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July 2019

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . an intriguing puzzle.

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To adapt, abuse and assault the beautiful words of Elizabeth Browning, née Barrett:

Poem

The creative folk at Penguin Random House are certainly pushing the boat out in support of Gone, a new psychological thriller and the debut novel by former police psychologist Leona Deakin.

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This intriguing pack has just arrived, and although the digital version of Gone will not be available until August, and the print version way after that in October, it’s never to early to set people’s curiosity on fire. There’s clearly some kind of mystery behind the mystery, so here are the clues.

Clue

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There will be more to come, no doubt, on this puzzle. Let’s see if we can work out exactly what is going on!

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BASED ON THE BOOK BY . . .

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Hamish Hamilton220px-TermOfTrialIn 1968 Hamish Hamilton (by then part of the Thomson Organisation and subsequently to be bought by Penguin) published The Burden Of Proof, a novel by the Birmingham born author James Barlow. The firm had something of a hit seven years earlier with Barlow’s Term of Trial. That novel, about a teacher accused of indecency with a pupil, was made into a successful film starring Laurence Olivier, Simone Signoret, Sarah Miles and Terence Stamp. The Burden Of Proof was a different beast altogether, but first a little bit of history.

On 8th May 1968, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read, the Metropolitan Police arrested Reg and Ron Kray, along with sundry members of their gang. Neither of the Kray twins was ever to see freedom again, apart from when Reg spent his final hours dying from cancer in the honeymoon suite at the Beefeater Town House Hotel in Norwich. In 1968, the particular character of Ron Kray was not widely known to the general public, as the whole Kray ‘industry’ of ghosted memoirs and personal accounts of ‘The Twins I Knew’ by minor London villains had yet to take wing. Ron Kray was a homosexual psychopath, and it’s as simple as that. Whether brother Reg was any better for being heterosexual is neither here nor there, but Ron’s peccadillos were mirrored in dramatic fashion in The Burden Of Proof.

RBVic Dakin is a London gangster who has political connections, and has yet to have his collar properly felt, despite a string of serious crimes. He also enjoys a spot of sexual sadism, usually with his unofficial boyfriend, Wolfie, who accepts the beatings as a fact of life. Oh yes, and before I forget, Vic loves his dear old mum (who is blissfully unaware of Vic’s career choices) In the novel, Vic plans a daring wages raid on a suburban factory, in between doing all kinds of other unpleasant things to people he both likes and dislikes. Before we turn to the movie version of the book, check out my review of The Burden Of Proof.

The film was released in 1971, renamed Villain. The key issue, of course, was that of who would play Dakin? The choice – Richard Burton – was a surprise at the time, and the actor later wrote that he was drawn to the role because it represented a change from his usual heroic fare. Younger folk reading this will not know what a huge star Burton was at the time. For a modern comparison you need to think Hanks, Clooney, Cruise, Fiennes or Craig. Film and TV historians will be surprised to know that the screenplay for Villain was written by none other than Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The duo’s lightness of touch and feeling for the vernacular of British comedy created pure gold in later works such as Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, Porridge, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Lovejoy. Maybe all that shows is that good writers are good writers, end of.

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 20.33.54With a link worthy of BBC Radio 4, I can reveal that the role of Vic Dakin’s much-abused boyfriend in Villain was played by none other than the excellent Ian McShane (right), whose many credits include the long running Sunday night TV show, Lovejoy. Back to the film, directed by Michael Tuchner (Fear Is The Key, Mister Quilp). The supporting cast was stellar. The two coppers pursuing Dakin were the much-missed. moustache-twirling Nigel Davenport and Colin Welland. The villains were equally stalwarts of the day; TP McKenna as Frank Fletcher and Joss Ackland as Edgar Lowis, not to mention Donald Sinden as the compromised politician, and regular ‘baddies’ such as Tony Selby and Del Henney (composite below)

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DSindenid the film work? For me, it was something of a Curate’s Egg. Despite his passable snarling London accent, Burton never totally convinced me, even though he was never less than mesmeric when on screen. Villain will never be known as ‘the great London gangster movie’ – nothing will ever surpass The Long Good Friday – but that doesn’t make it a bad film. Donald Sinden was wonderful as the oily and glib politician, and Davenport and Welland were convincing, if hardly original, as the coppers. A final word of praise for the late, great TP McKenna. Check his filmography. He was never just the stage Irishman, but brought dignity and conviction to every role he played.

Villain was on Talking Pictures TV just the other day and you can still get a DVD of the movie here.

