Lustmord: Anatomy of a Serial Butcher Vol. 1 Review

The Horror Hothouse

In the suburban Los Angeles is the church of Vietnam vet the Reverend Cecil Omar Biggs. It’s not a normal church by any means, locked up in the basement are the board of governors and you really don’t want to know what’s kept in the freezer. When the Reverend and his Deacon Marvin ‘Freebase’ Muck go hunting for their next victim in LA’s strip joints some very nasty stuff happens.

To be honest Lustmord isn’t really my chalice of industrial strength hemlock. This is the horror of Dennis Nilson and Jeffrey Dahmer, rather than that of Clive Barker or Bram Stoker. There is no comforting air of fantasy in Lustmord, there are no supernatural monsters here – oh no they are all too human! Nothing is left to the imagination and the brutal scenes of murder, violence and rape are all extremely graphic. That being said there is something…

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Dennis Wheatley and The Star of Ill Omen

Back when I was a tweenager, you know when everything was in black and white, Dennis Wheatley was an incredibly popular author. In fact in the 1960s he was selling up to a million books a year, yet today only a few of his titles remain in print. I remember avidly devouring a battered paperback edition of the supernatural thriller The Devil Rides Out at age 11 or 12 and going on to read whichever of his books I could scrounge from relatives bookshelves and jumble sales.

Despite his reputation for tales of the occult, most of Wheatley’s works were fairly straight forward thrillers, all of them meticulously researched. I remember seeing an interview with Wheatley on a paperback book show hosted by Melvyn Bragg where he described how he kept receipts, menus, guidebooks and brochures from his travels all bagged up in his cellar to use as reference material for when he was writing. Having read many of his espionage books set in the 1930s and 40s it was easy to imagine the world of the wealthy playboys of that era having adventures in places as exotic as Istanbul or Rio and I honestly believe that I learnt a lot of useful information from his Roger Brook stories set around the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

Wheatley’s heroes were invariably like himself, a product of his time and wealthy upbringing; They’d generally be upper middle class ‘throughly decent chaps’ who are keen supporters of the King, Empire and class structure and I imagine that is probably one of the reasons that he is so little read today along with his politically unsound attitudes towards women, foreigners and people with disabilities. Women in particular would be used and discarded throughout each series of books whenever the hero got tired of them.

Star of Ill Omen a rare Science Fiction novel

Star of Ill Omen a rare Science Fiction novel and yes that is someone being chased by a flying saucer on Mars wearing a mink coat

I hadn’t read one of Wheatley’s novels for quite some time when I came across this 1952 edition of Star of Ill Omen. Now most of Wheatley’s output up until that time had been either historical or espionage thrillers, but I can just imagine Wheatley’s agent saying to him ‘Dennis old chap these tales of bug-eyed monsters are proving ever so popular these days’ and Dennis going off and sitting himself down at the typewriter.

The story concerns Kem Lincoln, former commando and British secret agent who gets kidnapped by Martians while investigating Argentina’s secret nuclear programme. along with Kem the Martians nab an Argentine rocket expert who worked with the Nazi’s at Peenemunde and his wife who Kem had already seduced on the boat from Europe. On Mars they discover a dieing arid world with a two tier society of humanoid worker drones and insect supervisors. Needless to say the evil insects are after humanity’s nuclear secrets and they have already kidnaped a group from the Soviet nuclear programme who Kem’s group end up working with to plot their escape.

Yes it’s all very silly and quite how the bee-beetles managed to build flying saucers capable of interplanetary travel without coming by the destructive power of the atom bomb did seem to be a major plot hole, although it’s not quite as hard to believe as the positively daft escape plan hatched between Kem and the Russians where they plan to steal the nuclear bomb and threaten to use it on the Martian hive if they won’t fly them home! With the obvious lack of primary source reference to pad out the narrative Wheatley introduces a lot of what would then have been the latest ideas and ‘facts’ about Mars and the other planets of the Solar System into the conversations between the characters. Unfortunately the way it the dialogue is structured makes them sound like very pompous boring people.

The Russian group include a former Nazi scientist with a facial disfigurement who typically becomes the villain of the subplot to use the Martian bomb on London after they escape from Mars and a female geologist who supplies Kem with a bit of uninhibited rough sex. Overall I found all the characters to be rather unlikable, however the biggest problem with this book is Wheatley’s vehemently anti-communist diatribes which just drone on and on at every opportunity at the expense of the plot. No matter what your politics they just become boring.

So overall I’d say read this as a cold-war curiosity rather than for sheer enjoyment. It’s not nearly as much fun as one of Wheatley’s Roger Brook historical adventures or Gregory Sallust spy novels.

