June 2005 Same Vein


Whiteout by Ken Follett

Pan Macmillan

Set in Oxenford Medical, a biomedical facility in Scotland, a lab technician is found dead at home, presumably the victim of a deadly Ebola virus variant housed at the facility. Toni Gallo, former cop and current director of security for Oxenford, is the developer of anti-viral drugs to combat these deadly viruses. It is these drugs that attract the attention of a band of international burglars, commissioned by a presumed competitor to steal Oxenford's latest research. Kit Oxenford, the spoiled and sniveling son of Oxenford founder and CEO Stanley Oxenford, was the designer of the lab's security systems before being dumped from the firm for embezzlement. Up to his eyeballs in gambling debt and furious with his father for not cashing him out, the despicable Kit joins the band of thugs, providing all the information needed to override Oxenford security. But as the freak Christmas Eve storm shifts course towards the Scottish coast, this story of high-tech thievery becomes a tale as much about the weather as it is about bio-terrorism.

While this unlikely story is predictable and a bit over embellished, it is nonetheless gripping entertainment, hooking the reader in the first few pages and keeping them turning until the last bad guy is finally dispatched. Follett is never one to let rationality get in the way of a good story, and "Whiteout" is no exception - to the reader's benefit. A bit of a Robin Cook bio-thriller with some "Die Hard" thrown in, Follett's lean prose demonstrates again his uncanny ability as a storyteller, cranking out page-after page of non-stop action unadorned by fine literary baggage. While few characters in "Whiteout" are memorable, the terminally dysfunctional Oxenford family provide some black comedy along with critical plot content. As long as the reader doesn't spend inordinate time dissecting the plot or the characters, and isn't overly distracted by some heavy-handed schmaltz, "Whiteout" is indeed terrific entertainment.

Red Tide by G.M. Ford

Pan Macmillan

After roaming the Midwest in A Blind Eye, Frank Corso, our intrepid and nosy reporter is back to the Pacific Northwest in Red Tide. This time, he must deal with international terrorism. And thankfully, the author is "world aware" enough not to make this the usual "bash the arabs" Terrorism Tale. Instead, Red Tide is a very interesting commentary on the state of affairs in the United States. Believe it or not, horrible things have happened in the rest of the world, some with US backing and command. Maybe some of these dealings will come back to haunt those in the US. Now, there's a surprise!

Meg Dougherty, sometimes lover of Frank Corso, is having a successful photo exhibition. That is until it's interrupted by the police storming in, telling everyone to evacuate. They won't say why, which is Frank's signal to stick his nose into the situation. He discovers that somebody has released a deadly disease in a Seattle bus tunnel, killing over 100 people. Meanwhile, Meg heads home but stumbles upon a man from her past. She follows him, loses him, but then finds him again, dead on her kitchen floor. Are these two occurrences linked? Who would do something so horrible to the citizens of Seattle? And worse, will they strike again? Corso, Dougherty, and the Seattle police race to find out what happened, constantly interrupted by the Feds, who have their own agenda and thoughts on the situation, as they usually do.

Red Tide benefits from using the current political climate to add a lot of tension to an already interesting plot. Can anyone say "Patriot Act"? Corso makes some comments against the war in Iraq, especially referencing weapons of mass destruction, which gives the book added depth. It's a very tight read, the story taking place over two days, and the plot is intricate with red herrings aplenty. It's well worth the time and money, especially in this time of media and political paranoia.

Beard & Moustache Championships

by Michael Ames
Pan Macmillan

The 2003 World Beard and Mustache Championships held in Carson City, Nevada, was the first such international competition held on American soil. The event drew 130 competing delegates from 12 states, 11 countries and 13 German beard clubs (yes, you heard right... BEARD CLUBS!) They were judged in categories ranging from the heavily sculpted and sprayed, lacquered and shaped Imperial Mustaches to the free flowing Full Natural Beard. The weekend long event had all the makings of an international festival. Polka bands played, European men struggled to keep western style BBQ out of their mustaches and a white-bearded Swiss man announced the opening of the final judging with a mesmerizing fugue played on an authentic 30 foot long Alpenhorn.

Hello? Are you still with me?

Once 17 category winners had been named, an overall Imperial champion rose to the top. Karl Heinz Hille, outfitted in shimmering silver top hat and tails, embodied the stylized lifestyle of the serious facial hair aficionado. Hille effortlessly becomes the icon; a construct of affectation and moustachioed flair so perfect, no one could compete.

You have GOT to see this book to believe it. It's a photographic must-have, capturing a weekend in 2003 that people will have trouble believing ever took place. But it did, and this book proves it. Believe it or not, it's one amazing book that you'll return to time and time again and wonder, "Could I do that?"

