’t want to go through it again. Like the well-adjusted adult that I am. I also think, as adaptations go, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory isn’t as good as it could have been. As such, I’ve never been the biggest fan. So I turned to the ever reliable Netflix to see what alternatives I could find. Turns out, not many. Now, if I was a person with more time and less laziness I would have gone down the Mel Brooks route. Unfortunately, I’m not that person. Instead I’m the kind of gal that will pick one of his shitty comedies because of how easy it is to watch.

On paper See No Evil, Hear No Evil had huge potential for an 80s comedy film: Wally Krue, a blind man, gets a job at a newsstand working with the deaf Dave Lyons. Both men try their hardest to hide their disability and get by using their other senses. Dave manages by reading lips whilst Wally has learnt how to get around using his hearing. Clearly, when the pair come together they find each other making up for their own limitations and the way is left open for some incredible moments of hilarity. There are plenty of situations that the pair could have got themselves into to provide the audience with a laugh. The film had the makings of a fantastically silly comedy where two men come to terms with their own issues thanks to their new friendship.

Of course, See No Evil, Hear No Evil is not that kind of film. No, it was decided that the best thing to do with Wally and Dave is to get them mixed up in a shitty murder plot. Inspirational. When Wally’s bookie turns up a the newsstand demanding money he ends up being killed by a mysterious lady with great legs (Joan Severance). Thanks to their respective disabilities neither Wally or Dave are able to describe the killer and, thus, become implicated in the crime. Cue many repetitive moments where nobody remembers that you need to look at Dave for him to understand you. Meanwhile, it turns out the bookie was working with a couple of criminals to steal a coin, which is actual fact a microchip or some shit… not that it fucking matters that you know that. Great legs and her sidekick, a young, British-accented Kevin Spacey, follow the pair in order to retrieve their loot. Cut to many classic capers where the pair escape, get captured and escape again before making their way to the final showdown in a huge house in the middle of nowhere. This film has it all: a blind car chase; a kidnapped sister; mistaken identity; fake European accents; and angry guard dogs.

With that list I’d suggest that the plot is just your standard, paint by numbers 80s action/crime/comedy but that seems really unfair to other films of that decade. There’s nothing about the story that seems to have been put there to interest you. The narrative is patchy and the script is mostly awful. There are a few nice touches here and there but the majority of the stuff is just uninspiring guff. The only thing that makes this film even remotely successful is the partnership between its two main stars. See No Evil was Wilder and Pryor’s third outing together and they show the great chemistry that had made them such a hit with audiences before. The scenes in which the two are just talking are fantastic. It’s just a shame that they are over with so quickly. Clearly the director  believed we didn’t want sentiment but an endless stream of mindless nonsense… which is fucking insane.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil is hardly the worst film of its kind, especially when it comes to the 80s, but, considering who was starring in it and the exciting premise, it should have been better. Rather than being a clever comedy that uses the interesting dynamic between its two main characters, it settles down to be a cheap and easy comedy-crime caper. I wouldn’t exactly say that I wish I hadn’t seen or heard this film (because that would be both incorrect and vomit-inducing) but I wish I’d watched one of the better Pryor and Wilder pairings. The films boats an excessive 5 writers, including Wilder himself, so maybe that explains why the See No Evil script feels so disjointed. It’s like a patchwork quilt where the plots of several films all sewn together in a manner than was only just workable with various embellishments thrown in from several different people. It’s the kind of quilt you’d love because it was handmade but would definitely hide in you spare room so you didn’t ever have to see it. The film very often doesn’t make sense and logic is easily replaced with lame gags. I’d be okay with it if it was funny enough to make up for it but it’s just not. This film fails on nearly every count. Although, despite all of this criticism, it’s a great film to watch if you want to remember just how fucking awesome Gene Wilder is. It’s not many actors that could star in such shit and still make it work for them.


