The Source by Sarah Sultoon

From the PR: “1996. Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak…

2006. London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse at an army base a decade earlier. As the lives of these two characters intertwine around a single, defining event, a series of utterly chilling experiences is revealed, sparking a nail-biting race to find the truth… and justice. A tense, startling and unforgettable thriller, The Source is a story about survival, about hopes and dreams, about power, abuse and resilience.”

Where to start when talking about The Source? I think it’s safe to start with just how different a novel this turned out to be compared to what I was expecting after the first chapter.

The Source gets off to one hell of a beginning with an investigative news team getting the inside line on the child sex trade (it’s not a novel for the faint at heart), a dramatic game of cat and mouse and escape that had me thinking I knew where this was going.

And then it changed tact and, I’ll be honest I was starting to wonder where the novel was going to take us but then… then there’s a precise moment – and I don’t want to give away what that is for risk of spoiling the story – at which the penny drops on where the Carly story line is going which just so happens to coincide with the tempo in the Marie narrative switching up a gear, and then this book doesn’t let go. It’s a massively compelling read and it really is a case of not wanting to miss a moment and see how the two narratives collide.

Sarah Sultoon has written an intricately plotted and unflinching novel that manages the not so mean feat of tackling hugely sensitive and shocking subject matter (grooming, abuse of power and neglect) and still delivering a novel that’s addictive and full of heart. A bloody fine read.

You know this is fiction and yet you also know that there are far too many instances in which it mirrors events that happened and the author is able to carefully portray these without going to far, expertly walking that thin line of leading us to it without actually showing us the events – skilfully pulling emotions from the reader without exploitation. it makes it unbelievably affecting and powerful.

The characters are what will make or break a story that tackles such a barrel of gunpowder like subject and with The Source Sarah Sultoon has given us a great set of characters – each with their own set of revelations and watching as they navigate the perilous turns of The Source is what makes it so compelling as it throws them and the reader through the emotional wringer. And it is a real gamut run of emotions, from frustrated anger to gut-punch ‘oh no’ moments, set against a plot line that’s equally edge of seat reading.

A stunning debut that pulls no punches and succeeds on my levels, The Source is a great read. My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy of The Source and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Bad Day in Minsk by Jonathan Pinnock

From the PR: “Tom Winscombe is having a bad day. Trapped at the top of the tallest building in Minsk while a lethal battle between several mafia factions plays out beneath him, he contemplates the sequence of events that brought him here, starting with the botched raid on a secretive think tank and ending up in the middle of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

More importantly, he wonders how he’s going to get out of this alive when the oneperson who can help is currently not speaking to him. Join Tom and a cast of disreputable and downright dangerous characters in this witty
thriller set in a murky world of murder, mystery and complex equations.”

I’ll be honest, reading that description alone felt like a case of ‘this book is bang up your alley’ so it was an immediate ‘yes please.’

Turns out that Bad Day In Minsk is in fact the fourth of Jonathan Pinnock’s ‘mathematical mystery’ series featuring Tom Winscombe but, as the author points out – ‘being a reasonably conscientious sort of person, Tom does his best to paraphrase what has happened in the previous books.’ While I do now want to go back and read the previous three books that’s not down to needing details filling in more down to the fact it more than works as a stand alone novel and that I enjoyed Bad Day in Minsk so much.

That’s because Bad Day in Minsk is indeed right up my alley – a ridiculously madcap and superbly plotted story that zips along at a cracking pace, taking in an escape from a prison camp in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, kidnapping, murder, home-made vodka, a massive battle between Belarus’ mafia factions, an escape from the top of a burning building, plenty of twists, turns and – fittingly – chaos theory.

There are some brilliantly surreal and, frankly, hilarious moments throughout Bad Day In Minsk as Tom tries to make sense of it all and stumbles into increasingly bizarre and perilous situations. The pairing of such outlandish circumstance with the Tom’s character – the absurdity of a PR exec tearing through Belarus in a violent pursuit of dangerous mathematical papers is never lost on our protagonist – make for a hugely compelling romp.

