Category Archives: Thriller

The White Devil by Justin Evans

white devilWith a tarnished reputation, expelled American student, Andrew Taylor is sent to finish his studies at a prestigious and historic boarding school in England.

Steeped in tradition, Harrow School, has all the ingredients to make you feel uneasy: age old-secrets, hidden tunnels, aristocracy, hallways lined with faded photos, and of course rumours of a student ghost.

The plot itself gathers you in, and the writing style is enjoyable, perfectly paced, and wonderfully descriptive, while still leaving splinters in your brain that you have to interpret yourself. Once you’re hooked it doesn’t take long for the goosebumps to appear. Strange occurrences emerge, Andrew begins to suffer vivid and disturbing dreams, and a student dies on campus.

Andrew bears a striking resemblance to a former, famous pupil of Harrow, Lord Byron, and there is no doubt that his enrolment has stirred something supernatural and malevolent within the walls of the school.

What I like about this tale, and what is typical of a clever ghost story is that there is an underlying unease and tension, even during the lighter moments. (There is a backstory of a student romance, adolescent sexuality and a tired alcoholic tutor/mentor.) The history and architecture of the school itself is fascinating and frightful, and that the main characters have their own controversies and secrets that, in a way, haunt them more than any ghost can.

Moments of terror are written in a fast and punctuated pace and you can’t help but rush through them with a skip in your heartbeat and a bite to the lip.

The haunting is genuinely menacing but also enticing; our ghostly friend is seriously pissed off about something; and new student Andrew has definitely captured its attention.

In Short: Secrets, sodomy, scholars and scares.

Book to Screen: The Gone Girl Guest Review

As a book nerd, I’m always uneasy when a tale I love becomes a movie.   I’ll admit I was really sceptical about the Gone Girl film adaptation, however, upon seeing the trailers and hearing the first critiques, I definitely had to see it.

But I am not a movie nerd. I wouldn’t know the first thing to look at when reviewing a film. So I decided to examine the flick through someone else’s lens: Director and Producer, Regan Wood from Hit 66 Sound & Screen This is his guest review:

Ben Affleck really does have a bum for a chin. Now this may not be the first thing you notice about the film Gone Girl, but as his jaw line does play a part in the story, it will certainly not be the last. In fact, your last thoughts will be the most difficult to predict.

As the bulk of the tale is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, cloaked in a conundrum, it’s hard to mention any details for fear of revealing the more important plot points. You have no doubt seen the trailer: Nick Dunne’s on-the-rocks marriage is put on hold as his wife, Amy, goes missing with signs pointing to foul play. It’s not long before the neighbourhood, spurred on by a spiteful media, begin to suspect the husband of committing the act himself. But like I said, to dig deeper would deprive you of discovering the twists and their counterparts, yourself.

What I can talk freely about is the cast. Whatever you think of our new Batman, he does put in an experienced and worn-thin turn as the suburban husband. If fact, his solid calm and unclear ends, mirror the very pace and sculpture for the film. The bit players, Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, normally seen as comedians, fill out a committed and melodramatic cast. But it is Rosamond Pike, the preverbal Girl ‘Gone,’ who is the stand out. And, once more, for your own good, I will not brandish any details but to say if she does not receive an Academy nod come February, the system is seriously corrupt.

The real star here is Director, David Fincher. Clearly and wholly the most talented lens man working in Hollywood today. Gone Girl shares DNA with Fincher’s 2006 film Zodiac. There is a stillness and an emptiness that, with the help of Trent Reznor’s haunting score, is punctuated with sharp unease and the sure threat of violence. As a film maker, I have studied his technique avidly, but have neither the capacity nor the patience to recreate it. As this is his sixth book to screen adaptation, authors are no doubt writing tomes with his deft hand in mind.

So, without spoilers or much else really, Gone Girl is worth every cent of your ticket price. It is classically made; no CGI, no explosions, no 3D. This alone is reason enough to spend the 160 minutes soaking in it’s painful and razor edge grip. Go in without expectation. Whatever twists you do predict, and there will be a few, nothing will prepare you for the poisonous hollow of an ending that will stay with you well into the week.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

dr sleepMy husband is a newspaper man.  He subscribes to his reading material of choice both digitally and in print.  Nothing makes him happier than hearing the thunk of the cling wrapped paper hit our driveway on a Saturday morning.

He reads the papers from cover to cover, but he starts at the back pages for sport.  He knows every sporting result, every match up, every ladder.  He also knows world events, politics, and what’s hot and not this week.  He reads book reviews to get ideas for me, hates Andrew Bolt, and has a special patronising voice that he reserves for reading out the guilt laden and superficial advice from the Body & Soul section.

On Sunday, he savours the broadsheet.  In the morning he uses it as a plate to eat his egg sandwich, yolk and salt dripping on the parts he’s already gotten to; and at night he pours over the extras and inserts while elbowing me in bed as he tries to manoeuvre the 3 metre pages.

So while I can say my husband is an avid reader, it’s normally The Age annual footy guide that takes pride of place on his bedside table.

