Book Review : Running with the Firm by James Bannon

runningwiththefirmPlot Synopsis

‘Of course I’m a f**king hooligan, you pr**k. I am a hooligan…there I’ve said it…I’m a hooligan. And, do you know why? Because that’s my f**king job. – James Bannon’s response when asked by a fellow undercover officer if he was getting too involved in the violence.

Running with the firm tells the true story of police officer James Bannon detailing his two years undercover with the football hooligans that made up the notorious Milwall firm.

Review

Some set ups for stories I find inherently interesting no matter what guise they appear in. Cops going undercover into a dangerous situation where one wrong move could result in their heads being kicked in or worse is one of those stories. Even better though in “Running With The Firm” the story is true.

“Running With The Firm” is a really enjoyable read.  James Bannon gives a warts and all, 3D portrait of himself and his work. Non-football/sports fans may not think this book is for them but I would argue strongly that this isn’t the case.

Football is really just the backdrop of Running With The Firm as the book is much more of a character study of someone under extreme pressure.

I don’t know if it is correct to call the main character in a non-fiction book the protagonist but what the hell. The protagonist in Running With The Firm is genuinely interesting.

Bannon admits that as he gets more and more involved in the life of a hooligan that there are things he enjoys about it. He talks frankly about the surges of adrenaline he gets in the moments before and during the violence. He talks frankly about liking some of the hooligans.

Bannon is open about how at times he pushes the envelope about what an undercover police officer should do. To gain the Firm’s trust he puts himself at the front of acts of violence and he is honest enough to point out the concerns some of his fellow undercovers have about this.

The book is about more than violence though. The most enthralling part of the book is the frayed relationship he enjoys with his girlfriend and the flirtation he has with the barmaid at a Milwall hooligan pub. To add some extra complications said barmaid is the sister of one of the leaders of the firm.

By laying out the temptations that assaulted him and explaining just how he made the decisions he did Bannon is able to give the reader some idea of what it must be like to serve as an undercover police officer.

As a point of comparison I read Donnie Brasko a few years ago and I didn’t come away with such a felling of what it must be like to be an undercover officer. Scared of what you are doing but also addicted to to the thrill of the danger

Political Ramifications

Perhaps the aspect that would make the book most interesting to non-football fans though is the political/moral issues that the book throws up.

Firstly, there is the issue of romantic entanglement with people whilst you are undercover. Bannon just about manages to avoid succumming to temptation. Recent revelations however have shown that undercover officers in far less dangerous positions that Bannon didn’t exercise such discretion. Bannon doesn’t pass judgement on this himself writing that such as choice must be up to the individual officers but does say that in his opinion ‘fraternisation’ should only occur when it presented the only viable way of gaining the target’s trust.

This is an interesting point though. Would it have been right for Bannon to get involved with a woman if he knew that doing so would get him in a position to get lots of intelligence on the Firm’s activities? I really don’t know but that of course is what makes Running With The Firm an interesting read. It is a book of grey rather than black and white. 

Secondly, Bannon is very honest in his criticisms of the police. He talks about travelling to a Milwall away game against Middlesbourgh (I could be wrong about the team) and how the home fans spent the entire afternoon hurling fistfuls of concrete at the Milwall fans. Meanwhile the cops did nothing. To make matters worse the police essentially join in with the home fans by wading into the crowd to beat and arrest Milwall fans for little to no reason. He is also very clear about how just generally incompetent the police forces as an organisation often were and likely are.

In light of the ongoing revelations about Hillsborough and other scandals this is particularly interesting.

The politics of it all brings me to my only reservation with the book. Since Running With The Firm is a personal memoir with a tight POV focus we never really get a sense of the wider politics of the football hooliganism. There is little sense of the larger picture of what was going on.

If, a bit like a Michael Lewis book, “Running With The Firm” had done this wider picture stuff as well as the personal stuff I would have no hesitation in declaring Running With The Firm to be a classic. As it is though it is just a very good book. I’d recommend it.

 

 

Review : Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Plot Synopsis (off goodreads because once again I’m lazy)

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

 Review – My problems with Half A King

It’s a bit odd to be reviewing Half A King because, this book isn’t aimed at me it is aimed at a young adult audience. I knew this before I read Half A King of course but didn’t give it much thought. I have really enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s books and it was off that experience that I picked up his latest story.