book haul, currently reading, Marvel, murder, Ricky Gervais, television, women, X-Men
I so nearly got through this week without buying a single book but the Kindle store and Buzzfeed have coerced me again. It’s been so hot recently that it’s been perfect reading weather but I always find myself avoiding the sun. I’m one of those incredibly pale individuals who comes out in a rash and burns completely if anyone even mentions sunshine. If I’m going to be reading outside I’ll be dressed like a Victorian and sitting under the biggest parasol I can find. Although, I love having an excuse to go outside for some Instagram opportunities. It gets a bit dull just working with the same background every time and shooting from above. Unfortunately, the heat has made me even lazier than usual and I’ve neglected my account for a few weeks. I’m trying to get back into it but I’m not feeling incredibly creative right now. Good to see that whatever happens elsewhere I’m always failing in at least one area of my blogging life.
Just Finished
  • Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald (Kindle edition)
Still not sure of this one as I’ve only just finished it. I enjoyed most of the book because it wasn’t actually a crime thriller. Siobhan MacDonald presents a great character study in the guise of a crime novel and the first three quarters are addictive, if quite slow. What MacDonald has created is an interesting and engrossing family melodrama about two identical families thousands of miles apart. I’d have like to have seen more deth in the relationship instead of the setting up of misdirection. It’s in the last quarter that everything really falls apart for me though. The last three or so chapters feel rushed and clumsy as the killer reveal is shoehorned in. There are two novels here and neither of them are developed as well as they should be. Although, it’s a decent début novel and I MacDonald actually managed to fool me… which in itself is noteworthy. 
Recently Purchased
  • The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie (Kindle Edition)
This is one of the novels shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I admit I first became interested in it based solely upon the squirrel book cover. However, the synopsis on the back sounds promising enough so when it appeared on the Kindle store for only 99p I couldn’t resist. I’ve only heard good things and the books normally nominated for the Women’s Prize are worth checking out. 
  • X-Force #8 (March 1992) by Mike Mignola , Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld
Another week, another Domino comic. Yes, I’m still stuck on this obsession. This edition marks her first real appearance in the comic books.
  • Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Think I saw this on one of those What to read right now style book lists and it sounded intriguing. Albeit in a ‘is this YA or not?’ kind of way. I’m still not really sure if it’s YA or not but I’m willing to give it a go. The story of a young girl lead astray by the new girl at her school. We’ll see how it goes but feedback seems positive as far as I can tell.

Recently Watched
  • Special Correspondents
Good thing you won’t have to wait Tue many days to hear my thoughts on this. 
  • Orphan Black
Now I’ve wanted to watch this for ages but never got around it until now. I’ve loved everything about the show so far but I hate starting something that is already so well-established. Anything that already has more than 2 seasons by the time I start it just feels like a slog I’m not ready for. There is a huge part of me that just wants to read ahead on Wikipedia instead of watching the story progess. I don’t want to commit my time to a show with four seasons unless I know it’s building to something good. If it’s not worth it I know there’s something better out there. My attitiude to television shows is a pretty good mirror of my attitude to relationships.

Recently  Played
  • Heavy Rain
I recently went on a PS3 game buying spree to get all those games that I never got the chance to play when they came out. There’s loads in the pile including Beyond: Two Souls and Bioshock Infinite. I’m super excited about them all but I started with this one. It’s a great game but I have to say the controls are fucking annoying. I find it so irritating and slow going to get through a chapter. Still, the narrative is great and the visuals are worth it. Shame I’m so late to the party. 

TBT – Joyland

books, meh, murder, review, Stephen King, TBT, theme park

The thing about reading Stephen King novels is that it will always bring about memories of other Stephen King novels. During Mr Mercedes the writer name checked a couple of his most well-known tales by referring to the big screen adaptations of two of his novels, It and Christine. (Fun fact: in my first year of University, I dressed as Christine for Halloween. I taped torches to my legs as headlights. It was fucking amazing.) King has spent years creating an intricate fictional universe where many of his novels can connect with each other. Like watching John Hughes films in the 80s, catching the subtle references to other stories is one of the fun things about reading his books. When I read Revival last year, I was more overjoyed that I should have been to discover a reference to another of his recent works. I think I audibly squeed when a character mentioned a certain North Carolina amusement park: Joyland.