An engaging and addictive read full of great characters and wit, I barrelled through Bad Day in Minsk and enjoyed every moment.

My thanks to Farrago / Duckworth Books for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review and take part in this blog tour.

Facets of Death by Michael Stanley

From the PR: “Recruited straight from university to Botswana’s CID, David ‘Kubu’
Bengu has raised his colleagues’ suspicions with his meteoric rise within the department, and he has a lot to prove.

When the richest diamond mine in the world is robbed of 100,000 carats worth of gems, and the thieves are found, executed, Kubu leaps at the chance to prove himself. First he must find the diamonds – and it seems that a witch doctor and his son have a part to play.

Does this young detective have the skill and integrity to engineer an international trap? Or could it cost him everything?”

It feels like it’s been way too long since a new Detective Kubu novel arrived on my shelves. Whenever one does I know for a fact that I’m going to love every second of it and Facets of Death delighted on every page.

Reading the work of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip (writing as Michael Stanley) is always a genuine delight and, as much as I enjoyed Dead of the Night, Detective Kubu is one of my favourite characters – I’m sure I’ve said it before but in David ‘Kubu’ Bengu, Sears and Trollip have created a character I could read all day every day and never get bored.

Facets of Death takes us back in time to 1998 and Kubu’s first week on the job, it’s a strange sensation – seeing our old friend starting out, finding his way and putting his foot in it. We know where Kubu will end up down the road but it’s great fun watching him get started – whether it’s learning the kind of questions to ask, the importance of biting your tongue or forming new relationships.

Thankfully there’s none of that dreaded false jeopardy that often plague ‘prequel’ novels as, for one thing, this seems more about showing the experiences that informed the detective Kubu would become rather than using a younger model to punch in a more lively manner and, for another, Messrs Sears and Trollip are too busy laying out a ridiculously good plot and mystery.

Facets of Death kicks off with a taught and gripping heist then gradually unfolds into a brilliantly crafted and complex mystery that left me guessing to the end. From the initial heist, violent murders, setups and, of course, the influence of witch doctors, there are so many facets to the story that it’s a real joy as all the elements are expertly lined up and pieced together.

Once again populated with convincing characters, evocatively detailed and deliciously rooted in Botswana and its traditions, Facets of Death is a joyously rewarding read and another rich addition to Detective Kubu series.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy of Facets of Death and to Anne Cater for inviting me to join the blog tour.

Bound by Vanda Symon

From the PR: “The passionate, young police officer Sam Shephard returns in a taut, atmospheric and compelling police procedural, which sees her take matters into her own hands when the official investigation into the murder of a local businessman fails to add up…

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters. The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas.

Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation. And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it ’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.”

It’s hard to start a review of a Vanda Symon book chiefly because her cold openers are so astoundingly good – I can’t think of many authors that have such an ability with those immediate hooks. Not just that but the rest of Bound is also bloody good too, delivering on that opening with an addictive and brilliantly written story.

It’s one of those where ‘just one more chapter’ is impossible. It’s no mean feat – to deliver such a powerful opening scene and keep the reader consistently hooked throughout yet Bound does just that.

This is a wonderfully plotted novel with characters that live, breath and walk off the pages so well portrayed are they. There’s a lot going on within Bound‘s 260 or so pages – a brutal execution, drug trafficking and organised crime, a policeman hell bent on revenge and Sam’s own personal and professional turmoil – yet at no point does it feel like there’s too much; Vanda Symon’s prose style one of calm and gentle build that pulls you in deep.

Bound isn’t a “rip along at 100mph and kick down every door to find the truth, damn it” novel (though there is a cracking car chase scene), it’s a more intelligent and slow burn of a plot with a whopper of a reveal that’ll leave you thinking for some time after finishing. Just what would you do in the name of ‘love’? There seems to be a lot of extreme answers in this one. A compelling and hugely satisfying read.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy of Bound and to Anne Cater for inviting me take part in the blog tour for this cracking book.

Currently spinning: the new, the coming and the anticipated

It’s been a minute since I dropped a ‘here’s what I’m hearing’ post but there’s no time like the present so, in the immortal words of Marvin Gaye: let’s get it on.