When it comes to reviewing the book however I find myself in a cleft stick. How much should my opinion be changed by the fact that the book is aimed towards 10-14 years olds. Even when I started writing this paragraph my thought was that I should make a hefty allowance for this. However, I have changed my mind as I write. So here it is.

It think it was JK Rowling who said that to write for children you need to have a very clear idea of what it was to be like at that age. I’m not sure that Joe Abercrombie does or at least he has underestimated children and sold himself short with Half A King.

Robin Hobb’s words in her goodreads review get to the heart of my point. Hobbs writes that Half A King had “exceptionally tight focus on the protagonist” that she liked. 

I agree with her and I have no problem with a tight POV. After all I think my Harry Potter love is probably clear from my reference to JK Rowling and Harry Potter also has a tight POV focus.

What Abercrombie does in Half A King though is to allow that tightness to restrict the world building. There are hints to the world at large. For example, Yarvi’s mother is a fiscal genius but slavery seems to play its part in her success. Whilst there is a monotheism v paganism cultural war going on that is only hinted at.

Since Yarvi’s character is so book smart and clever from his time studying to become an advisor to Kings and Queens it would have been great to see Abercrombie clash Yarvi’s “book” knowledge against reality where the hoof meets the grass. Particularly in light of the hinted upon slavery. This wouldn’t need to be done by beating the reader over the head with the point. I would have just liked to have been given a broader snapshot of the world as a whole.

Ultimately, the lack of ambition in Half A King prevents a very good readable novel from being a young adult classic. The best children/young adult books stretch their readers in a way that I don’t think Half A King ever quite manages.

Abercrombie seems to have reigned himself in when he was writing Half A King when instead, to write for young adults, he should have been letting his imagination soar.

What Half A King did well

After those critical comments I feel I must temper things somewhat by saying I did enjoy Half  A King a lot. I breezed through it in less than a couple of nights of reading and I only do this when I’m enjoying a book.

Particularly, great was the depth to the characters. Everyone has real flaws and real positives. Whether they are a hero or a villian. There were no Mary Sue’s here which is more than can be said for other books.

Despite, being the protagonist Yarvi’s can be a ruthless unsentimental b***ard and the book does shy away from this. Such touches have always been Abercrombie’s biggest strength as a storyteller and their presence keeps the grimdark feel of his earlier works going strong even with the lack of r-rated material.

Conclusion

If you’re an Abercrombie fan looking for a fix or a someone who enjoys “young adult” fiction then give Half A King a go. It’s very good. With a bit more ambition though it could have been great.

 

Review : The Way Of Shadows by Brent Weeks

***SPOILER KLAXON***

Plot Synopsis (from amazon because I’m lazy)

The perfect killer has no friends. Only targets.

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.

Review

Brent Week’s The Way of Shadows had been on my list of things to read for a while. Weeks is one of those “new” writers that you hear about lots if you are reading popular fiction/fantasy and so I began to read “The Way Of Shadows” with if not high expectations then expectations of nonetheless.

After finishing the book I wouldn’t say I was disappointed but I would say I’m nonplussed. The Way Of Shadows is highly generic boilerplate stuff. Readings some reviews on goodreads the sentiments seem to be that people either love it or hate it. I however am firmly down the middle. It is not great and it isn’t awful. 

Essentially, The Way of Shadows mixes the well trodden coming of age story (think Enders Game or Harry Potter) with the kind of grimdark nasty  gritty fantasy that Joe Abercrombie has popularised. After reading The Way of Shadows I’m not sure the two are a good mix (although I may change my mind once I’ve read Joe Abercrombie’s “Half a King”).

The book starts off really strongly. The bad guy character, Rat, is rapist and a sadist. In other words a throughally reprehensible individual. When Azoth “kills” Rat you don’t feel any sympathy for Rat. Even better whilst doing this it establishes some key facets of Azoth’s and Durzo Blinth’s personalities. Azoth loves Doll Girl and is essentially a good guy even if he is apprenticed to an assassin and Durzo Blinth is tortured by demons.

This promising start is wasted however. Weeks seems to want to place Azoth on a downward path because of the work he is doing as a “wetboy” however there is no real change in Azoth’s character. He becomes more skilled at being an assassin. He pines after Doll Girl from afar but throughout it all he remains essentially a heroic figure. Azoth doesn’t have many character flaws except caring too much despite Blint telling him love is a noose. If I’m being harsh Azoth isn’t far from being a Marty Stu.

