Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The 'Don't Bother' Bin - Hunter's Moon

Hunter's Moon by CT Adams & Cathy Clamp - not even 1 star between them...

So far on this blog I've let you know about some of the books I loved. There are plenty more I've not. Being something of a fiend for supernatural bollocks, I'm a big reader of that genre and have been branching out into paranormal romance occasionally, whenever my brain feels mushy and I need some light relief (not that kind, you dirty sods!) 

Which was how I found myself reading this. Warning - there's most likely spoilers below as I cannot be bothered to be discreet about my problems with this book:

Oh so painful, this is the story of Sue, a multi-millionairess lottery winner, and the assassin, 'Tony', who she hires to kill her. Yep, you just read that right. Only as well as being a killer, Tony's connected. And a werewolf. And although Sue is a pathetic, needy, self-pitying, clingy and spineless excuse for a human being, romance somehow blossoms.

Why does Sue want Tony to kill her? Because her family are assholes - cartoonishly evil manipulators who view Sue as their slave rather than relation. So, of course, suicide is the only way out as opposed to, I don't know, moving. And although Tony's peen soon makes Sue want to to live again, he's got some enemies too, and they will happily target Sue to get to him. Sadly for all of us, they don't succeed.

I'm surprised I managed to finish this considering how much it bugged me. There were some incredibly strange writing choices ("she tasted salty, like grass and woods" - oh yeah, I've always thought the woods were dead salty.) and what little that could pass for plot was more often than not sidelined in favour of exploring the bond between Sue and Tony (which is a complete turn-off, by the way. Who wants a relationship where you pretty much share a brain? I don't care how much we love one another, I want some damn privacy), or different characters telling Sue how much Tony cared for her, or her whining that she can't be left alone. The sort of person who can't make a cup of tea without emotional support, I fervently wished throughout that Tony would take her up on her initial offer and put a bullet in her brain-stem. Not that he was any better.

I won't be returning for the rest of the series, and would be surprised to find that anyone ever has...

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Soundtrack of my life - NikNak

True to my promise, I've managed to bully convince NikNak to compile his own soundtrack. This is it:

Theme Song

Just like N.W.A, NikNak is Straight Outta (Lower) Compton...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Reminds me of being a kid

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Alternate: Money for Nothing, Dire Straits

First Single I ever bought

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Make me wanna shake my ass

For iPhone/iPad click here.

When I'm angry

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Makes me feel good

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Makes me feel a bit sexy

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Alternate: Come To Daddy, Aphex Twin. You think he's joking...

And we're done

Nothing left now but for the funeral song, which is...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

He will also allow...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Night Stalker

4 stars

I can't think of anything or anyone who terrifies me quite as much as Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker. Responsible for a wave of brutal murders that left LA panicked and paralysed in the mid '80s, the Stalker was a home invader. Breaking into houses in the early hours, he would usually kill any men found on the premises before turning his horrifying attentions to the women, and any children left. Even though Ramirez is now thankfully in prison, and even though I live in an entirely different country, I'll now be stepping up my home security.

This excellent book, well researched and also based on a hundred hours of interviews with Ramirez himself, drops us straight into the Night Stalker's reign of terror and we travel around LA with him in stolen cars, casing houses and listening to heavy metal, before following him inside, where we come face to face with some of the most pants-wettingly awful crimes you could read about. Testimony from surviving victims gives us an idea of what it might have been like to be woken up by the Night Stalker: 

"He put the lights on and charged her bed. She woke up with him running at her from the doorway." 
Fuuuck. Heart-stopping, right?

A very accomplished burglar who always wore gloves, thankfully Ramirez did leave behind a few clues for the detectives struggling to apprehend him - size 11 1/2 prints from an Avia Aerobic shoe (the only shoe of that size and description sold in LA), an AC/DC cap left at the scene of one of his crimes, bullet casings from victims and the descriptions from those who survived - a tall, thin man with bad teeth and a bad smell, dressed in black with shaggy hair. Frustratingly, as usual with this sort of book we also get to see how bad the police initially are at sharing information between departments and working together, much to the dismay of our lead detectives.

