Tag Archives: London

Fated

9 Jul

“Fated” by Benedict Jacka, was recommended to me by Carol on Goodreads, as she knows I love Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.

In “Fated” Alex Verus is a wizard. A diviner who can see all the threads of the immediate future and work out the best one to use. A relic has been found, and it may contain an artefact of great power. A selection of wizards, all of them not very nice, regardless of their chosen path, all want Alex to figure out how to access it.

So far, so fantasy. Where “Fated” differs is that, unlike a lot of fantasy novels, dark and light are not clearly delinated. In this world there really isn’t much to chose between either side. Most of the wizards are a despicable bunch of outright wankers.

The pace is fast and furious. I sat down to have a look at it to decide if I actually did want to read it, and was hooked by page 3. There’s a nice little Harry Dresden/Jim Butcher joke on page 3 by the way. See if you can spot it.

I like Benedict’s portrayal of Camden, where Alex lives in London. A lot of people view it as all ‘peace, love, and mung beans’. Benedict’s portrayal has a more gritty vibe. More ‘ peace, love, and hand us your wallet and no-one has to get hurt.’.

This is a rare 5 star review from me. And I’ve already reserved book two from my library.

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Jack the Ripper Museum

22 May

I’ve just got back from another mind blowing trip to London.

If you get to go, and have some interest in the subject, may I recommend to you the Jack the Ripper Museum at 12 Cable Street in London’s East End?

Opened in 2015, the sometimes controversial museum looks at the Ripper killings, but with emphasis on the women, NOT the killer.

Some of the exhibits came from the family of Police Constable Watkins, the man who found Catherine Eddowes body.  And the first exhibit you will see is a reconstruction of that event.

There is a reconstruction of Mary Jane Kelly’s bedroom right at the top of the building.  I freely admit that this room is eerie and both my friend Rebecca and myself felt more than a little odd in that room.

Right in the basement is a reconstruction of a mortuary, complete with post mortem table, body drawers, and stained glass from a local mortuary where the post mortems of some of the victims were carried out.  The stained wooden table sits starkly in the middle of the room, like a physical slap in the face to the sensibilities.

This room feels almost sacred.  a beautiful tribute to the women who were killed is laid around the walls.  With post mortem photographs where available.  This is the human face of inhuman behaviour.

If Ross is on the counter when you leave, make sure you make time to chat with him (if the place isn’t busy).  He is knowledgable, interesting, and fun.  He also has a quite awesome photo on his phone of a ghostly presence photographed there.  Whether or not you believe in ghosts, it is quite something to see.  And possibly haunt your dreams.

If you have the time, pay the extra money, and go on the hour and a half walking tour in the afternoon.  This REALLY brings it home when you get an understanding for the distances and places.  The tour takes you through parts of Whitechapel that are every bit as terrifying as they were in 1888, though possibly much cleaner.

The Jack the Ripper Museum is quite possibly the best specialist museum in London.

 

On Holiday

1 May

Hi guys.

I’m off to London tomorrow for a couple of weeks, so no blog posts from me.

Will be back up and running with more interesting (hopefully) blog posts by the end of May.

Take care. ❤

Shakespeare’s Local

5 Apr

“Shakespeare’s Local” by Pete Brown is a fascinating look at the George Inn in Southwark.

There has been an inn on the site since the 14th Century, and Pete Brown looks at the history of Southwark through the focus of the George.

The George Inn sits next door to the site of the Tabard, with the White Hart next door.  Both famous inns in English history/literature.

This books is rich in history, trivia, and humour.  Pete Brown frequently wanders down byways following odd little thoughts.

If you are interested in Southwark, history, pubs, oh and Shakespeare, this is the book for you.

Highly recommended.

Death in Profile

19 Mar

I find it very hard to resist a crime novel set in London, and when it’s set in one of my favourite parts of London, it’s doubly irresistible.

“Death in Profile” is the first of the Hampstead Murders series by Guy Fraser-Sampson.

There is a serial killer stalking London and the case team are working out of Hampstead nick.When Detective Chief Inspector Tom Allen is stood down and Detective Superintendent Simon Collison is put in his place, the scene is set for a complex and interesting story.  Especially as the most recent killing just doesn’t seem quite right.  Profiler Peter Collins is brought in to assist and things get interesting.

Guy seamlessly blends a modern police procedural with the Golden Age of detective fiction.

“Death in Profile” is an absorbing and entertaining read.  The characters are all well rounded and believable.  I hope we see more of Collison in future books.

Highly recommended.

Rivers of London: Body Work

13 Feb

“Body Work” is a fantastic graphic novel written by Ben Aaronovitch set in his Rivers of London world.

Miriam Stephanopolous and Sahra Guleed are less than impressed when Peter Grant turns up at the site of a car being hauled out of the Thames.  The last thing they want to deal with is any more “weird bollocks”.  Unfortunately, what they want isn’t what they get.

The discovery of the car and it’s deceased driver starts a fast paced story with extremely Stephen King “Christine” like elements, which at one point involves Peter and Sahra being chased by a pissed off BMW!

The story alternates between being funny and creepy and is a thorough delight.