Now Azoth’s characterization may not be especially daring but you can’t say that it is not a winning formula. The heroes journey is a well trodden path and by having the book told from Azoth’s POV the reader is allowed to learn about the world as Azoth does.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, the exposition of the world is rather clunky. Plot twists don’t surprise because, you had all the relevant information and didn’t see it coming rather they leap out from nowhere and the relevant information is filled in very quickly right afterwards. This is not satisfying.  

More than this though the grimdark stuff i.e. swearing, talk about castration doesn’t fit in nicely with the nicey nice heroes coming of age story. It goes back to what I said earlier about needing to see the characters shaped by the world they are living in.

Initially Weeks does this with Azoth. Azoth is living on the streets and is desperate. As a result Azoth strives and succeeds in becoming Blint’s apprentice. After this beginning though Azoth in particular is just too nice and one dimensional. I never got the sense that his fear of Blint or fear of the streets was driving him become an assassin. I never got the sense that Azoth was staring into the abyss. When this subject is talked about with Doll Girl all Azoth essentially does is say I’m a good guy and this is accepted.

The Way of Shadows felt very much like someone’s first novel. The book is too generic in some places and then not generic enough in other places. Furthermore, if you are going to set your novel in a crapsack world filled with suffering then I need to feel that the main character has been effected by this suffering. This never happened with Azoth and as such The Way of Shadows never really did it for me.

In the end though despite all the criticism I’ve heaped on it I would give The Way Of Shadows three out of five stars. There is good stuff in there but it is hard to find. Plus magic ninja assassin are inherently cool.   When he wrote this Weeks hadn’t yet found his voice. When/if I read another Weeks book I will be interested to see how his talents have developed.

 

 

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy is the big budget Farscape film I’ve always wanted

***SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON ***

So in keeping with my self-imposed quest to fill this blog with nothing but the latest film reviews I bring you what is no doubt going to be, or at least deserves to be, the biggest blockbuster of the summer.

Right off the bat Guardians of the Galaxy had me on side. Why you ask? From the trailer I’ve seen the movie hasn’t been spoiled. Unlike say the Avengers where the trailer showed the Hulk catching a falling Iron Man the trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy gave little to none of the plot away. Instead the trailers focused on introducing the characters and the tone of the film.  Let us hope this begins a new trend for trailers.

If you were unaware then Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter “Starlord” Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket (the racoon although I wouldn’t recommend calling him that to his face) as they first fight over an intergalatic orb of world destroying power, then they join forces to escape space prison, try to sell orb to “The Collector” and then complete the transition to heroes/friends by joining forces to stop the genocidal Ronan from committing genocide on a galaxy wide scale.

As you might guess from that brief synopsis the plot isn’t anything fancy. We aren’t talking about Momento here. Things are pretty much just a linear progression from A to B to C to D.

The thing is though this doesn’t matter because, unlike hundreds of other awful films Guardians of the Galaxy goes from A to B to C to D at 10,000 miles per hours in an adventure that is crammed with actions scenes, genuine laugh out loud moments and characters that have there own unique and believable motivations. Plus thanks to the walkman that Starlord carries with him everywhere the film has a jazzy 1970/80s upbeat pop score.

No doubt Guardians of the Galaxy is being compared to the original Star Wars and Firefly but a more accurate comparison for Guardians of the Galaxy is to the late great sci-fi series Farscape. The characters, tone, humour and vision of space are all much closer to Farscape than Star Wars or Firefly and I loved it.

Like Farscape there are great setpieces (although Guardians of the Galaxy has much better effects). Like Farscape there are humourous moments that border on the adult and like Farscape there is believable violence. We actually get to see alien blood something which apparently was cut from the Avengers to stop it receiving an 18 rating. Even the characters kind out fit into the Farscape archetypes.

