Month: September 2012

Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh

Hollywood Station
By Joseph Wambaugh
Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Vision (October 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446401242
ISBN-13: 978-0446401241

‘I have been waiting a long time for this book,’ says Michael Connelly, best-selling author of LA-based police detective thrillers, ‘and two pages in I knew it was worth every minute, month and year. Joseph Wambaugh is the master of the modern police novel and Hollywood Station sets the standard once again. A story of cops working the street at the same time as the streets are working the cops, it’s full of grit. humour and truth that make it impossible to put down.’
All this is true. What Joseph Wambaugh’s debut novel The New Centurions (1970) did was to deliver a shot in the arm to the modern police novel invented by the ultra-prolific Ed McBain [aka Evan Hunter of Blackboard Jungle fame] who produced Cop Hater as long ago as 1956. Because Wambaugh was actually a serving police officer in LA when he wrote his book. Indeed, it was that book title and several others which quickly followed from the same pen that may be said to have mentored the next generation of American crime writers – Michael Connelly, James Ellroy and George P Pelecanos amongst them. Meanwhile, Hollywood Station (2007) is a great book in its own right – a generous, roistering, rollicking return to top form by a master storyteller in his prime. And, for readers of WISP this just so happens to be good news on two counts.
First of all, Hollywood Station is the sort of thriller which, though not lacking a strong central storyline (malfeasance, mayhem,and murder in LA instigated by Russian mafia types and their hangers-on ), the book does not solely depend upon that storyline and its eventual resolution to create reader interest. Nope, as with the nowadays sadly-neglected bibliography of the late, great George V Higgins (The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Cogan’s Trade, The Rat on Fire: do yourself a favour and read him), there is meat enough to satisfy us in Hollywood Station’s superbly fleshed-out mini-biographies of various members of the LA police force who, despite their being under-staffed, over-worked, and hobbled by political correctness gone mad, persist in holding the front line against crime on the city streets with quiet (and, just occasionally, unquiet) determination.
And secondly, Joseph Wambaugh’s return to form is actually the first of no fewer than four new book titles, t’others being Hollywood Crows, Hollywood Moon and Hollywood Hills. So there’s plenty here for this year’s holiday break.
Reviewed by Bill Keeth
May 2010

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Matters of Life and Death by Bernard MacLaverty

Matters of Life and Death
By Bernard MacLaverty
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 039305716X
ISBN-13: 978-0393057164

Bernard MacLaverty now has five novels to his name and five collections of short stories, too – and Matters of Life and Death (2006) is his best collection of short stories to date. Not that there was anything amiss with what went before. But there seems to be a thematic quality to Matters of Life and Death which necessarily ensures that the whole is always going to be weightier and more meaningful than the sum of its parts.
There is a hint, too, in this book of James Joyce at his best. Well, certainly, something of his short story, ‘The Dead’, is resurrected for me in ‘Learning to Dance’, where the parents of bereaved children are remembered in that they would take to the floor, dancing. And I was reminded, too, of James Plunkett’s Strumpet City, also Dublin-based, when an elderly woman recalls love shared albeit long since past, immediately prior to expiring.
And a further element would appear to be at work here. Because – well, given Bernard MacLaverty’s age (for what it’s worth, the same as my own when I was immersed in this book recently) – Yes, there would appear to be a further element at work here, and it cannot fail to do otherwise than make the reader suspect, rightly or wrongly, that the hospital outpatient featured in one short story in receipt of an unexpected medical reprieve may well be the author himself. “Hence,” as John O’Hara (Butterfield 8, Ten North Frederick) explains himself in the Author’s Note to his 1967 collection, Waiting for Winter, “the title.” Come 1970, O’Hara would be dead, though, in view of that speculative medical reprieve, I do, of course, envisage (and hope for) nothing short of longevity for Bernard McClaverty. Indeed, I anticipate his continuing to write short stories for many years to come. Correction: half-hours to come. (See – his very individualistic website where, amongst other unusual glimpses he permits us into his writer’s life, he confides: “I now devote all of my life to being a part-time writer.”).
None of which is to say anything at all about a couple of unexpectedly tough action stories you’ll find here, each of them dealing with incidents, inhumane and abhorrent, that occur against the backdrop of the most recent period of northern Irish lawlessness. And the film rights to one of them (‘A Trusted Neighbour’) will have been snapped up immediately the book came hot off the press if justice anywhere prevails.
Ah, but does it?
Frankly, I doubt that it does. Even when it comes to Matters of Life and Death (2006). And certainly not while so many British film and television producers seem to be committed to reworking old themes that are safely out of copyright.
Reviewed by Bill Keeth
March 2010