A word about the graphic part.  Excellent.  The attention to detail is incredible.  One guy is eating a chocolate bar whilst driving.  It’s clearly obvious that it’s a Curly Wurly.  That’s the level of detail.  The artists involved have captured all the characters EXACTLY as I have imagined them, and that is quite a feat.

Cannot recommend “Body Work” highly enough.

Brilliant.

The Hanging Tree

9 Jan

Peter Grant is back in “The Hanging Tree” by Ben Aaronovitch, the 6th of the Rivers of London series.

In “Whispers Underground” Lady Tyburn saved Peter’s life with the understanding that she would be calling in the debt.

She does so – in spades.  Her daughter Olivia is in trouble with the police and Tyburn would like her out of trouble, PDQ.  Poor Peter has to untangle Olivia without getting himself into trouble for corruption, higher ups are becoming more aware of Falcon, the Faceless Man is back, and Leslie is back – with a face!

Like all of the Rivers of London series, “The Hanging Tree” rips along.  You could view this one as the direct sequel to “Whispers Underground”, indeed, several characters from that book make a return appearance.

Ben Aaronvitch writes what I consider quite possibly the best urban fantasy series currently available.  Peter Grant is likeable, quirky, and very well rounded.  As are all the characters.  They have distinct personalities and feel very real.

If you haven’t made the acquaintance of Peter Grant and his friends and enemies, I suggest you do so.

Highly recommended.

The Undead Blues

18 Oct

Note: This isn’t my usual blog post.  It’s not a review or even an opinion piece.  What it is is a short story.  The first original piece of fiction I’ve written in years.  It came about due to a brief Twitter conversation with author Ben Aaronovitch on coffee, banjos, and zombies (don’t ask!).  Anyway, it created a plot bunny, the result of which is below.  Enjoy.

********************

If you know the Soho/Bloomsbury area at all, you probably know the place.  A dingy little dive tucked away up the sort of back alley no sane person goes down in daylight, let alone after dark.

Me, I’m not sane.  Never have been, and certainly never will be again.  Not after the events I’m about to relate.

It was spectacular autumn day, clear and crisp, with a whisper of wood smoke in the air, which was probably a combination of carbon monoxide and my imagination.  I was looking for coffee, when a blackboard for a new café caught my eye.  The blackboard had an arrow pointing down the alley, so off I trotted in search of coffee.

The café was a little weird.  Dark and gloomy, and liberally decorated with what looked like the remnants of a macabre Victorian museum – stuffed ravens, bejeweled skulls.  That sort of thing.  Still the coffee was good.  Rich and dark and bitter.  I sat close to the door, sipping slowly.

I became aware of someone watching me.  A tall dude, who looked a little like Lurch from the Addams Family.  I watched him out of the corner of my eye and realized that he wasn’t so much watching me, as the instrument bag at my feet.  I’d spent the last couple of hours in the park near the kid’s hospital busking for the staff and the few tourists lurking around.

I turned my head just enough to meet his gaze.

He gestured at the bag.  “What do you play?”  Jeez, the voice was the sort of dark rumble that had women falling over themselves to remove their knickers.

I took a sip of my coffee, stalling for time.  People usually have one of two reactions when I mention what instrument I play: they’re either deeply embarrassed or they snigger.

“Banjo.  I play the banjo.”

The big fella’s face contorted into a rictus that took me a moment to realize was a grin.  “Banjo.  We need a banjo player for the band.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh yes.  Can’t play blues without a banjo, so the maestro says.”

“The maestro?”

“Mmmm.  I think you should come and meet him.  Now.”  Why did that feel like an order rather than a suggestion?

I drank the last of my coffee, and got to my feet, hoisting my instrument bag over my shoulder.  Lurch lead the way into the bowels of the place.  I use the word advisedly.  It was dark, fetid, and vaguely damp.

At the end of a long corridor, he stopped before a heavy, iron bound, oak door and knocked.  From within came a murmur of assent.  He pushed the door open as if it was as light as a feather and ushered me into the room.

A large, polished, oak desk dominated the furnishings.  The rest of the room was dominated by the occupant.  Nearly as tall as my escort, he had auburn curls, vaguely cat like grey eyes that glinted unpleasantly, and the sort of wide smile that made me want to find a very tall tree to climb.

“And who is this, Herbert?”

Herbert?  Herbert?  That couldn’t possibly be Lurch’s name!

“He’s a banjo player, Maestro.”

“Banjo, mmm?”  Why did that sound like a purr?  And why was I starting to sweat?

“What is your name, banjo player?”

“Benjamin.”

“Benjamin who?”

“Just Benjamin will do.”  There was no way on earth that I was given this guy my name.  That felt like a really bad idea.

Well, Just Benjamin, how would you like to join our little blues band?  It would be worth your while.”

“Ummm.”

“Why don’t you join us tonight for a try out?  If we are mutually suited, you can join the regular line up?”

I really couldn’t find a reason not to agree, so I found myself shaking his rather cold hand, and agreeing to be back at the café at 10pm, ready to go on at 11.