Last night I went to bed late.  I expected him to be snuggled up with the light off, snoring gently after a hell of a week.  However there he was, legs tucked up to his chin, no blanket, eyes boring holes into the crisp white pages of Stephen King highly anticipated new book.

When he finally looks up, his eyes are wide and he’s bitten his lip.

Holy shit, this book is getting good.’

When I first saw the movie The Shining, there were so many creepy elements that affected me.  The dead twins in the hallway, the trademark Kubrick direction, the 70s bowl haircut on the kid who spoke to his finger, and none more than the hideously sexy ghost who seduces ‘Heres Johnny’ John Torrance and then turns into a naked rotting corpse in his arms.

And it’s only moments into reading the sequel Doctor Sleep that this ghoulish character returns and you’re reminded that you’re back reading the master of the supernatural genre.

The tale picks ups decades after the horror at the Overlook Hotel took place, with little Danny (Doc) Torrance all grown up and battling with the demons of the past.  He’s been drifting, fucking up and trying to escape both his father’s legacy and the events of his childhood that haunt him.  He self-medicates to drown out his ‘shining,’ but soon, remnants of his supernatural abilities re-emerge and the meeting of teenager Abra Stone forces him to go into battle to save her soul.

While a whole bunch of cool mind-reading, ESP, telekinesis stuff goes on between Dan and Abra, there is evil lurking nearby.  A travelling tribe of highway folk called the True Knot are in search of sustenance.  And they want Abra.  Part vampire, part kidnappers, part murderers, they are led by a powerful, engaging, and chillingly evil woman in a top hat who drives an RV.

In true King style, the action and spooks are from start to finish.  There is real substance to Dan’s personal struggles as he fights his demons in a gritty and authentic portrayal of addiction. There is a love story of sorts between an unlikely pair, and the plot is fast moving, uncomplicated and tense.  The baddies are really bad, and the goodies are genuinely flawed.  It also gives the original The Shining more depth and intrigue, as the story travels back in time to Danny’s awful memories of the hotel on the hill.

While there is always a risk of a King ending being just that bit too epic (think the giant spider in IT) the climax here is cleverly crafted and will not disappoint.

In Short: “Holy Shit, this book is getting good.”

Joyland by Stephen King

joyland_property_embedDid you know there’s a secret language spoken amongst Carnival folk. In this instance, let’s call it ‘the talk.’ It’s shorthand for the job at hand, and it defines who belongs in the industry and who doesn’t. For example the ‘Bally’ attracts punters to the carny show by ‘building the tip,’ ‘freezing the tip,’ giving ‘the pitch’ using ‘the jam,’ and delivering ‘the blow off.”

The Ferris Wheel is known as the ‘chump-hoister.’ Junior rides like the spinning tea-cups are’ zamp rides’. In Gypsy circles, fortune telling is ‘Dukkering.’ The ghost train is the ‘dark ride.’ A newcomer to the carny industry is a ‘Forty Miler’ and the reason for operating any carny – ‘GTFM’ (get the fucking money.)

I can’t really explain why I’ve never been on a Ghost train, or horror ride. (Does the Scooby Doo spooky coaster count?) You may have recognised by now, I love a good scare. Getting the chills gives me the thrills and all that, but I’ve just never gotten around to taking a ride at a carnival or show that had skeletons jumping out of corners, and canned screams on audio. Having read Joyland by Stephen King, I will definitely hop on board at the next summer carnival, out of pure curiosity.

Part of the Hard Case Crime series, King has woven a truly engrossing tale. Of course it has all the hallmarks of King best seller, *read creepy supernatural themes* but it also has likeable and believable characters and a coming of age theme that is really really enjoyable to read.

College student, Deven Jones, takes a summer job at Joyland (think mini Disneyland/Gold Coast theme park on a smaller regional scale). He’s in the process of grieving a high school romance, and the carny life is just the distraction he needs.

However, Joyland is haunted by the legacy of a vicious murder, and when ghost stories emerge about the victim revealing herself in the Horror House, Deven is compelled to discover who was responsible.

With a fortune teller hinting what lies in Deven’s future, a relationship with a dying child and mother, and teenage friendships with other summer workers that should last a lifetime, the emotional impact and care-factor for the outcome is overwhelming by the end.

The descriptions of the carnival itself transported me to a summer showground, with sawdust, Dagwood dogs, hot jam doughnuts, and shouting carnies; tanned and leathery from a life outdoors, giving away lucky draw cards and selling hopes of the big prize.
While the book had me at outset with the well-developed mystery and ghost tale, its unfolded more as a story about growing up and aging, and about those who are taken too young. The ending was profoundly moving, convincing and authentic.

 

In Short: Better than any chump hoister; the rubes will be engrossed.

 

Credit: Props to Wayne Keyser and his website and eBook ‘From the Midway’ for the extra information I have presented here on all things carny.  See http://www.goodmagic.com/carny/index.htm to check it out and buy his book. 

Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (Audio read by Julia Barrie)

kind of cruel9780340980705When a crime novel promises to be a psychological thriller, with twists and plot changes to surprise you, how often are you disappointed?  How often does the killer end up having split personality disorder, or some kind of creepy childhood trauma that led them to seek revenge?  I get a kick out of predicting who the baddie is on screen.  I always try to out-mentalise Simon Baker, and guess which of his suspects the killer is.  But in a book, I want to be left wondering and questioning the motive until the very end.  I hate it when I can guess what the outcome might be.  I hate it when the psychological element is just about one character, and is an easy excuse for the author to wind up the plot.

Kind of Cruel is not that book.  Kind of Cruel is quite possibly the best damn psychological crime thriller I’ve ever encountered.  It has so many layers to its characters, each of them with their own mental demons, and Sophie Hannah has dedicated valuable chapters and word count to develop each of their back stories, quirks and faults which makes them all integral to the plot.

We meet Amber Hewerdine as she tries to talk herself into attending a hypnotherapy appointment.  It is her last resort to curing chronic insomnia, and she’s cynical and mocking before even going inside.  I instantly liked her.  She is self-deprecating, opinionated, with a dry wit that really tickled my fancy.

On the count of three,’ I imagine saying to myself in my best deep hypnotic voice, ‘you will get out of your car, go into that house across the road and pretend to be in a trance for an hour.  You will then write a cheque for seventy quid to a charlatan.  It’ll be ace.

Amber never imagined that the therapy would actually help her sleeplessness.  But she also never imagined speaking the words ‘Kind, cruel, kind of cruel,’ while under hypnosis, and she has no idea why she said them, though they are strangely familiar.

And so begins a cracker of a case, as Amber discovers the words are related to a local murder of young school teacher Katharine Allen, a woman she has never heard of.  With no other leads or suspects, Amber is arrested.

The story moves from the first person of ‘I,’ Amber, and also jumps into the third person to reveal other relevant characters, including Amber’s extended family, and the detectives working the case. All of whom are completely three dimensional and pivotal in their own way.

Amber’s past unravels slowly, and memories of her history surface. The notion of a memory is questioned, and the way in which a memory is retold (often with modifications and analysis to create a ‘story’) is explored thoroughly.

What is original and cool about the structure of the novel, is that each chapter is bookended by the narration of the hypnotherapist – who has a special insight into several of the characters, and her interpretation of events and psychoanalysis of the people involved is fascinating, surprising and tantalising as they gradually emerge.

I enjoyed this book to the last moment, and was left scratching my head and revisiting all I had learned in search for more clues.  There were moments of brutal honesty that left me uncomfortable, but ultimately the motive was unapparent throughout and even after digesting it – I’m still surprised.

In Short:  The thinking crime reader’s crumpet. Just effing read it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone-girl-high-resHave you heard about the cool girl syndrome? It’s the one that many women suffer from when they first start a relationship with a guy. It’s the one that makes us say: “Hey I’m cool with you staying out all night for a poker game with the boys. Want me to drop buy with bacon & egg rolls for you all in the morning?” It’s the one that makes us assert that there’s nothing wrong with watching porn or a visit to the strippers. It’s just window shopping right? “As long as he comes home to me I don’t care a bit. I’m not the jealous type.” It’s the one where you pretend to enjoy video games, and violent movies, and stay out all night drinking tequila shots and being super fun even though you have an 8am start the next day.

It’s no wonder men get confused as the relationship becomes long-term. All that stuff we used to be cool about, now makes us dish out the silent treatment. When we say we’re ‘fine’ with it: you know we’re not. But guys, we’ve actually always felt shit when you pull an all-nighter and ignore our texts. And we’ve never felt OK about someone else’s fanny gyrating in your lap. We spent our ‘quiet nights alone’ downing bottles of wine and Lean Cuisine, stalking your Facebook profiles and cursing you for not being a mind reader.

It is this very concept that is weaved subtly into Gone Girl. A book that sophisticated, compelling and a genuine thriller.

Written in the voice of the two main characters, the author introduces us to Nick and Amy, a married couple who met and lived a cosmopolitan life in New York. They have now moved to Nick’s hometown in Missouri and things have turned sour. On their fifth anniversary Amy goes missing, with evidence of a struggle in the home and all signs pointing to foul play.

What’s awesome about this story is that you get insights from both characters; Amy’s from her private journal, but there is still a sense of mystery and you never fully understand or believe either of them. Nick does not behave like a husband whose wife is missing, and the detectives are breathing down his neck (interesting folk in their own right.)

There’s a killer twist in this book, and there’s a risk that too much will be revealed if I carry on with the synopsis. Just know that it’s a captivating, unsettling crime drama that’ll keep you turning the pages and questioning your perception after each chapter.

There is no doubt that this book is Popular Fiction and will appeal to the edgier masses. It will likely enjoy the same mainstream success as Sebold and Picoult but it has more grit. It’s also worth mentioning that Hollywood has their hands on it, so watch out for spoilers in the media.

 

In short: Enjoy the twists and chills now; before the movie effs it up.