As ever, there are clips to be found, such as this one, over on YouTube

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THE SLEEPWALKER . . . Between the covers

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In a fictional world overflowing with disfunctional detectives who happen to be rather good at their jobs, Joseph Knox has raised, or perhaps lowered, the bar considerably with his DC Aidan Waits. We first met Waits in Sirens (2017) and then in The Smiling Man (2018). Now, in The Sleepwalker, Knox takes us on another guided tour of the dystopian underbelly of contemporary Manchester.

TSTogether with his grotesque partner and immediate boss, DI Peter Sutcliffe, Waits always gets the shitty end of the stick. ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe is, you might say, a good old fashioned copper. Waits goes to meet him in a dingy rock-and-roll boozer:

“Sutty was standing in the corner, explaining something to one of the other customers. To make sure the man was really listening, he’d lifted him off the ground by his ears and begun banging his head into the wall to the beat of the drum.

He let the smile slide, dramatically, off his face when he saw me.

‘Oh’, he said, over the music. ‘It’s the great depression. Shouldn’t you be queuing up for a loaf of bread instead of buying beer?’ “

Waits and Sutcliffe have been assigned to a Death Watch. In hospital, a notorious serial killer nicknamed The Sleepwalker because of the bizarre circumstances of his arrest, is dying of cancer. Years ago, he was convicted of slaughtering a family – wife and children – and the older daughter’s body has never been found. In the faint hope that Martin Wick’s dying breath will reveal the final resting place of twelve year-old Lizzie Moore – a sombre echo of the misplaced faith that believed Ian Brady would finally say where he had buried Keith Bennett – Waits and Sutcliffe sit by the dying man’s bedside, their ears close to whatever utterance escapes his shriveled lips.

Why is Aidan Waits such a tortured character? Well, how long have you got? His childhood was loveless and chaotic, and spent largely in institutions where he rubbed shoulders with trainee failures, malcontents and killers. Echoing Nietzsche’s chilling remarks about the moral abyss, Waits has, more recently, gazed too long into a chasm inhabited by a repellent Manchester crime lord called Zane Carver. Carver has fed Waits’s drug habit, and the two have fought over women. Carver has a particular talent with women:

“Zain Carver was a magician when it came to ruining women’s lives.

He surrounded himself with these beautiful assistants and then delighted in sawing them up, making them disappear. Sometimes a new girl on his arm might end up on the game, or in hospital, or back with her parents feeling five years older, a permanent faraway look in her eyes.”

As distinctive as Knox is as a stylist, and as much as he is a master of the inky black metaphor, he has a tale to tell and a plot to spin. The sepulchral calm of Martin Wick’s closely guarded hospital room is shattered by a savage attack which Waits survives, but puts him at the head of the queue as the police and the gutter press search for scapegoats. With Carver having decided to exact revenge on Waits by donning his black cap and pronounced the death sentence, Waits is on the run both from the gangster and, no less implacably, his politically motivated senior officers, but he keeps them at bay. He discovers faint-but-fatal fault lines in the original case against Martin Wicks, and finds that both Kevin Blake, the detective who brought Wicks to justice, and Frank Moore, the father of the murdered children, still have songs to sing.

KnoxJoseph Knox writes like an angel. Possibly an Angel of Death, but he grasps the spluttering torch of English Noir once carried by such writers as Derek Raymond, and runs with such vigour that the flame burns brightly once again. He is not without humour, and there are many – if unrepeatable – gags exchanged between the cynical cops and their low-life prey. The politically correct nature of modern policing doesn’t escape his attention, either:

“The conference space and interview rooms had a bland, mass-produced, modern aesthetic. If Hitler’s bunker had been designed by Travelodge, it couldn’t have communicated quiet despair any more effectively.”

 No-one who has had the misfortune to require A & E treatment on any given weekend evening – in Manchester, Middlesborough, Maidenhead or Milton Keynes – will be unfamiliar with this baleful description, as Waits searches for a suspect:

“I looked about me. Bloodshed, fist-fights and stab wounds. Confused, stunned people, drunk, on drugs, with life-altering injuries. Stick-thin single mothers on food bank diets, with morbidly obese babies.”

Knox has his grim fun with a Manchester police force that is barely honest, city down-and-outs who have lost most of the trappings of humanity, and an infestation of tattooed, Spice-addicted thugs straight from Central Casting – with Hieronymus Bosch as the agency’s head of HR. He also leaves us with a delightfully enigmatic final few pages. The Sleepwalker is published by Doubleday and will be on the shelves from 11th July

Doubleday

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