Who says aliens don't exist

Who says aliens don’t exist

Five Live Yardbirds

There are times when life throws the oddest little coincidences at you. When I took part in the RSPB Great Garden Birdwatch over last weekend what do you think had found its way to the top of my to play CD pile by the computer?

Blackbird

1 Live Back Yardbird Blackbird

No it wasn’t the latest epic from Chreyl Cole or Miley Cyrus, but some real music in the shape of The Very Best of the Yardbirds. I’m not going to bore you with a cut and paste biog. lifted from Wikipedia (you can just read that here) but at some time three of rock’s greatest guitar slingers passed through the band, namely Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

2 Live Back Yardbirds Wood Pigeon

2 Live Back Yardbirds Wood Pigeon

Now I’m going to break with the received wisdom of the rock pundit here. While I enjoy listening to the band playing the blues, I think I actually prefer the hit singles like For Your Love and Heart Full of Soul

and especially Evil Hearted You, all of which were written by Graham Goouldman who was a bit of one man hit factory in the 1960s before becoming part of 10cc. What I like about these records, aside from them being consummate catchy pop songs is the experimentation with other forms of music like Gregorian Chant (see Still I’m Sad)

and Indian raga that creep in to the mix. Sort of sums up the whole adventure of 60s psychedelia that was about to morph into prog and metal in the 70s.

3 Live Back Yardbirds Chaffinch

3 Live Back Yardbirds Chaffinch

Naturally I took this happy coincidence as yet another shameless opportunity to post some pictures of my back yard birds, conflate that with the title of the band’s live album,

4 Live Back Yardbirds Rewing

4 Live Back Yardbirds Redwing

and add some videos of some of my favourite bits of music. Now one of the Yardbird’s live favourites was the old Tiny Bradshaw, Howard Kay, and Lois Mann jump blues number Train Kept A-Rollin When the band imploded in 1968 Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin and although Zeppelin never recorded the song it was the very first number they ever performed live. It was also a staple of Motorhead‘s early set list and has been covered by loads of other artists including Aerosmith and Imelda May. I think this one is pretty cool from Metallica‘s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (hence the suits), with some extra special guests including Ron Wood, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

Great solo from Jeff Beck, but doesn’t Page just look the Rock’ n Roll business?

5 Live Back Yardbirds Green Woodpecker

5 Live Back Yardbirds Green Woodpecker

My ‘On the Road’ read – Funeral in Berlin

Whenever I travel I always have a book in the bag, whether it’s to cope with those long moments stuck waiting for the flight to be called or just chilling on the beach. Looking back most of my choices bear little relation to their ultimate destination – Swedish Noir in Cuba or Charles Dickens in the Cape Verde spring to mind.

Enjoying a Wallander moment – Cuba 2010

I grew up during the 1960s, when the Cold War between the Communist East and the West was at its height. Without any real understanding of what lay behind it I lapped up films featuring secret agents like James Bond and more particularly Harry Palmer played by Michael Caine in three movies, The Ipcress File, Billion Dollar Brain and Funeral in Berlin. The adventures of Caine’s Palmer, being grounded more in the gritty real world than Bond’s fantasies (with the exception of Billion Dollar Brain, but then it was directed by Ken Russell), appealed far more to my formative imagination. There were no super villains lurking in underground bunkers, only the stark brutality of totalitarian regimes and double-crossing traitors driven by greed. Deighton’s MI6 was run by public school toffs and staffed by crooked former soldiers, given the choice of becoming a spy or going to jail. As the fall of Communism, cheap air travel and the internet opened up eastern Europe we avidly took up the opportunity to explore cities that we’d previously only dreamed of visiting and in 2009 I packed a copy of Len Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin into my bag on the way to Luton Airport.

Deighton’s hero (who is never actually named in the books, the Harry Palmer identity was created just for the films) arrives in a city divided not by a river or a bridge but by ‘bricked up buildings and sections of breeze block that bisect the city…’ , well the wall that divided east from west finally crumbled in 1989, but we found enough of it still standing for a group photo.

up against the wall

before exploring the lively bars and nightclubs of the former Soviet east – a far cry from the bombed out grey wilderness of Deighton’s novel.

The Funeral in Berlin is sold to the intelligence services as a ruse for smuggling a scientist from east to west, disguised as a corpse in a coffin. The crossing point is the infamous Checkpoint Charlie.