Ten o’clock that night found me in a smallish room behind the little stage that I hadn’t noticed, due to the gloomy nature of the décor.  There was the maestro on guitar, Herbert on drums, a tall lanky git named Tom who played the hammered dulcimer, a petite blonde chick named Mary who played the fiddle, and me on banjo.

We worked our way through a selection of blues standards: ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘Catfish Blues’, ‘Dust My Broom’, ‘Little Red Rooster’, ‘Key to the Highway’, ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, finishing off with ‘The Thrill Has Gone’.  The maestro and I even managed a pretty good bash at ‘Dueling Banjos’ for the cheering audience.  Not a bad mix, and a pretty good gig for a group of musicians I hadn’t played with before.

Tom gave me a wide grin when we finished.  “I hope you’re joining us.  That was a blast.”  Mary nodded her assent and winked at me.

After we’d packed up, the maestro gestured for me to accompany him back to his office.  Herbert came along behind.  I was starting to feel like dead man walking.

In the office, the maestro indicated I should sit in the chair in front of the desk.  He sat on the other side of the desk and smiled at me.  “Well, Benjamin, I would say that was very satisfactory.  I think you should consider joining our little ensemble.”

I murmured something polite.

“There is only one drawback that I can see.”

“And what’s that?”

The smile grew hungry.  “You’re human.”

I tried to laugh it off.  “And you’re not?”

“None of us are.  Tom is a fire demon, and Mary is a succubus.  Herbert here…” he gestured to the hulk guarding the door, “…is a zombie.”

I blinked at him.  Bonkers.  Completely stark, raving, bonkers.  He kept talking, never taking his eyes off me.  “Herbert wants to turn you into a zombie.  Contrary to popular opinion, however, banjo players do need their brains, so allowing him to lobotomize you for supper doesn’t suit my purpose.”

I managed a nervous laugh.  It sounded more like a slightly hysterical squeak.  “Where does that leave me then?”

The maestro’s smile suddenly grew fangs – literally.  “My supper.”  I shrank back in the chair in horror.  Eyes wide with terror, unable to move, trapped like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming lorry.  His face filled my vision.  “This won’t take long.”

I screamed and the world went black.

I don’t drink coffee much these days.  Type O, now, that’s my drink of choice.

Tooth and Nail

8 Sep

“Tooth and Nail” by Ian Rankin is one of the earliest Rebus novels, so it’s a bit shorter than the later ones.  Having said that, the story packs a punch.

Rebus is sent down to London as an “expert” on serial killers to help the Met with a killer of their own.  He battles bigotry as he tries to track down the killer that the media has dubbed “Wolfman”.

The story plods along a little, right up to the big reveal of the killer, and that point the story explodes.  I was laughing with sheer delight by this point.  I don’t think any other writer could have got away with what Ian Rankin did.  In fact, I know they couldn’t have, because I know any other writer would have had me throwing the book against the wall with cries of “Bollocks” and “This is ridiculous crap.”

Much of the story is set around parts of London that I know and love, which made it much easier for me to visualise the action.

“Tooth and Nail” is, I think, the book where we first got to see just how special Ian Rankin is as a writer.

Highly recommended.

The Game’s Afoot

21 Aug

Currently, at Madame Tussaud’s in London, an event of mystery, imagination and excitement is taking place after the doors close of an evening.  I refer to the interactive theatrical experience that is “The Game’s Afoot”.

I attended with a close friend, not really expecting very much.  I had a ball.  It was adrenaline fueled fun from start to finish.

I cannot go into the plot.  The Game’s Afoot people ask very nicely that you don’t over share on social media.  I can understand this, because if you gave away clues and solutions, then you take the fun away from others.

There are two scenarios, that play out on different nights, but the workings are much the same.  The attendee is a junior Scotland Yard detective. This is really a case for Sherlock Holmes, but he has gone missing, so Scotland Yards finest (!) must fill the gap.

Each person is given a notebook to jot down clues, a pencil, and a sheet of paper that has a map on one side, and photographs of the suspects on the other.  Inspector Gregson gives you the back ground, then you are let loose to examine the area, talk to suspects, and look for clues.  There is also one other thing.  Each person is given a clue, just for them, that was left for them by Sherlock Holmes.  I will say one thing.  The clue I was given set me on the path.

As well as the suspects and Gregson, Doctor Watson, Lestrade, and the coroner are around to ask questions of, and advise.  I did notice that as individuals hit on the right track, then the help from certain characters became slightly more overt.  Lestrade gave me the threads I needed to pull everything together.  But never outright.  A clue, which lead to another clue, etc.

One thing I will share: the crypt set.  It will have any Sherlock Holmes fan hysterical with laughter.  When you look at the names on the graves.  I nearly got sidetracked because I was so delighted with the crypt.

“The Game’s Afoot” is brilliant.  It’s almost like a live action version of Cluedo.  The plots are intricate, and there are clues, evidence, and red herrings EVERYWHERE.  And fiendishly difficult.  I think less than half of those there solved the case.

If you’re going to be in London between now and 30th September 2016, do yourself a favour and go.

Oh, and I solved the crime.

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