Mogwai – To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate The Earth

New albums from Mogwai are always gonna be warmly received by me – be it soundtrack or studio – but this year’s As the Love Continues is one of their finest in years. Its’ so fucking good. In fact this, the first track on the album, is good it got my normally ‘post-rock ambivalent’ wife into the album. Just a stunning effort from the band, no doubt helped by the lack of distractions being in lockdown gave them and an easy Best Album of 2021 contender already.

Dinosaur Jr – I Ran Away

Well – another probable contender for that title is already on the way! Dinosaur Jr recently announced their new album Sweep It Into Space is en route (and pre-ordered by me of course). A new slab of Dinosaur Jr is plenty of reason to pay attention (see this post for more proof) but the new one is produced with Kurt Vile and features him on 12-string apparently. It’s the band’s first since 2016.  Can’t wait!

Ben Howard – What A Day

Well, here we are with another hotly-anticipated (by me) album. Ben Howard has been a real mainstay on my stereo for years, there’s something about the vibe he taps into that’s just right up my street. His new album – Collections From the Whiteout –  is produced with The National’s Aaron Dessner – and songs dropped so far feel like a lighter, though no-less adventurous sound than his last album

Jaguar Sun – The Heart

You know Spotify certainly has its drawbacks but it can also lead to great discoveries too. I stumbled by pure chance – having been listening to that fucking great Bleachers tune ‘chinatown’ which features Bruce Springsteen – a few weeks back into a playlist it was recommending me called ‘Dream Pop’ – a genre I hadn’t really paid attention to. What a fucking muppet. There’s so much gold in there that hits so may buttons for me that I’ve spent a long time immersed in it every evening and just drifting off like I’m wrapped in shimmering clouds, man. This Jaguar Sun dude has some great stuff but ‘The Heart’ is the one that I keep finding myself humming.

Philip Sayce – Black Roller Coming

Oh dude – getting back to the grittier guitars and electric blues crunch just in case you worried. I caught a Philip Sayce last year and his album Spirit Rising got a load of plays last year and into this. Loads of that sweet guitar tone and rip for when it needs turning up load.

R.E.M – So Fast So Numb

Even if they’re no longer active as a band in the traditional sense, R.E.M have been outstanding in celebrating the anniversaries of their albums with beefed up takes on all bang on their 25th Anniversary with notable beefed-up editions of their Warner Bros albums especially. This year marks 25 years since the release of my favourite R.E.M album New Adventures in Hi-Fi and I’m eagerly anticipating news of a similar treatment  for it, especially as getting the original on vinyl is pretty priced way out of likelihood.

Pixies – Alec Eiffel

As much as I love new Pixies music arriving, they’re another band that are aware of their legacy and the value it has to fans and have treated us to similar revisiting of their albums, albeit on their 30th anniversary. Expanded takes on Dolittle and Come on Pilgrim… It’s Surfer Rosa were treasure troves of additional material while last year’s Bossanova was a great pressing of a classic. This year marks 30 (shocking) years since the last album in their initial run – Trompe Le Monde and another I’m in eager anticipation for.

 

Side note: while we’re talking new music and spins… I heard the new Foo Fighters album and fell asleep. I’ll leave it at that.

Hotel Cartagena by Simone Bucholz

From the PR: “Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage.

Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life – and family – have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.

With the police looking on from outside – their colleagues’ lives at stake – and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation … and a devastating outcome for the team … all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.

Crackling with energy and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, Hotel Cartagena is a searing, stunning thriller that will leave you breathless.”

Here we are with Hotel Cartagena and while I’m only a few novels deep into Simone Buchholz’ Chastity Riley series by now I’m gonna kick this review off by saying this is the best one yet!

There’s nothing on my shelves that really compares – or competes – with Buchholz’ narrative prowess. It at once recalls Ellroy’s telegraph style and grit while bringing it up to date with a proverbial kick up the arse in terms of sentiment and pace. Buchholz has a fantastic ability to convey a massive swathe of emotion and personality with the minimum of keyboard strokes and reading her work is always an absolute blast of joy – it’s one of those novels where you’re marvelling at both technique and plot and relishing every second.