Prayer of the Night Shepherd
by Phil Rickman

Pan Macmillan

This is the sixth novel about the professional and private life of the Rev. Merrily Watkins, consultant on exorcism to the Diocese of Hereford, along with her teenage daughter Jane, who is more into paganism. It’s also another excellent crime novel by Rickman, with a dashing of the paranormal sprinkled over the top.

Set on the Welsh/English border, this time Merrily is involved in the investigation of murder both contemporary and historical. It also deals with the continuing controversy over the origins of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. There’s strong evidence that the real Hound emanates from a medieval farmhouse just below Offa’s Dyke, in an area connected with the Baskerville family and possibly with Conan Doyle himself. But, if this is true, why did he change the location to Dartmoor?

In a Victorian mansion-turned-hotel, Ben Foley hosts unprofitable murder mystery weekends and strives to prove that his hotel is the house on which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based his famous Baskerville Hall. Foley's dabbling uncovers more than he can handle.

Aside from the literary feel, there is something for both the crime and horror/supernatural fan here, as the two genres seamlessly blend together. Rickman has the ability to induce unease and even fear at will, often when you are least expecting it. Matters theological are introduced without strain upon the unfolding plot, leaving the reader with matters to ponder long after the book is put down.

Rickman continues top quality storytelling in this latest release. Highly recommended.


English Gothic by Jonathan Rigby

Capricorn Link

Jonathan Rigby's fascinating look at English Horror Cinema traces the development of this particular subgenre from the literary and theatrical traditions of the 18th century, to the 'quota quickies' which dominated UK screens during the first half of the 20th century, and the influential success of Hammer Films in the 1950's and beyond. The bulk of the work is devoted to a hundred key titles, from "The Quatermass Experiment" (1954) to "To the Devil a Daughter" (1976), all of which are reviewed in-depth, whilst the closing chapters bring things up to date with a brisk saunter through most of the horror films produced since the late 70's, and a headlong gallop through Gothic subjects on TV.

Profusely illustrated with many rare photos - including a small but sumptuous colour section - Rigby's survey charts a predictable course (most of the major Hammers are covered, along with selected titles from the likes of Amicus and Tigon), with a few surprises along the way ("The Corpse", "Tower of Evil", "Expose", etc.), and his comments are supplemented by invaluable production details and a review of the social circumstances in which these movies were first exhibited. The longer reviews are perceptive and engaging, and the introductory section is crammed with relevant information, but the final chapters - detailing the decline of British cinema and the corresponding slump in home-grown horror movies - are less thorough and too short.

Few other reference guides hit the bullseye as often as this one, and "English Gothic" ultimately deserves its growing reputation as a definitive work.

Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman

Capricorn Link

There are very few grammar books that you can pick up to consult and find it difficult to put down again. Anne Stilman has achieved this amazing feat in her book "Grammatically Correct". The book covers the basics of spelling, punctuation, grammar and style for writers and editors in an easily readable almost conversational style. The book itself has a well-designed layout, with lots of examples of what to do and what not to do, including some self-test questions. Passages (both serious and comic) from well-known past and contemporary writers to illustrate points is a nice touch. While the book is aimed at an American audience, most of the book is also relevant to a world-wide audience and there are some explanations of differences in punctuation between the two different "Englishes". An excellent compendium!

Dictionary of Disagreeable English
by Robert Hartwell Fiske

Capricorn Link

The Dictionary of Disagreeable English provides writers with the tools they need to identify tricky grammar and usage problems and to correct them instantly, with ease. This accessible and humorous guide is easy to use, with no previous knowledge of grammar needed. It allows writers and editors to find mistakes and fix them quickly as well. Packed with useful tips and sidebars that include helpful Q&As, common grammar pitfalls, and top ten lists of need-to-know information, it is compiled by Robert Hartwell Fiske, known to some as the "Grumbling Grammarian", whose witty and grouchy tone both engages and experts. It's hard to find a more entertaining and useful grammar guide.

Dialogue by Gloria Kempton

Capricorn Link

How do some writers craft conversation so authentic that it feels as if they've been eavesdropping? What's the secret behind getting characters to talk to each other? How can writers make their dialogue sing? Answers to all of these questions and more can be found in this in-depth look at this crucial component of fiction. Readers will learn how to create excellent dialogue through a variety of tasks, including: creating dialogue for specific genres, bringing characters to life with revealing dialogue, and identifying and fixing common dialogue problems. Featuring numerous examples of successful dialogue drawn from best-selling novels, this is one book that will get everybody talking!

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