Witness

Gomara is Aeryn Sun (Kickass love interest) Aeryn Sun

gomara

Rocket Racoon is Rygel (mouthy ass with heart of gold)

rocketDominar Rygel XVI

Drax is D’Argo (angry warrior wanting vengeance)

draxd'argo

Groot is Moya (clever non-verbal being that protects them)

groot moya

Ronan is Scorpios (scary bad guy)

ronan scorpio

and Peter Quill is John Crichton (cocky hero)

quill crichtongun

Aside from the humour, action and Farscapeiness Guardians of the Galaxy does a good job of pulling back and giving a better understanding of the scale of the Marvel universe. In particular it was great to see them begin to set up what a huge and scary villain Thanos is. In many previous Marvel movies the villains have been pretty flat characters (with the exception of Loci) and this always robbed them of being properly menacing.

In the interests of being fair and balanced (although not in a Fox News sort of way) though I must criticise one thing about Guardians of the Galaxy and that is Glenn Close’s character. Glenn Close is a great actor. She was great in The Shield she was great in Damages. In Guardians of the Galaxy though her, thankfully, brief appearances on the screen brought the film to a screeching halt. She didn’t seem to be sure whether she was playing her role for laughs or playing it straight. Furthermore, she did not seem to want to be there. Glenn Close was doing the good old cash grab in a film that everyone else seemed to be really trying in and it annoyed me.

Overall, then Guardians of the Galaxy is a very good to great film. I saw it in 2-D but I kind of think the visuals were so good that it would be worth seeing it in 3D (and that is high praise because 3D is a mostly rubbish Glenn Close style cash grab). For me Guardians of the Galaxy is now the benchmark of success for future Marvel pictures. I had a great time watching it.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Utopia Season Two

***SPOILER KLAXON***

It’s been a good long while since I have reviewed any TV on the blog so I thought I would make up for this by reviewing three shows in posts over the next few days. The lucky or unlucky or in reality luck neutral shows that I’m going to review are Channel 4’s Utopia, Amazon’s extant and BBC’s The Honourable Woman. I will kick things off with Utopia (at this point the reader should hum some catchy dubstep to themselves)

utopia

If there is going to be a recurring theme to this posting it is a lack of originality and my ensuing disappointment.

For those of you who missed it last time Utopia is a British science fiction drama. After a somewhat original season one Utopia is getting its inevitable US reboot and of course the original UK version is currently airing its entirely unnecessary second season. In order to cash in on the success of the first.

For those of you who missed the first season a brief synopsis is needed for orientation. Originally, I had a nice two paragraph synopsis here but it didn’t flow very well either because, I’m a poor writer or because the plot of Utopia is too crazy to easily explain. So instead here is channel four’s official Utopia Season One in Three Minutes.

Now onto the review!

This new season has exposed for me “Utopia’s” crippling lack of depth. The striking aspect of series one was how the funky music and the alarming bright colours mixed with the OTT violence to give things a cartoon feel. It was a fresh interesting aesthetic that I really enjoyed. Also when combined with the “what the hell is going on?” narrative hook it made for an enjoyable first season.

With the “what the hell is going on?”/mystery factor settled though (we know what the Network wants to do) the lack of depth to any characters becomes very apparent and very grating. Utopia comes across as something written by a precocious teenage boy who has a thing for manic pixie dream girls.

The corollary to this teenageryness is insufferable manner in which the writers are trying to justify the things the bad guys are doing. Murder on a massive scale is seen as the stuff that noble moral characters do because it is necessary and don’t you just know the necessary acts weigh heavily on their soul. Murder/ genocide is thus alright. We shouldn’t hate the characters or at least the writers don’t seem to.

In Utopia the ends justify the means in the most crass way. In the world of Utopia overpopulation is going to lead to huge wars and mass death even perhaps the extinction of the human race. In the face of this threat no action is too extreme, no action is off limits.

What makes this particularly annoying though is that the authors obviously intend this as a stark warning to the real world. And there is nothing I detest more than whiny politic statement convinced of its righteous.

Personally, though I suspect they are over-egging the pudding. Malthusian predictions of apocalypse have long been the scientific equivalent of “endtime” speak. Even if we accept Utopia’s scenario though the logic of the series doesn’t hold.

You see The Network has been spending billions of pounds/ dollars and rubles and billion of man hours developing the Janus virus. Janus will reduce the worldwide human population to about 500 million. Now there are much cheaper, easier and more effect ways to achieve this. For example, education and the mass distribution of contraceptives coupled with investment in clean energy tech and new farming techniques (i.e. grow meat in petri dishes). Given their resources, political control and the fact that they only want to kill because it is necessary these acts shouldn’t be a problem for The Network. They should embrace them wholesale.