Oh yeah, plot: this one’s an absolute belter. I won’t give too many details here so as not to spoil but as both the blurb and cover point out – the bar takeover and hostage situation is driven by a bid for revenge and the story leading up to it.. holy shit what a story! ‘Riveted’ isn’t the word, doesn’t do it justice – once that story line hooked me I couldn’t put it down.

There’s the joyously addictive, slow burning Henning story, the drama as the hostage situation and Chastity’s unravelling as her sepsis sneaks in, and then Ivo stuck outside the hotel and unravelling almost as fast… there’s a lot of great stuff to get your teeth into in this sharp and powerful thriller. Oh, and a climax that’ll leave your gob open.

Hotel Cartagena is another brilliantly written and plotted slab of the great stuff by Simone Buchholz and I heartily recommend getting stuck in at your soonest opportunity.

My thanks as always to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy (and consistently publishing such cracking work) and to Anne Cater for asking me to take part in this blog tour.

A Long Way from Douala by Max Lobe

From the PR: “On the trail of Roger, a brother who has gone north in search of football fame in Europe, Choupi, the narrator, takes with him the older Simon, a neighbourhood friend. The bus trip north nearly ends in disaster when, at a pit stop, Simon goes wandering in search of grilled caterpillars. At the police station in Yaoundé, the local cop tells them that a feckless ‘boza’ – a loser who wants to go to Europe is not worth police effort and their mother should go and pleasure the police chief if she wants help!

Through a series of joyful sparky vignettes, Cameroon life is revealed in all its ups and downs. Issues of life and death are raised but the tone remains light and edgy. Important issues of violence, terrorism, homosexuality and migration feature in A Long Way from Douala.”

I’m delighted to not only be taking part in the blog tour for A Long Way From Douala but to also be the first port of call. So let’s start off with a quick statement: this is a hell of a good book. In fact it’s bloody brilliant.

I went into A Long Way From Douala with no expectations and a whole lot of curiosity, never having read a novel by an author from or set in Cameroon. I was blown away by this deceptively slim book and loved every second of it.

Through a series of vignettes and flashbacks that are at times both brilliantly funny and immensely touching and evocative, A Long Way From Douala is a richly detailed story that delivers a real insight into life in Cameroon.

There are so many little details and moments in Choupi and Simon’s journey that left me agog that I know I’ll be going back to this one for another read. Whether it’s the dealings with local police, unexplained train stops punctuated by the sound of gunshots in the dark of night, or even the local ‘red light district’ there’s so many of these nuggets of Cameroonian life that it really immerses the reader in its world.

Max Lobe describes both the boys’ journey, his characters and their environs with a genuine warmth and lightness of tone that makes sure the narrative moves along at a brilliant pace that manages to bound along while never feeling rushed – even if the boys are trying to catch Roger.

Beyond the humour and warmth in the narrative though, A Long Way From Douala touches on many serious and issues that face Cameroonians on a daily basis from corruption and violence to the threat of increasing Boko Harum raids from across the border and, of course, the danger so many face in their pursuit of a better life by leaving Cameroon as they – like Roger – seek ‘Boza’; an expression used by central and West African migrants attempting to reach Europe when the cross the border. A genuinely eye-opening read.

This is a brilliant little novel full of life, humour and heart and, like all great small novels, I really wish there was more of it.

My thanks to Hope Road Publishing for my copy of A Long Way From Douala and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

With all the clarity of dream – revisiting On Every Street

“Success I adore. It means I can buy 1959 Gibson Les Pauls and Triumph motorcycles. But I detest fame. It interferes with what you do and has no redeeming features at all.”

Background:

As has been pointed out many a time before and no doubt will be whenever they are written about or discussed, Dire Straits were a great band at the wrong time. A four-piece routed in the classic-rock style emerging from London’s pub-rock scene at a time when punk was holding sway here in the UK, epitomised by John Lydon’s ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt.