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Nothing But Blue Skies by Timothy James Keogh

Nothing But Blue Skies
By Timothy James Keogh
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Keoboy Publications (July 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0956288103
ISBN-13: 978-0956288103

Mancunian from the start, Middletonian since the Princess Royal’s first wedding day, with undeniable Sky Blue affiliations if too severely put to the test by Sky Reds of little brain, I confess to reading at one sitting Nothing but Blue Skies ISBN 9780956288103 an autobiographical romp by Tim Keogh, erstwhile Middletonian, nowadays Chaddertonian, whose life, love – indeed, very raison d’etre these 40 years past (’twould seem) has been a professional Soccer team that turns out in a blue and white strip at its home ground, which was Maine Road for many, many years and nowadays is the Greater Manchester Stadium.
Ergo, Tim Keogh writes of his unflagging support, since the tender age of 8, for the only Manchester football team (as certain Blues of my acquaintance would have it), both of Manchester City’s aforementioned grounds being located within the city’s boundaries, which the Old Trafford ground never has been as yet.
But enough of such tribalism!
Because, though Tim Keogh registers with some concern the onset of hooliganism and unwarranted inter-team animosities within “the beautiful game”, he sets before us, too, a good few touching examples of shared sporting enthusiasm, one of which sees former Man U player Denis Law receiving a rapturous welcome to the City line-up from the Blues supporters  lining the terraces.
There are umpteen other great anecdotes here, too. And a couple of them relating to the author’s football heroes spring readily to mind, one happy (and so typical of the man in question); t’ other (to a child’s mind, surely) inconceivable.
Happy: “[Aged 16] I was waiting at the bus stop in my City scarf . . . when [Brian Kidd’s] car pulled up and he asked me if I needed a lift to the ground!”
Inconceivable: “Alongside the tunnel . . . [I] held out my programme and pen in the hope of an autograph or two . . . [But X, Y and Z –  here the author names three Man City players of note] completely blanked me. Only Joe Corrigan . . . came over and signed my programme.”
Schoolboy (at Cardinal Langley, Middleton), adolescent (in Middleton, too), pop music freak (in Manchester), amateur cricket captain (in Higher Blackley): there’s a load of lovely stuff in Tim Keogh’s book, my very favourite anecdote harking back to the author’s playing days at the Crab Lane ground . . .
“Our wicket keeper was a 17 year old chain smoker [who even] smoked on the field during the game. As the bowler was running in he had the last . . . drag on his cigarette before handing it to me at First Slip, still alight . . .
“A north Manchester childhood and adolescence watching Manchester City in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s,” says the blurb.
Co-o-me on, yew Ble-ue-ue-s! Get this book bought! You’ll love it!
Reviewed by Bill Keeth
September 2009

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Manchester United – Man and Babe by Wilf McGuinness and Ivan Ponting

Manchester United – Man and Babe
By Wilf McGuinness and Ivan Ponting
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Pitch Publishing (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1848185030
ISBN-13: 978-1848185036