None of this is sexy however, it isn’t an edgy TV show. This is the crux of the matter of course. Sometimes cool ideas like Terminator or Jurassic Park are made just because they are cool ideas. The plausibility of the story doesn’t matter. Give me Robot Arnie riding a T-Rex and I’m there.

The difference is that Jurassic Park, Terminator and my upcoming Jurassic Park/Terminator fanfiction got away with their silly ideas because, they were executed really well. Utopia doesn’t do this. The two dimensionality of its characters don’t allow it to.

The second season of Utopia is a real let down that has tainted my enjoyment of the first. It is not on the same level but the following point is analogous. Tarantino said of the Matrix sequels that they ruined the mythology of the first film for him. Well, this second season of Utopia had the same effect.

Review of I am the Secret Footballer and Tales from the Secret Footballer

secret

So this is technically a review of two books; “I am the Secret Footballer” and “Tales from the Secret Footballer”. Since they are both written by the same mysterious author (cough* almost certainly Dave Kitson *cough) and both are dealing with the exact same subject matter I am going to review them together. Essentially, “I am the Secret Footballer” and “Tales from the Secret Footballer” are almost completely interchangeable and to review one is to review the other.

Years ago after reading the fantastic “All Too Human” by George Stephanopoulos I remember reading an amazon review that felt the book wasn’t very good and could simply be reduced to the machine chewing up and spitting out Stephanopoulos causing his retirement from the White House due to ill-health.

In my opinion this is a huge injustice to what is a great political memoir that actually gave me an insight into what its like to serve as an advisor to the President of the United States but it applies very nicely to “I am the Secret Footballer” and “Tales from the Secret Footballer”

To explain why I feel this it is best to start with the titular authors own words with a lenghty(ish) quotation that can serve as a manifesto for the books.

If you want to know the truth about how modern football works the “only way you would ever find out the answers to many of these questions is to read a book that was written in anonymity by a player who has played at the highest level. In this book, I will try to explain how football really works, away from the prying eyes of the outside, by drawing on my own experiences. Many of the stories I shouldn’t be telling you about . But I will.”

Essentially then the Secret Footballer (TSF) is promising to give us an insight into the truth behind how football works.

For a sports and football fan like myself this is like manna from heaven. I’d love to get the unvarnished account of how such and such player felt as they went onto the pitch for this relegation clash or what there opinion was on another star player.

TSF feels able to do this because, he is anonymous. In fact his very anonymity is an implicit promise to go further than any standard autobiography. The thing is thought this anonymity removes context and ultimately robs his revelations of all interest. Due to the self-imposed anonimity TSF can’t say I was playing for this club at this time we were fighting relegation and had a must win match against Manchester United coming up and whilst this was going on the dressing room was feeling this way. To do this would rumble the secret.

As a result the discussion about football become “lads” stories about how this group of players got pissed and did something stupid. The thing is though other than the budget and potentially media attention these escapades aren’t qualitatively different to stuff any fresher at university does. In fact, perhaps because of the money, they are much less imaginative. Furthermore, I don’t really care about stories like this even if the TSF is occasionally quite amusing.

If this was all that happened then TSF would be an average and forgettable quick read. Where it moves beyond this and I begin to get exasperated though is in the depressing almost whiney tone that TSF’s anonymity allows him to wallow in.

On the one had the TSF opens up that he has battled depression and this opening up is entirely commendable. I have no problem with sportspeople (or anybody else) suffering from depression. By putting his experiences in such stark terms TSF has undoubtedly moved the cause of accepting mental illness further forward and this is a good thing.

In terms of writing an anonymous book though having a depressed slightly embittered author does not make for the best read.

You see TSF is very much out of love with the professional game. He hates it. He has seen how players, coaches, chairmen and agents are driven by cash and he finds it all distasteful. It is after all in this environment that he began suffered depression it is understandable that he doesn’t like it.

TSF then vents his spleen at any number of things especially the fans. Fans don’t know what goes on and are abusive and nasty to him. I understand why he finds people chanting nasty things at him distasteful it cannot be a nice experience I can also happily say it is not something I have ever felt the need to do at a football match.