Yet one of the reasons Dire Straits are still written about and no doubt will be for some time to come was that they did find success thanks to Mark Knopfler’s fluid, finger-picking guitar style and ability to come up with something as catchy as ‘Sultans of Swing’ on their first outing. ‘Sultans of Swing’ managed to break the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic and their first album, Dire Straits – produced by Steve Winwood’s older brother Muff and released in 1978 – was a similar success.

Less than ten years later, in September 1988 with five albums behind them and after an 18-month tour of 247 sold-out stadium and arena shows, Knopfler – who had taken control of the band completely by the time of 1980’s Making Movies (a move helped along byJimmy Iovine taking him to watch a Springsteen session where everybody called Bruce ‘Boss’) in a move which had seen the departure of his brother David and original drummer Pick Withers – dissolved the band.

All the numbers and constant attention had lost meaning for the band, especially Knopfler who would tell Rolling Stone “”A lot of press reports were saying we were the biggest band in the world. There’s not an accent then on the music, there’s an accent on popularity. I needed a rest.”‘

It was, in hindsight, a pretty appropriate place to call it a day – having risen from an unlikely breakthrough to the millions of sales achieved by Brothers In Arms. Those first five albums are stuffed with great tunes and I’ll happily put any one of them at any time – especially Love Over Gold which is by far and away their finest work even if Brothers In Arms became the monster in terms of sales. And yet they had one more in them..

On Every Street

After Dire Straits we dissolved in ’88,  Mark Knopfler recorded a soundtrack for Last Exit To Brooklyn and formed The Notting Hillbillies, a country-leaning group who released Missing… Presumed Having a Good Time in 1990. It felt like, free of the expectation and incumbent attention given to anything Dire Straits, Knopfler was having, well a good time.

Then, in early 1991, the band – well, bass plater John Illsley, Knopfler and manager Ed Bicknell – met for lunch and decided to reconvene Dire Straits. Just like that, apparently. Personally, I can’t help but feel there was a little more to it than that because the resultant On Every Streets now – having spent more time of it late than I have for years after picking up a copy on cassette for a quid – feels like an album of two halves, a split-personality of an album that not only suffers from the CD bloat that was rife during that era (especially ironic given Brothers In Arms the first album to sell a million copies on that format was a much more concise effort) but also feels like it suffers from a lack of interest  from Knopfler himself across several tracks.

The time of release for On Every Street was as inauspicious as their debut only this time even the band members would admit that, following the album’s tour, “whatever the zeitgeist was that we had been part of, it had passed.” 1991 was also the year of ALT ROCK in deserved big letters – Nevermind, Ten, Badmotorfinger were breaking grunge out of Seattle and U2 had discovered irony and wrap around sunglasses in time for Achtung Baby! It didn’t feel like the time for a new Dire Straits record (any more than, really, 1994 would feel like time for a new Pink Floyd album) but, now, free of the judgement of the time, On Every Street has a lot of good stuff on it. It’s just that, sandwiched between are some real duff moments.

If you look at it almost as an ‘every-other-track’ album, On Every Street carries its weight. I’m starting to wonder if the conversation at that lunch in 1991 was more along of the lines of a record label pointing out that one more album was due and that if Knopfler wanted to keep major-label backing for his solo work, these new songs needed to go out under the Dire Straits name one last time. Or perhaps I’m being cynical – there’s no such statement or quote to attest to this but I can’t shake the feeling that those tracks which feel like Knopfler isn’t giving it his most on are the most ‘Twisting By The Pool’ / ‘Walk of Life’ style blatant attempts at appeasing the expectation of a ‘Dire Straits hit song’. The guiltiest? ‘Heavy Fuel’ and ‘My Parties’. I mean, take just those two off and you’re down to a stronger album already, right?

But, back to the every-other-track / cd bloat theory that’s hiding a stronger album theory.

‘Calling Elvis’ isn’t a bad song, it’s pretty good and Knopfler’s guitar work is understated but lets loose in a way that’s still delicious all these years later. The album’s title track follows and ‘On Every Street’ is a gorgeous tune – subject matter that calls back to ‘Private Investigations’ and a guitar solo that takes over three minutes in that I can listen to daily and still love.