I first read Joyland after I completely fell in love with the cover. I knew very little about the book aside from the fact it was a fucking babe. It didn’t really matter, to be honest, because every time I saw that B movie babe looking at me from the shelf my eagerness to read increased. With it’s pulpy styling, Joyland promised a terrifying but potentially trashy tour of life at the fun fair. For, despite all its quaint ways and quirky characters, Joyland is a fair with a dark secret; something that new recruit, Devin Jones, is eager to get to the bottom of.
A few years before Devin joined the ranks of Joyland’s purveyors of fun, Linda Gray was murdered within the Horror House. They never found the mysterious man who accompanied her on the ride, slit her throat and left her body inside but it is said that her ghost still haunts the park to this day. Recovering from a heartbreak that will continue to haunt Devin into his middle age, the young student becomes entangled in Linda’s story and discovers that she may not be the killers only victim. With the help of his new work friends, Devin begins investigating the gruesome events.
From the look of it, Joyland has all the hallmarks of one of King’s cliché-ridden horror tales: a haunted amusement park, a disabled child with psychic powers, and a crazed killer. However, Joyland isn’t exactly chock-a-block with scares or shocks. For a book that asks it’s readers “who dares enter the Funhouse of Fear?” is really isn’t that fucking fearful. In fact, there isn’t really much of plot to enable King to bring in the frights. The interesting crime mystery that sets Devin’s tale in motion is quickly replaced by an exploration of the paranormal when he meets a young clairvoyant. This change isn’t something likely to put-off the long-term King fans but it just feels a little half-hearted.
What saves Joyland, of course, is King’s mastery of language and his literary tour of the carnival world is a sheer delight. The dialect of the fair’s workers is part invention and part carnival tradition but there can no denying that it is the little details that make the novel. The carnival language that at first seems so jarring soon becomes second-nature as you, along with Devin, become familiar with carnie life. What this novel lacks in a horror-fuelled plot-line it more than makes up for with its insights into the recent history of this new and exciting world. King’s writing opens up Joyland’s rules and language to his readers.
Who are, let’s face it, the reason Joyland is the way is. Rather than not judging a book by its cover, I say Joyland is exactly the kind of book that you should judge by its cover. Placing itself in a certain type of low fiction, it is a short, simple and incredibly readable novel. King isn’t exactly pushing himself as a writer or you as a reader: he’s just creating something that people can and should enjoy. It’s not perfect but it never claims to be.
Joyland won’t necessarily interest readers hoping for sheer terror and villainy. Instead of chills it offers an emotional and interesting coming-of-age tale. King is a master when it comes to characters and he creates a whole host of great ones here. Despite older Devin’s irritating narrative, you find yourself wanting to immerse yourself in his story. It’s the kind of book that would utterly fall apart in the hands of a less skilled writer but King’s firm grasp and love of his material keep things on an even enough keel. Joyland probably won’t stay with you once you close the cover but, from the second you open it, you will want to read it. Then, when you’re done, at least you can delight in how pretty it looks.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

books, Gillian Flynn, meh, murder, review, thriller
Girl on the Train must have had a pretty decent marketing campaign because, having no real idea about the book itself, I found myself really keen to read it. I’m sure I’ve seen a fuckload of instagram posts of girls on the train reading Girl on the Train. As someone who has always believed themselves to be above the psychological tactics of advertising, it made me fucking sad that it seemingly worked so easily. I don’t even have a good track record with this type of novel. Regular readers will no doubt get bored by my continued disappointment with Gone Girl: I’ll never finish it. Contemporary thrillers just don’t seem very good anymore. I’ve always managed to work out the big twist a few chapters in. So either writers of thrillers are running out of ideas or I’m just too cynical to believe anything set before me. Of course, if the latter is true I’ve opened up the potential to follow the steps of my heroes Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher and Dr Mark Sloane and become a retired crime fighter. If the crimes are anything like Paula Hawkins debut plot then I’ll have no trouble.

