Later is a supernatural thriller written by Stephen King and is published by Hard Case Crime. Jamie Conklin is the son of a struggling single mother and has the fairly common rare gift of being able to see people who have recently died. His mother has a girlfriend who works as a police detective in New York. She pulls Jamie into a desperate investigation where he needs to communicate with a dead psychopath who left a bomb as a parting gift. Although that is a major plot point, King also creates some complicated relationships and characters.
This novel has several strong points that showcase King’s talent for creating compelling characters and a flow of thought that seems rather genuine. The novel is written in first person from Jamie’s point of view, and I grew to like the kid. King’s trademark dark humor helps ease the tension in the right places.
The novel is enjoyable enough, however I would hesitate to consider it a future classic. Also, young kids being able to communicate with the dead seems to be common literary backdrop. It was an interesting story but some major aspects do seem a little too familiar. King doesn’t quite hit it out of the park here, but he certainly gets a good piece of the ball.
So the next reading indulgence is A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke.
The Inheritance is a low budget supernatural horror film that takes place in Ukraine. It is written and directed by Chad Barager and Kevin Speckmaier. The small cast is led by Natalia Ryumina and Nick Wittman.
It’s a somewhat typical haunted house story. A young woman inherits a big, foreboding house in Ukraine from her estranged grandfather. She and her husband fly out to handle the property and get it ready to sell. However, there are strange whispers and shouts with various bangs thrown in that keeps Sasha awake. The husband starts acting oddly because he is apparently keeping his own secrets. Sasha learns of some family history along the way that could explain the restless spirits. We’ve seen this play out before in every other film of this genre.
Although there is not much that I would call original and groundbreaking, there are some moments that provide a few appropriate shivers. I did watch this alone in my house on a Friday night, so I had the right atmosphere to make this a bit more compelling. The performances aren’t too bad. The dialogue was not glaringly unrealistic for a ghost story anyway.
The story did have one or two little somewhat unexpected moments, but not enough to stand up and applaud the filmmakers for any sort of cinematic ingenuity. Overall, the movie works well enough for me to not be overwhelmed with regret over the time spent watching it, however it’s nothing I can recommend with enthusiasm either.
Scratchman is a Doctor Who novel written by the man himself, Tom Baker. He is of course best known as playing the Doctor’s fourth incarnation on the telly. So this has an interesting history. Baker and his co-star, Ian Marter, had proposed an idea for a Doctor Who film in which the Time Lord take on the Devil, or some being very much like him.
This little adventure starts off with the TARDIS bringing the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, and Harry Sullivan to a SCottish village where they are soon besieged by walking scarecrows, Cybermen, and all kinds of horrors. Then the Doctor brought into another realm with a flying castle where he faces a bargain with Scratchman. The Doctor will have to face his fears and rescue his friends from a true master of evil.
Baker really unleashes his imagination here. Much of this is enjoyably absurd, although it is sometimes hard to picture in the mind’s eye. The examination of what motivates this particular Doctor ends up being pretty compelling. This Doctor still faces the daunting challenges with much of his usual glib, wry observations. however there is something deeper explored here. The novel ends up being a little better than I expected, and I am not just saying that because the author is my favorite Doctor.
Well, I am still breathing so that means I keep reading. Now, it’s time for Later by Stephen King.
Slipback is a Doctor Who radio play that was first broadcast by BBC in 1985. Eric Saward is the writer. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant star with the aid of a guest cast which includes Valentine Dyall, Jon Glover. and Jane Carr.
The Doctor and Peri arrive aboard a huge spacecraft where experiments with Time are being conducted. Of course, the Doctor is not too pleased to find this dangerous intrusion taking place.
This was something I have never heard before, although I knew of its existence and I do have the novelization. It’s actually pretty good with solid performances from both Baker and Bryant. The story may not have the most original premise for this series, but it works well. I have said that Colin Baker’s version of the Doctor was rehabbed by Big Finish Productions, but BBC Radio may have actually accomplished that first.
Anyway, this turned out to be a pretty enjoyable addition to the ever expanding Doctor Who collection.
The Ghosts of N-Space is a Doctor Who radio play that was first broadcast on BBC Radio in 1996. The story was written by Barry Letts an directed by Phil Clarke. Jon Pertwee returns to the role of the Third Doctor and is reunited with Elisabeth Sladen and Nicholas Courtney as Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. respectively. Richard Pearce, Stephen Thorne, and Sandra Dickinson are included in the guest cast.