Not only that but ‘Fade to Black’ has a lovely hushed, noir-like low-key vibe with Knoplfer dropping licks aplenty and an organ part that recalls Making Movies in a way. But to get to it you have to skip ‘When It Comes To You’ – a song that’s not the worst on the album but doesn’t really offer much and jars when listened to in flow. Skip over ‘The Bug’ (you only need to hear it once) and you’re back to the gold (as in Love Over) territory again with another stately, brooding and gorgeously played ‘You and Your Friend’. To me it plays like a wonderful hybrid of ‘The Man’s Too Strong’ and ‘Brothers in Arms’ in style and it’s easily a highpoint:

Skip the next track – the easy, low-hanging fruit lyrics of ‘Heavy Fuel’ (“When my ugly big car won’t a-climb this hill, I’ll write a suicide note on a hundred dollar bill”), and move straight on to ‘Iron Hand’, easily one of Knopfler’s finest. From this point, save for ‘My Parties’ which feels like b-side ‘Badges, Posters, Stickers, T-Shirts’, the album remains pretty decent.

That’s the thing that links all the ‘meh’ tracks here whether it’s ‘The Bug’, ‘Heavy Fuel’ or ‘My Parties’ – they all feel like the actual b-sides that were released with the album’s singles. When they were recently made available on Spotify I  was keen to hear but then ‘Kingdom Come’ and ‘Millionaire Blues’ are actually pretty interchangeable with ‘The Bug’ and ‘Heavy Fuel’, even Knopfler’s vocals sound as uncommitted. Which makes me think not only are these tunes that MK could toss off in his sleep but that were it not for CD runtimes and presumed label pressure, they too would’ve been trimmed off.

Back to the good stuff – ‘Ticket To Heaven’ has a much lighter, folkier and almost Celtic touch with a few strings added on and Knopfler’s in great voice (it’s a good signpost for his solo work on The Ragpicker’s Dream). ‘Planet of New Orleans’ is back to the noir-vibe of ‘Fade To Black’ but with extra guitar atmosphere and sax while ‘How Long’ is as obvious a light-hearted and folk-leaning Mark Knopfler solo song as it’s possible to be and serves as a fitting sign-off on the last Dire Straits album while remaining optimistic and hinting at what was to come.

You see, that’s the thing – where it’s really good On Every Street works brilliantly. For a long time Dire Straits had ceased to be the ‘band’ it started out as and had become a vehicle for Knopfler’s song writing with John Illsley along to pluck the bass. At this point Knopfer was leaning to a much different style to that which had proven the biggest ‘hits’ for Dire Straits but there was – and still is – a huge amount of great tunes to be found. Who knows – had On Every Street been allowed to focus on that element, without the filler and the negative reviews it drew as a result, maybe he’d still be releasing albums under the band name rather than his own.

As it was, the album drew lukewarm reviews at best though through a heavy tour schedule (300 shows in two years which were documented on the patch OnThe Night live album) and promotion still shifted 10 million. Knopfler’s second marriage fell apart, the tour was stressful and overblown and reminded all of what caused the first end back in ’88. Thus it was that, in 1992, Knopfler said ‘goodnight’ to 40,000 people in Spain for the last time as Dire Strait’s frontman and stepped into a solo career that has been producing solid solo albums and soundtracks since  ’96. The band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 – there was no reunion and Knopfler didn’t attend, with John Illsley stating “I’ll assure you it’s a personal thing. Let’s just leave it at that.”

Oh, here’s On Every Street, don’t forget to skip a few:

 

 

 

I been starin’, I been starin’ into space.. Five from Dinosaur Jr

Formed in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1984, Dinosaur Jr are one of my favourite bands. Originally setting out to create ‘ear-bleeding country’ music, the band, propelled by J Mascis’ guitar playing, went from being one early proponents of fuzz-laden noise rock to being a massive influence on alt. rock, grunge and countless other players and bands going from indie labels to major and back again via line-up changes and reunions.