With a generously bubbly 1200 word Foreword penned by the author’s good friend and former team mate, Sir Bobby Charlton, and no fewer than 140-plus photographs within its 316 page format, it is quite unbelievable that, 14 months on from its original publication date in October 2008, Manchester United Man and Babe, the long-awaited autobiography of Wilf McGuinness of Man U and England, has received nary a mention in the local or regional press. Because there must be thousands of north Manchester folk and Reds, too, inquisitive about their team’s past, who would love to get their hands on this story of a local boy done good. Which, of course, they may do, courtesy of Waterstone’s (where I first found it on sale @ £17.99), or– where I bought it @ a discounted £12.49 inc. p&p.
This is a book I would not be without. Well, not permanently at any rate. Because, though I had been aware that Wilf was planning to write his autobiography (see above, the old advertising slogan I suggested as a title), I knew not (for reasons already mentioned) of the book’s existence for fully 6 months after its publication date. Moreover, an additional 6 months would then pass by during which time this same book has been devoured hungrily by yours truly and assorted alumni of Shepherd Street University (aka Mount Carmel, Blackley) who gleefully borrowed it from me. Not the least of whom is my good friend John Gilligan of Moston, photographed on page 21 herein alongside the boy McGuinness himself, the late, Tommy Seale (younger brother of Fr Brian Seale of St John Vianney’s), and other assorted reprobates from Blackley and White Moss who made up the school’s U-15s’ football team in the early 1950s whose names escape me for the present, Tony Burgess apart.
As ghost writer to his autobiographical task the author has recruited Ivan Ponting of The Independent. And, technically speaking, the guy makes a good journeyman’s job of it, particularly with regard to the boy’s professional career — playing days sadly foreshortened due to injury; life-span happily extended because of it (Wilf having been unfit to travel to Munich). So Man and Babe is certainly a better title than my own suggestion. But I really do wish there was a bit more detail here about Wilf’s north Manchester roots, as indeed there is concerning Collyhurst and Ashington, respectively, in the Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton autobiographies that were ghosted by The Independent’s James Lawton. (See Life, April 2007.)
Notwithstanding this single reservation, however (and my preference for the inclusion of an index), the generous provision of photographs of local characters (long since dispersed; hardly forgotten) will surely conjure up a vibrant north Manchester yesteryear for anyone who may care to recall it . . .
Witness the likes of headmaster John “Mickey” Mulligan (Snr.) . . . Canon F W Kershaw, who famously berated broadcaster, Gilbert Harding at national level . . . Wilf McGuinness with hair (a quiff I recall being jealous of) . . . Mrs May McGuinness, too, the loveliest of womankind: deaf as a post, she had a voice like a corncrake and a heart of gold . . . and Wilf’s elder brother Lawrence, practising the trumpet (or cornet: I never did know which) in the front parlour of No. 52 Westleigh Street . . . trumpet-playing that was accompanied by a drumbeat: BULUNG – skit, skit, skitter! BULUNG – skit, skit, skitter, as Wilf and his pals kicked a Size 5 ball against the gable end, halting just occasionally for Wilf to essay a throw-in technique that would take the ball all of 30 feet to the apex of the roof, the chimney pot beyond . . . and the practitioner of such art to a career at Old Trafford that many would die for and, sadly, some have.
Reviewed by Bill Keeth
September 2009

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The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The Devil Wears Prada
By Lauren Weisberger
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Broadway (April 13, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0767914767
ISBN-13: 978-0767914765

At 448 pages, The Devil Wears Prada is an enormous novel. A work of fiction, and, perhaps, chick-lit, it is a story about a young woman, Andrea Sachs (‘Andy’) who has recently graduated from college and stumbles into the hectic world of high fashion and publishing at ‘Runway’, a prestigious fashion journal. Her job is to be the second assistant editor to Miranda Priestly. Miranda turns out to be a diva and is hell to work with and for.
Inside the book, it is stated that the author graduated from Cornell University. This is her first novel and was on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. It has been published in twenty-seven countries. Weisberger lives in New York City. Apparently, from the website, Lauren Weisberger did a stint as assistant to Anna Wintour, the all-powerful editor of Vogue magazine. Despite the feeling that the process of writing this book was meant to be some form of catharsis for the author, it is also interesting, as stated on the site, to imagine what really did happen and what didn’t.
The title, The Devil Wears Prada, is no doubt a title that would captivate anyone’s interest. The attraction for this book was, mainly, because it had become a major motion picture which commanded actresses of such quality as Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.
From a technical standpoint, there is a repetition of sorts in this novel. For example:

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Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog
By John Grogan
Hardcover: 466 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; 1ST edition (2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0739461192
ISBN-13: 978-0739461198

If you’d like to laugh, cry and be entertained all at once, this memoir is the book for you. John Grogan, a journalist, tells a tale about his dog and, on the back cover of this book, it is stated as follows:

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The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
By Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards
Publisher: Twilight Times Books; First Edition edition (2008)
Language: English

Have you read a review and wondered whether it is good or bad? Have you ever wanted to venture into writing reviews but don’t know how to begin? Are you wary of writing a review and having publishers think that it might be too amateurish for them to consider publishing? Well, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing answers these questions and so much more.

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