Checkpoint Charlie

Aside from a moving set of display boards outlining the history of the divide and those who tried and died trying to cross it, Checkpoint Charlie has become a theme park attraction where you can have your photo taken with an actor dressed as either an American MP or a Russian border guard for a couple of Euro. But things are rarely what they seem in espionage fiction either and the coffin turns out to contain nothing more than Communist propaganda. We found our own piece of the Communist east outside a nearby cafe in Friedrichstraße, a Trabant with a for sale sign on it – a modern-day antique rather than the automotive joke that Eastern-bloc manufactured cars were in the 1970s.

Trabi for sale

Looking back the Berlin of Deighton’s novel seems more displaced in time than many of its contemporary dystopian science fiction novels were, ultimately the desire for blue jeans, the Beatles and Baywatch overcame the ideological divide that for so many years had defied the militaristic posturing of Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Thatcher, and the icons of a totalitarian past became just another tourist attraction. All hail the might of TV and the internet!

Engles, Marx and two other blokes

Theworks.co.uk is celebrating the film release of Kerouac’s legendary ‘On the Road’ by asking book-loving travel bloggers to share their travel reading experiences. Thank you to Suzanne  from the-travelbunny for my nomination.  Do have a read of her great Gardens of Water entry.

My nominations which are a bit late I know (sorry folks, jet lag, adjusting back to UK time and stuff) are to Sherry from Fabulous  50s, Dan and HJ from Waterfalls and Caribous and Andrew  at Have Bag Will travel. I’m looking forward to reading your entries folks.  The competition is open to anyone and for details on how to enter see the competition page: www.theworks.co.uk/travelbloggercomp

First Victory – Robert Lyman

Back in the early eighties I read R Ghisshman’s Iran, it was a history based on archeology and written sources of the various Persian civilisations prior to the Islamic conquest, a very interesting book in its own right. One of the older fellows I was working with at the time asked me what it was about and in the discussion that followed I discovered during World War II he had been part of the British Expeditionary force that had invaded Iran to topple the pro-Nazi regime that was threatening the UK’s oil supply and communications with our ally the Soviet Union.

Having grown up in the 1960s and 70s I was fairly familiar with tales of the war against Germany and Japan, but this was an are of that conflict that I had been unaware of and I decided that I really should find out more about it. Like a lot of things decided upon in the 1980s it found itself on the back-burner to family and career commitments, but then I discovered Robert Lyman’s First Victory in a remaindered book catalogue and thought ‘that’s the book for me’.

I found Lyman’s take on this largely neglected aspect of World war II quite fascinating. It filled in quite a few holes in my knowledge of the conflict while reminding me of how wars are not just won by brilliant generals; bad leadership, luck, dithering, incompetence and a brazen disregard for orders all have a role to play .

Lyman’s history commences in Iraq, a country that had been mandated to the British after World War One, along with what are now Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. Granted independence in 1932, the pro-British Iraqi government was ousted by a pro-Nazi regime in April 1941 threatening the UK’s oil supplies, communications with India and the lone RAF base within Iraq at Lake Habbaniya. Lyman details how the RAF at Habbaniya, equipped with a bunch of obsolete biplanes, half a dozen World War One vintage Rolls Royce armoured cars and native levies recruited from the feuding Iraqi factions routed the numerically superior and better equiped Iraqi conscript army. He then takes us through the conquest of Baghdad, how the British nearly came unstuck supporting De Gaulle’s Free French forces in Vichy occupied Syria and Lebanon and the combined Soviet British campaign in Iran.

The book is populated with characters like the dithering British General Wavell, the gung-ho General Auchinlek, explorer and spy Freya Stark holed up in the British embassy in Baghdad and the wonderful Glubb Pasha, a gone native World War I British officer (Major John Bagott Glubb) who brings his own private Arab army to the aid of the British. In Vichy occupied Lebanon a Jewish commando loses an eye and turns out to be Moshe Dayan. Bad luck (well from a German perspective) is illustrated by the story of the Luftwaffe liaison officer to the Iraqi Airforce. As his squadron approaches Mosul airport an Iraqi guard lets loose a single round at the approaching Heinkel, the bullet rips through the plane’s fuselage and kills him stone dead.

Some of the situations that Lymon brings up  reminded me of Dad’s Army. When RAF officers at Habbaniya are horrified that their CO refuses their request to modify the training aircraft to carry bombs, in case it upsets the Iraqis, they do it while he is in bed. Habbaniya’s supposedly decommissioned World War I ‘gate guardian’ artillery pieces aren’t and are turned on the Iraqis. A relief column is equipped with more World War I armoured cars and horsed cavalry. Captured Iraqi weapons and ammunition turn out not only to have been made in Britain, but more modern than that available to the British forces. Modern Luftwaffe bombers seconded to the Iraqis break down in the desert conditions while the older, obsolete but easier to maintain RAF aircraft keep flying. RAF pilots cut Iraqi communication lines by parking their aircraft and chopping down telegraph poles with an axe.