The Brigadier is on holiday in Sicily visiting a great-uncle. The uncle has some trouble with a local mobster and some spectral intruders. The Doctor is asked to come out for a little investigation where he diagnoses the ghosts as being left behind due to a breach in something called the N-Barrier. The problem gets a rather more alarming due to the monsters from that realm gathering to invade our plane of existence. The Doctor has to travel back to two different past centuries to get a handle on this looming catastrophe. Fortunately, Sarah is on hand to help out in spite the clumsy assistance of her colleague Jeremy Fotzoliver.
As much fun as it was to experience a Third Doctor adventure I had not heard before, the story is a bit of a mess. The sound effects were not entirely convincing. It seems to go on a little longer than necessary. Pertwee sounded great as did his co-stars, but I had a hard time staying with this particular adventure. I have the novelization, so I may need to revisit that as well. In spite of the mild disappointment, I was still glad that I finally got to hear this bit of Doctor Who history.
The Nanny is a suspense novel written by Gilly MacMillan. It is one those with changing point of views among a few characters.
A widowed mother named Jocelyn is reluctantly returning to the English estate where she grew up and is concerned about the rather complicated relationship with her aristocratic, oppressive mother. Part of the tension stems from the sudden disappearance of a beloved nanny thirty years before. Not long after Jo and her daughter arrive, they discover a human skull on the property which stirs up further questions about the past. When a woman turns up claiming to be the long-lost nanny, all sorts of long-buried secrets are the on the way to being unearthed.
There are a few clever twists here, but I didn’t catch much that stands out as being the masterful plotting that is touted in the review excerpts. It does explore the notion that our memories may not reflect actual truth in the relationships or events that take place. I had some trouble buying into the plausibility of some of the revelations toward the end of the story. Yet again, this is a novel that manages to not be terrible, but it also falls short when it comes to keeping my attention all the way through.
Next up is a Doctor Who novel written by an actual Doctor. Tom Baker finally gets to share a story idea he and the late Ian Marter had in the 1970’s with Scratchman.
The Minds of Magnox is a Doctor Who audiobook published by BBC Audiobooks. It is written by Darren Jones and performed by Jacob Dudman. It is part of this multi-platform saga entitled Time Lord Victorious.
This adventure features the Tenth Doctor as played by David Tennant, although Dudman is actuallt standing in for Tennant. He is known as being able to give some quite uncanny impressions of the recent Doctors, although he may have a harder time if Big Finish or BBC Audiobooks tries to have him impersonate Jodie Whittaker.
So the Doctor has a question and thinks that some big brains on the planet Magnox can provide an answer. He is somehow accompanied by Brian, an Ood assassin. Anyway, the Doctor encounters a bit of tyranny while Brian is recruited into some criminal association.
Although Dudman is quite a talented narrator and performer and does a pretty decent Tenth Doctor impression, the story was a pretty average entry. The Ood being a companion not as compelling as the author seemed to think. The story does not stand out as being all that terrific or all that terrible. It just feels like it’s kind of there. Anything more said about it would feel too much like rambling, so I will leave it there as well.
Ravagers is a Doctor Who audio boxset that kicks off a new range with The Ninth Doctor Adventures. Christopher Eccleston has returned to the role of the Ninth Doctor through the medium offered by Big Finish Productions. The set contains a trilogy of connected stories all written by Nicholas Briggs, which he also directed. This set takes place before the television audience catches up with the Doctor before his relaunch in 2005. This would be before the Doctor meets Rose Tyler.
In this little series, the Doctor meets a woman from the future named Nova, played by Camilla Beeput. Another more mysterious woman, Audrey, is plated by Jayne McKenna. Jamie Parker, Dan Starkey, and Ben Lee also appear throughout this release.
Many times, these boxsets are comprised of different stories by various authors, whereas it makes sense to give a brief review of each story individually. Since this is basically one story written by one writer, I will just leave an overall reaction to the work as a whole.
Sphere of Freedom starts off with the Doctor and Nova already meeting. Nova is whisked off by a time eddy. The Doctor has become aware of people throughout time and space being displaced by these eddies. When he meets Audrey, she appears to be an aging woman who just wants a good story, but she turns out to be more than she appears and has some unexpected knowledge of the Doctor.
Cataclysm is the second episode that brings the Doctor closer to the end of the universe via the Battle of Waterloo.