Girl on a Train is only a fraction more complicated than it’s title suggests: through her regular commute Rachel Watson becomes obsessed with the life she creates for a young couple living near her train route. Naming the beautiful pair Jess and Jason, Rachel revels in the seemingly perfect marriage she gets a glimpse into every single day. When Jess, whose real name, it turns out, is Megan, goes missing Rachel decides she has some vital information about the case and begins her own investigation.
Unfortunately, Rachel is not the respectable PR worker that she is pretending to be; she’s an alcoholic divorcee who is obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife. She’s fucking nuts and nobody seems incredibly concerned about this. Even when she informs the police that she’s been secretly watching the missing Megan for months everyone seems fine with it.
Am I the only one getting bored of the unreliably narrated domestic thriller? It’s becoming such a boring literary cliché and I think we need a change. Girl on the Trainis fucking Gone Girlwith a train. To be honest, it might be OK if the unreliability didn’t feel like something intended to drag the plot on for even longer. Yes, Rachel’s an alcoholic but it doesn’t feel like a problem: it’s never explored in full. Her loss of memory simply adds another unnecessary layer of mystery to one of the least mysterious whodunits ever written.
Yes, we’ve been here before with Gillian Flynn but I can’t deny that I was disappointed with Girl on the Trainbecause it was so fucking obvious who the killer was all the way through. Something that is actually only made clearer by the multiple-narrative structure (boy its great to see that people aren’t getting bored of that yet!). For, as well as Anna’s depressing and creepy narrative, we have Megan’s point-of-view of the year leading up to her disappearance and the paranoid moaning of Anna, Tom’s new wife.
It’s fair to say that these narrative strands are pretty fucking hit and miss. When it comes down to it, its difficult to understand why Megan’s own thoughts are so obviously misleading and vague. The Megan chapters are the least successful and only really work to highlight the final ‘twist’ ending. This type of narrative structure can and has been used effectively by many, many, many, many, many authors: Hawkins never quite gets the hang of it. Girl on the Train’s narration feels like a gimmick and is clearly just another way to link it to Gone Girl. Hawkins may as well have just named Flynn as co-writer on her debut novel and had done with it.
To be fair, though, Hawkins prose does work in her favour. Though it never reaches great heights, her plain and to the point narrative drives the story forward. Up until the last few chapters when I couldn’t ignore the fucking obvious secret any longer, I was driven on to continue reading. Hawkins was a journalist living in London before she released her first novel and her setting is wonderfully realised. Despite the absurdity of the narrative, the novel remains grounded and realistic in the portrait is paints of London life.

Girl on a Trainpromises great things during the first half of the novel but it something that it just can’t live up to. The identity of the killer is clearly signposted from early on and the hint of something deeper is replaced with melodrama and soap opera style reveals. There has been a lot of praise for complex literary characters of late and Girl on the Train has been lauded as another Gone Girlthanks to its complicated narrator. However, none of the female narrators that show us through this journey are particularly well-thought out or complex characters. The pseudo-psychology to describe the problem of women is just infuriating. “Oh, she fucks a lot of dudes because she’s sad.” “She drinks because she really wants a baby.” This is the laziest fucking approach to writing: basically, if in doubt, women have emotions and it causes them to do crazy shit. I think, rather than easy-to-read literature that makes people feel clever, we deserver some genuinely thought-provoking female narrators. 