Because, the author is anonymous though these grievances become a moaney tirade which due to his anonymity he cannot be called on. Furthermore, since woisthesecretfootballer.com has essentially (in my mind) proven that Dave Kitson is TSF some of his claims about what a great player was are fairly hilarious.

If a professional footballer like Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Alex Bruce gave this woe is me soliloquy he would be told to sit down and shut up because, when you get down to it footballers train for two hours a day, play two games a week and are paid an amount of money that isn’t a good allocation of resources for society as a whole. It is an incredibly easy life especially given how sheltered and pamper footballers are.

TSF doesn’t acknowledge this aspect however and as such his constant Debbie Downer statements about the beautiful game get tiring very quickly.

The TSF’s claim to reveal the truth about football never quite happens and ultimately the whole TSF persona is essentially a very clever marketing technique. Had TSF put out the exact same book in his own name (lets set side issues of libel for now) the level of interest would have been tiny by comparison.

In the end I enjoyed about half of each book before the moaning became too much. Since I got each book on the kindle daily deal for 99p this didn’t bother me at all. If I had paid full price however, I wouldn’t be happy.

As it is if you are interested in sports I would recommend reading one of these books provided you can get it on the cheap. Otherwise avoid or just read a column on his website.

Review of Silkworm by Robert Galbraith AKA J K Rowling (Obligatory SPOILER KLAXON)

silkwormSo this is the second book of the Cormoran Strike detective novels written by J K Rowling under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith.

I’m a big Harry Potter fan and I really enjoyed the first book Cuckoo’s Calling. I like to think that had I read Cuckoo’s Calling before Galbraith was unmasked I would have suspected something because, Rowling’s distinctive writing style is very evident throughout both books.

On to the book then. Silkworm picks up some months after the events of Cuckoo’s Calling. Strike’s financial pressures have lessened somewhat and Robin is now working full time as his secretary/detective.

Strike however is unfulfilled at spending his time trailing philanderers and divorcees and finds himself compelled to dive into the search for missing writer Owen Quine. To no reader’s surprise Quine turns up brutally murdered and now Strike is investigating a murder.

Overall, I have conflicted feelings about the mystery hook in Silkworm.

On the one hand I don’t think it is as good as the locked room mystery in the first book. The murder takes a long time to occur and a lot of the intrigue centers on who had access to the manuscript and when. This just isn’t as tense and gripping as the events of book one and without a single scene to keep track of the list of suspects seems rather diffuse.

It is possible that some of the reason why I think this though is because, Rowling pulled her favourite trick of hiding a crucial detail in plain sight early on and I missed it.

So what I’m saying is my opinion might have been swayed by the annoyance of falling for the same thing that Rowling has done numerous times in her other books (believe it or not but as a child reading Potter I tended to pick up on these things so I guess I’m getting dumber).

If the murder mystery is solid but unspectacular however this is more than made up for by the characters.

The character’s relationship troubles, friendships, likes and dislikes are realistic and each character in the book from a put upon waitress to the murder suspects feels like a real person.  When you compare this to the cut and paste 2D characters in the critically lauded “The Shadow of the Wind” you really get a sense of why Rowling/Galbraith’s books are so good and enjoyable.

Silkworm isn’t a classic but it is a very readable novel. Furthermore, the slow reveal of character back story offers some truly great possibilities for murder and mayhem in later books. I would recommend this book and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Review of Edge of Tomorrow (SPOILER KLAXON)

So In keeping with my quest to populate this blog with nothing but the most up to date of morsels of film entertainment I bring to you my review of the Edge of the Tomorrow which is still hanging in there on the big screen.

When I first saw the trailer for “Edge of Tomorrow” I dismissed the film as being firmly in the “do not see” camp. The trailer was poor and Tom Cruise films tend to be far more miss than hit.

How did I end up writing this review then?

A large amount of the reason was word of mouth buzz. People kept telling me it was very good.

The clincher though was when I learnt that Tom Cruises character (Cage) is initially at least an incompetent jerk. Typically, with your big stars they play the same perfect character everytime. There may be a token flaw like alcoholism or (the good old standby) they just caring too damn much but in reality they are just playing the same perfect protagonist every time. Or if they are Nicolas Cage the same crazy protagonist every time.

Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t fall into this trap though. Cruise’s character is a liar and a coward. He ends up on the frontlines very much against his will and spends the first quarter of the film attempting the wriggle out of it.

This then sets up what is the key strength of the film Cage’s character arch in which he actually grows and changes throughout the film.

Combine this character arch with a well written script and action/CGI that borrows heavily from sci-fi classics like “Dune”, “Final Fantasy 7”, “The Matrix” and “Starship Troopers” and you have a winner.

In truth there is nothing ground breaking about Edge of Tomorrow but it does what it does very well with minimal saccharine Hollywood rubbish. Plus any film that heartlessly and brutally executes Tom Cruise over and over again is a winner in my book.

I’ve seen most of the big sci-fi/blockbuster releases this year and I would say that Edge of Tomorrow is better than any of them. Do you agree? Vote for you favourite below.

Review of Sunderland : A Club Transformed by Jonathan Wilson

sunderlandThis isn’t a long book and yet it took me three or four months to finish it (that should kinda tell you everything) and to be honest if I hadn’t been left on a broken down train with nothing else to read on a my kindle I doubt I would have ever bothered.

I picked up the book on the reputation of the author and out of the desire to get some sort of inside view of Roy Keane’s tenure at the Stadium of Light. Keane afterall took Sunderland from the relegation zone to Champions in less then a season. Couple that story with Keane’s notorious personality and there should be the makings of a good book.

I was hoping it would be something along the lines of Daniel Taylor’s “This is the one”. For that book Taylor was clearly covering Manchester United in real time and giving the presses view of the action. It was well written, exciting and had interesting football related insights. In short it was everything one might want in a football related book.

In “Sunderland : A Club Transformed” there is none of that. There are lots of dull match reports you could get online and little insight beyond that of the blog of a casual fan (yes I do see the potential for hypocrisy and/or irony). Instead much of the book is taken up with dull teenageresque prognostications about the role of football in a post-industrial society and “fun” facts about the city of Sunderland.

A real disappointment. Avoid unless you want to know that for much of the last 60 years Sunderland was the biggest city in Europe without a cinema. Spoiler alert at the end of the book it is revealed that in 2004 Sunderland finally got a cinema of its own!

Should Cook stay on as England Captain?

cookLet’s start with some obvious points. When England captain Alastair Cook is in form he makes beating England in a Test Match a very difficult proposition.

He may not be a cricketer like Gayle, Sehwag or (he who must not be named) Pietersen who can single-handedly take the game away from the opposition in a session but his ability to occupy the crease and score ‘daddy’ hundreds makes him a great Test Match cricketer.

Cook’s centuries against India in 2012 guided England from 1-0 down in the series to an improbable 2-1 win.  Plus, last summer he guided England to a 3-0 victory in the Ashes. These things shouldn’t be forgotten.

An equally obvious point however, is that he is out of form and a rather poor Captain. Cook hasn’t scored a test match century since his 130 against New Zealand in May 2013.

Since then Cook has failed to make a century in 24 attempts. Even more worryingly Cook has only failed to get a start (less than 15 runs) on 9 occasions. It’s not that Cook is getting out before he can get in. He is getting set at the wicket and losing his wicket cheaply time and time again.

Now most Captain’s struggle with form at some point during their tenure and it is clear that Cook’s form is suffering due to his captaincy responsibilities. Vaughan and Strauss both had long runs of poor form during the time in which they were Captain. Vaughan in particular though offered lots of leadership and nouse on the pitch.

With respect to Cook, who seems like a nice guy, his captaincy skills are truly sub-par. He fails to motivate players to play for him. Pietersen has been kicked off the team because, he apparently wasn’t bothered. Well, isn’t the role of the Captain to make players care? Swann similarly, couldn’t find the motivation to continue to play for Cook after he left mid Ashes.

If you watched the game against Sri Lanka today this pattern of poor leadership continued. The England players didn’t seem to care. They were supposedly trying to bowl a team out to win a test match and a series but there was no energy on the pitch and the field layouts were poor. Anderson for instance was bowling to fields which allowed Sri Lanka’s number 9 batsman Herath to smack for boundaries at will.

England now haven’t won a Test Match in 7, losing 6 and drawing one. In this time England have spent more time looking clueless than an amnesiac trying to do algebra whilst remembering their birthday.

This brings us to the obvious question then Can Cook stay on as England captain?