It’s a fascinating and well written history of a little known conflict that could have had very serious consequences for the UK had it gone the other way, a highly recommended read for anyone with an interest in the Middle East and World war II.

Keep it Together by Rich Dean

As much as this book is a biography of one of my favourite bands from the 1970s it’s also a fascinating bit of social history.

Handsome bunch aren’t they?

The band in question is the Pink Fairies, who I was lucky enough to see at London’s Chalk Farm Roundhouse a couple of times. Always better live than on vinyl, the version of the band that I saw only featured two of the guys on the book jacket (drummer Russell Hunter and bass player Duncan Sanderson) and they all kept their clothes on. Formed in 1970, the Pinks I saw in 1976, had the great Larry Wallis back on guitar slinging after his brief stint with Motorhead, backed up by second guitarist Andy Colquhoun. Wallis was a much better frontman and songwriter than Paul Rudolph, however that is a different story.

Dean’s book kicks off with the band that the Fairies morphed out of, the Social Deviants. The Deviants were formed by Mick Farren, who is better known today as a writer. Farren put the band together in 1967 when he moved to London from Gloucester. If I’m completely honest I never really thought the Deviants were that interesting musically, but at the time Farren was also writing for underground magazines like International Times and it’s here with Farren’s involvement in the hippy counter-culture that the book becomes more than just a band history.

In hindsight it all seems quite absurd, but the establishment’s reaction towards the hippy counter-culture of the 1960s betrayed a real sense of threat. Magazine offices were bugged and people kept under police surveillance. Farren while editing Nasty Tales, just like the editors of Oz found himself on the receiving end of a visit by the Obscene Publications Squad. Farren however successfully defended his case in court and avoided the prison haircuts dished out to Felix Dennis and Co at Oz. To make matters even more bizarre during one such raid the Obscene Publications Squad officers forced Farren to flush his illicit drug stash down the toilet so that the Drug Squad would not have a reason to muscle in on their nick. Absurdities aside, I remember that anyone who looked the part at the time could expect routine harassment from the police or customs officers. Mind you about ten years later a similar overaction attended the birth of punk!
Another incident that the book details is Farren’s involvement with the disruption of David Frost’s interview with American Yippee cult leader Jerry Rubin, all very childish, but worth a look just to see Frost completely lose control of the audience and become almost a parody of himself.

A Bit of Holiday Reading – The Isis Covenant

My best laid plans to improve my reading habits went spectacularly awry in Rhodes. The copy of Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers that I thought I had stuffed into my bag turned out to be the very same copy of Great Expectations (damn those uniform Vintage editions) that I had read in the Cape Verde Islands earlier this year.

So having demolished my copies of Empire, Mojo and Uncut I borrowed this off one of my travelling companions.

This is yet another of those ancient artefact coveted by the Nazis mysteries. In this case it’s the Crown of Isis, which is looted from the Soviet siege of Berlin. The crown is reputed to confer eternal life on the possessor when sacrifices are made at auspicious moments. Problem is during the crown’s liberation at the hands of two of Himmler’s SS art thieves, the Eye of Isis (a diamond bigger than the Koh-i-noor) becomes separated from the crown rendering it ineffectual. Back in the present ritualistic murders are carried out on relatives of one of the looters, with the eye of Isis carved into the victim’s foreheads. Someone is trying to reunite the two parts of artefact.

Enough of that,the bulk of the story concerns the efforts of a New York detective to solve the murders, with the aid of London art dealer (and like Rankin’s Inspector Rebus a failed SAS recruit) Jaime Saintclair. Along the way we meet Nazis, Neo-Nazis, Latvian War criminals, a secret order of martial arts fighting nuns dedicated to Isis and the Russian mafia. While a lot of these concepts are common to various Indiana Jones movies (Hell the Nazis just make such good villains, don’t they?), I’m sure I have come across the jewel separated from artefact idea in an old Fu Manchu story I read many years ago. Bearing in mind that it’s virtually impossible for any writer to be completely original, I could forgive all this if the book was well written, but in my opinion, it really isn’t. The characters are completely one-dimensional, many of the twists and turns in the plot were completely pointless and the denouement highly predictable. There’s also a bit too much concentration on sadistic and gruesome violence.

Apparently this is the second Saintclair mystery with a Nazi occult object, but I don’t think I will be seeking the other out.

The Frankenstein Reader

OK so where I have I been this last week?