It’d be an unenviable task to try and pin point their sound – they’ve shifted quite far from their raucous debut Dinousaur (the band would add the ‘Jr’ shortly after to avoid litigation from) especially as bass player Lou Barlow initially handled most of the vocals – but one thing that’s been consistent across their work is the guitar playing of J Mascis who’s up there in my list of top ten guitar players.

With that in mind, here are five great Dinosaur Jr songs – not ‘the best of’ or even ‘essential’, just five cracking Dinosaur Jr tunes to get your teeth into on a Sunday evening.

Freak Scene

Their first ‘hit’ in the UK when released on Blast First in ’88 and a great example of the early sound of the original trio of Mascis, Barlow and drummer Murph.

Out There

Mascis signed to Sire records in 1989 but Barlow was out of the band by the time of their major label debut Green Mind. ‘Out There’ comes from Where You Been and was a pretty good hit (by Dino standards).

Nothin’s Goin On

Come Hand It Over, Dinosaur Jr’s final of four major-label albums, J Mascis was the only ‘original’ member left. The label, realising by now the band was never going to be another Nirvana, barely even promoted or distributed the album which is a shame because of the band’s ’90’s majors era’ Hand It Over is my favourite.  After the album’s release and tour, Mascis would retire the band’s name and release a couple of solo albums under the J Mascis & The Fog moniker.

All I Came To Do

In 2005 the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr reformed for a series of live shows and, in 2007, a new album Beyond appeared. A powerful album filled to the brim of great tunes and Mascis’ dazzling guitar work.

Said The People

Oddly, the reunion has held. The lineup has now produced more albums than during their first tenure with another expected this year. Their second back-together album Farm was even stronger and highlighted J’s slower-burners more prominently, ‘Said The People’ is a real favourite of mine.

Red Corona by Tim Glister

From the PR: “British secret agent Richard Knox has been hung out to dry by someone in MI5, and while his former boss lies in a coma, he needs to find the traitor in their midst.

In Russia, top scientist Irina Valera discovers the secret to sending messages through space, a technology that could change the world. But a terrible accident forces her to flee.

Desperate for a way back into MI5, Knox makes an unlikely ally in Abey Bennett, one of the CIA’s only female recruits, realising that Valera’s technology in the hands of the KGB could be catastrophic for the West.

As the age of global surveillance dawns, all three have something to prove.

Set against a backdrop of true events during the Cold War, RED CORONA is a smart, fast-paced spy thriller from a talented new crime writer.”

Sometimes a title is accidentally relevant. In this instance there’s no virus – the corona in question is the satellite reconnaissance programme the US ran from 1959 and into the early 70s – using satellites to produce aerial photographs of the USSR (and China). That’s right; we’re in glorious Cold War spy thriller territory here, a genre I’ve been immersing myself ever deeper in over the last few years so this one is right up my alley.

We’ve got disgraced agents, double agents, explosions – planned and accidental, chases and kidnappings, twists, turns, double crosses, executions and a great reveal. Oh, and the space race. All the elements are brilliantly set in place in amongst an intriguing and well realised plot that’s all the more noteworthy considering this is Tim Glister’s first novel.

Red Corona is a well-researched and vividly described novel with a pretty technical subject matter at its centre but Glister has clearly done his homework on it and possess the skill to convey the complexity and mechanics of it in a manner that’s both thorough and retains the pacing of the novel, vital in this genre and seamless here. Glister paints a detailed and lifelike picture of both 60’s London and the USSR and populates his novel with a great set of characters.

The three main narrative threads – those of Knox, Irina Valera and Abey Bennet – are all compelling and watching as they overlap and come together, revealing different facets of the story makes for a gripping read. Of the bunch I found Irina Valera’s exceptionally captivating, not only because Glister is tapping into an area for which I have a real interest but because it’s also very convincing in its detail and carries a real emotional wallop that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a spy thriller. Very much well worth a read.

My thanks to Point Blank / One World and  Anne Cater for my copy of Red Corona and asking me to join the Blog Tour.