TBT – Horrible Bosses (2011)

Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, meh, murder, review, TBT
I’ve made it to the end of the first week of my promotion and I’m fucking exhausted. Partly questioning my decision and definitely missing working only 4 out of 7 days a week. Also, facing the transition from being weekly paid to monthly paid (goodbye for now I can’t complain about the job, I’ve basically been doing it for the past few months anyway, but I’m having some issues with one woman I’m working with. Unfortunately, she’s my superior and a massive bitch. On my second day in the job I faced one of her regular tirades and barely made it out alive. She’s a huge pain in the arse and I have to act like her biggest fucking fan just so I keep her happy. She’s one of the biggest dicks I’ve ever met: you might go so far as to say she’s a horrible boss! Ah ha, now this work-related tirade finally makes sense.

We’ve been here before, dear readers, with Identity Thief: I take the time to watch the delightful Jason Bateman in a supposedly fantastic comedy and then spend the rest of my days regretting the loss of my limited time. I’d heard someone I work with telling me how fucking funny Horrible Bosses was and felt that, despite every natural instinct warning me against it, I would give it a go. In hindsight, I should have worried as soon as the phrase “Colin Farrell is awesome” came up: remember, oxymorons can ruin lives people.
Although, on paper, Horrible Bossessounds like the easiest comedy ever-made: take three lovable comic actors, pair them with three Hollywood stars and place them in a mix between The Office and Strangers on a Train. Unfortunately, the end result is less impressive and just depressingly tedious. Horrible Bosses isn’t a stand-out comedy but a mediocre film whose side-effects may include the occasional titter.
The problem stems from its complete lack of self-awareness. It is neither as clever, outlandish nor as funny as it thinks it is. The bosses themselves leave some room for hilarity to ensue but it all feels a little clawing and desperate: a state I have often associated with Colin Farrell to be honest. Jamie Foxx’s eccentric ex-con had the potential to be fucking amazing but, again, everything falls a bit short.
The blame falls almost entirely on the shoulders of the writers who deliver a script that is willing to teeter in the entrance of cool and edgy but too timid to actually step inside. A premise like this deserved something clever, original and, most important of all, funny. The final film fails to make use of its impressive cast and lacks precision in both the narrative and script. The only actor to really shine here is Kevin Space and, lets be honest, that’s because there isn’t anything Kevin Spacey can’t work with.
No room has been given for proper development with either the employees or their bosses: meaning the overall premise that drives the film just doesn’t work properly. Three put-upon guys meet up to bitch about their awful bosses and decide their only option for professional contentment is murder. Talk about escalating quickly, for fucks sake! The basic driving force of the whole production is so fucking flimsy and silly that it would be impossible to make all of the strands work together into a cohesive story.
The film is obviously pandering to very current social and economic issues: people with very few options being forced into potentially humiliating, soul-destroying labour to earn a shitty wage in order to survive. It’s a feeling that a lot of people can understand but isn’t something that has been effectively set-up for humour. The bosses here are caricatures, yes, but they never reach the right side of funny. They take something that is horrificly realistic and just make it louder: louder never really equals comedy in my experience.
The script offers them something to work with but it’s not enough to make any of them truly memorable once the credits are over. There are a number of laughs here and there but they mainly come out of an atmosphere of discomfort. A lot has been made of Jennifer Aniston’s sex-crazed dentist because, obviously, it’s something of a fantasy for the type of lad that would rush to see this film. Aniston is a funny actor: something that was proved to me when I recently re-watched Friends. The desperate and unsettling depths that she is forced to sink in this film just makes me sad.
Horrible Bossesis in no way a smart and praise-worthy comedy. It’s just another in an increasingly long-list of hyperactive, laddish comedies. The writers and director obviously got a bit too excited with the unusually high rating and just went fucking crazy. It didn’t work. This is the kind of thing that a group of horny teenagers would make if they were given a Hollywood budget, their pick of actors and permission to say and do anything they want. Jason Bateman, I will always love you but I implore you to stop making shitty films.