Er nowhere much, I have just been a bit busy with fabulous writing commission about one of my favourite writers, MR James and my favourite kind of fiction, the 19th and early 20th century tale of the supernatural.

My introduction to the world of supernatural fiction, published in 1962 with a cover price of 50c

What do I like about this period of writing?

Well there was no need to go graphic on the violence, every fright and every chill was delivered by intimation, letting the readers’ imagination deliver the true horror of the situation. This interaction between writer and reader, in my opinion is far more fertile than layering on the gore in an orgy of violence, where a queasy stomach is more likely to be the result than a raising of the hackles.

I first got hooked on this kind of fiction aged around eleven or twelve when I found a dogeared old paperback lodged amongst the Mickey Spillane and Agatha Christie thrillers on my mother’s bookshelves. Growing up in the 1960s I had become obsessed by Science Fiction monsters like Dr Who’s Daleks and aliens from the occasional 1950s American B Movie at Saturday Morning Pictures, probably because then sci-fi was so difficult to come by on the box then. So The Frankenstein Reader was too good an opportunity to miss out on.

It was a bit of a misnomer, there was no body stitched together from parts scavenged from the gibbet and graveyard, but a collection of spooky stories mostly dating back to the 19th century. It was such a revelation that authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens had a dark side to them. I liked Stevenson. well enough from Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but the Dickens was a real eye-opener. Having endured the crushing monotony of the class read of Oliver Twist with the knuckle rapper, it showed me that there was far more Britain’s second best writer! However the real discovery in The Frankenstein Reader was EF Benson, whose tale of a slug like elemental scared the living daylights out of me.

From reading that set of tales, pocket-money was scrimped together for trips into Wood Green where two second-hand book shops (now long gone) would furnish me with more collections of scary short stories. Authors like HG Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Algernon Blackwood and Sax Rohmer fed my habit, but far and away the best was MR James. James didn’t need Gothic castles with the wind whistling through the rafters and rats gnawing at the skirting boards to take you to a place of abject terror. He’d start somewhere innocuous, even cosy like a golfing holiday. JG Ballard once described the frightfully middle class science fiction of John Wyndham as cosy catastrophes. I’d say that James is one of a very few authors able to transport you from cosy to catastrophe in five or six pages!

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations and Stuff

I recently wrote a feature on Charles Dickens as the author celebrated his 200th birthday on 7 February 1812. Now I ‘m not an expert on the man who is frequently described as the UK’s second best writer (Shakespeare darlings), but researching and writing about such a great Victorian was a really interesting experience.

Broadstairs Dickens Festival Parade

Like many people my own relationship with Charles Dickens didn’t really get off to a great start. At age 11 we were given Oliver Twist as an English set book by a unispiring English teacher with a fondness for knuckle rapping. Thinking about the prose we were reading was just not encouraged and the (seemingly) hours spent reading the book out loud passed with the rapidity of a mogodon laced snail doing a marathon. I imagine many people of my vintage have shared the experience.

My Dickens epiphany was when I read Hard Times as part of an Open University course. Of course I was a bit older by then and had developed a taste for 19th and early 20th century genre fiction authors like MR James and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so the denser nature of Dickens’ Victorian prose wasn’t quite so daunting. Gaining an insight into how books were consumed at the time they were written, as magazine serials much like modern soap operas and having a fuller understanding of both the period and the social conditions Dickens was highlighting made me realise how important he was as both an author and a social campaigner.

Over the years I have read a number of Dickens’ novels and short stories with varying degrees of pleasure. After writing my piece for the Philatelic Bulletin to coincide with Royal Mail’s recent stamp issue my interest in reading more Dickens was piqued so I took Great Expectations to the Cape Verde Islands, instead of my usual Swedish noir or historic romp.

I won’t spoil anything by giving the plot away, but I was immediately struck by the very dark Gothic opening as Pip encounters the convict Magwitch in the graveyard where Pip’s parents are buried. David Lean really nailed this in the opening of his 1946 film adaptation.

Though I do feel Lean’s vision has been slightly influenced by the grave robbing scene in James Whale’s  1931 Frankenstein, you can see how Lean must have influenced Terence Fisher’s Hammer Horrors. Of course the other great Gothic set- piece is Miss Haversham’s house with the rotting remnants of her aborted wedding breakfast. This clip from Lean’s adaptation features the divine Jean Simmons as Estella and some amazingly dark and atmospheric lighting.

I’m glad I re-aquainted myself with the world of Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham, not least because it gave me the opportunity to revisit Lean’s splendid film adaptation, so I might take Mr Pickwick and his Papers to Rhodes, lets see.