Finally, Food Fight wraps matters up with the Doctor being lost in time and space separated from his TARDIS, but still not without any hope of victory. He also faces the Ravagers themselves, beings who feed on the chaos wrought by the Time Eddies.
I have to confess, I had some trouble following this one since much of the story is not presented in a linear fashion. It was one of these that felt like an endurance test until the last episode puts the pieces in place. Once again, I was impressed by Briggs’ imagination and his efforts to find new ways to tell a Doctor Who yarn. It was great to hear Eccleston himself back in the role. He put in a solid performance, and it kicks off a new range of exploration for Big Finish. The overall story was a little underwhelming , but there were enough intriguing characters and strong performances for me to find some forgiveness. It helps that the resolution had some creativity to it. Briggs is usually a solid writer whose ideas intrigue me. He actually pulls off a pretty good ending here, but it required a bit more patience. I did appreciate that the threat was actually not some old adversary of the Doctor’s. There was not a reliance on old friends or old enemies. Just some fresh chaos and neurotic characters to muddy the waters enough to keep this entertaining.
So this Doctor is back in his leather jacket and noting how fantastic things are. That by itself is enough for me to recommend my fellow fans to listen to this. The story seemed a little muddled at times, but the ending is worth the patience in following it. So…yeah, I am ready to dive into some more adventures with the Ninth Doctor. Welcome back to the TARDIS, Chris!
Out on the Cutting Edge is mystery novel by Lawrence Block and features unlicensed private eye Matthew Scudder. The novel was initially published in 1989.
Scudder is a former police detective in New York who left the force with a dubious reputation. He lives in a motel room in Hell’s Kitchen and makes his living by doing favors for friends. Scudder is also a recovering alcoholic and is a regular at Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Sometimes, someone may need him to help out without going through some of the more official channels. Scudder is asked to search for a young woman who left her home in Indiana for the excitement of New York City. Scudder has been running into dead ends on this one until a chance encounter gives him a new direction. He also befriends a former small-time hood from his AA meeting, however the friend’s unexpected and gruesomely salacious death cuts that short. He is also finding romance with a building super, but that woman may have secrets of her own.
So this is my second foray into the works of Lawrence Block, and I am starting to appreciate why he has been so popular among crime fiction devotees. Scudder does not follow many societal rules, but he still comes off rather noble. Scudder also meets a local crime boss which starts off a rather unlikely friendship.
This turned out to be a pretty intriguing journey. It feels a little slow at times, but I did not have much trouble overlooking that. The case itself is rather standard fare, but the backdrop of Hell’s Kitchen and the sleazy places Scudder finds himself does spark the imagination. Scudder can keep the gin joints and gloomy alleyways, but I would recommend joining him in the story.
Next up will be someone who is a little newer on the mystery scene and is very new to my collection. I will be discovering the truth about Gilly MacMillan’s The Nanny.
Respect is the biographical film about the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, played by the formidably talented Jennifer Hudson. Hudson was not really a surprising casting choice, but it was an obviously correct one. Liesl Tommy is the director of this film which was written by Tracey Scott Wilson. Callie Khouri shares story credit with her. The cast includes Forest Whitaker as Aretha’s overbearing father, Marlon Wayans, Marc Maron, Tate Donovan, and Mary J. Blige.
So the audience first catches up with a 10 year old Aretha Franklin and follows her through her maturing talent and her rise to stardom.
This follows the pattern of most biopics, which isn’t a bad thing. It actually was well done, and I got to learn quite a bit about Aretha Franklin. I was not a close follower of her, but I was glad to get the gist of how talented she really was. I did not remember that she was a pretty accomplished piano player. I also was not aware of the tragedy and brokenness in her life, however that was not too surprising considering most talents like her carry these burdens.
There were some moments in the film that could have used a little better explanation, but I think this to be a common issue with this genre of film. Especially if the subject has such a complex background as Aretha Franklin.
All of the cast did great, but Jennifer Hudson choosing to actually sing live on film was obviously the right path to take. Hudson is also an old pro on this type of project, so it is not surprising that she chose to use her own powerful vocal talents.
It is not a perfect production, but it is a very strong and informative one. The music is well selected and played. Although there were some aspects of Franklin’s history that seemed a little muddled in the portrayal here, but the performances and the post production work are solid enough for me to not obsess over these inconsistencies.
Anyway, the strengths of this film outweigh the minor problems here.