The second part of the book takes us back to young Richard, his family and upbringing in El Paso. The youngest of five children born to hardworking parents, his father was prone to hugely self-destructive rages (one anecdote tells of him beating himself in the face with a hammer when unable to fix the kitchen sink while his horrorstruck children looked on) and frequently crossed the line from correction to abuse when disciplining the children. More importantly though, Richard looked up to his older cousin Mike. Having served with Special Forces in Vietnam, Mike had a huge collection of stories and photographs of the rapes and murders he perpetrated during that war and regaled a young and aroused Richard with them constantly. Training him how to hunt, kill and move stealthily, Mike went even further in his making of a young serial killer by shooting his wife in the face while a 12 year old Richard looked on. Later, sister Ruth would go on to marry a Peeping Tom who took Richard out with him on his nightly forays. And here I was thinking my family was dysfunctional...

Leaving El Paso at 18, Richard moves to LA finding it sordid and exciting, and much more suited to his interests which by now already number burglary, attempted rape and Satanism. His behaviour soon escalates.

Parts Three and Four take us through Richard's extraordinary capture, in which he was apprehended and almost beaten to death by citizens who'd recognised him from the mugshots by now circulating in the media, and the events leading up to and including his eventual trial, in which his lawyers will try to cause a mistrial by dragging their feet and not bothering to show up for court (amongst other astoundingly shitty tricks). By this point all number of satanists have flocked to his cause, and thousands of completely fucking mental women have 'fallen in love' and start sending fan mail, turning up at court and making googly eyes at him while he snarls and laughs at the evidence and deeply upsetting testimonies of surviving victims. Even certain members of the jury will send him Valentine's and start a relationship with him. Meanwhile, he has crime scene photographs of his victims taped to his cell walls and constantly excites himself with them - as noted by Sean Penn who had the misfortune of being briefly jailed next to him while serving his sentence for punching a pap.

A completely shocking and horrifying portrayal of complete evil, as well as just how fucked up it would seem 'normal' people are too, I certainly won't be forgetting this one when I'm locking up the house tonight.

Women of the Otherworld

So, you're sick of Sookie sleeping, and Anita Blake rubs you up the wrong way by rubbing up against absolutely everything, so where's a girl to get her paranormal fix? TheShitWizard has two words for you: Kelley Armstrong. 

In case this isn't old news to you, Armstrong has a couple of paranormal series to her name - Women of the Otherworld and its YA sister, Darkest Powers - and they're fantastic brain candy. Women of the Otherworld, in particular, shows how much fun this genre can be when you put your mind to it (and don't use your heroines as your fantasy avatar). 

A series of thirteen books (all published, so there's no waiting if you're instant gratification girl like me), virtually all of them (bar the last couple) have self-contained stories which slowly build a great, believable world (I realise that probably sounds mental when we're talking about supernaturals, but never mind) and feature a wealth of brilliant heroines, none of whom are vapid or wear terrible clothes which are described for pages (hint, hint Harris and Blake!), and who manage to be feisty without making you want to slap them. Their personalities don't consist of being clumsy and lacking in self-esteem, nor are they supermodel types who every man instantly lusts after the moment she walks into a room. They're normal, every day women who dress normally, behave normally and just happen to have some powers - which can cause as many problems as they solve. 

And the men? A nice variety awaits us and, while some of them may fit the alpha male type, they're not controlling freaks who make you think more of abusive relationships than sexy times (I'm looking at you Cullen, the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the douchebag duo from Anita Blake). Like the strong, calm and nurturing type? Armstrong's got you covered. Fancy a sensitive intellectual? Got that too. Or would you rather a doggedly (fnar!) loyal, smoking hot werewolf with a temper as hot as he is? Let me introduce you to Clayton Danvers... 

...Sorry, I'm back. Got lost thinking about Clayton there for a while. Where was I? 

Oh yeah, sex. Naturally, in a series of stories about awesome women and their men, sex does figure but it fits each of the stories well and is only an element of the plot - which actually serves to make it sexier when our peeps finally do get down and dirty (something Laurell K. Hamilton may want to take into consideration). 

There are some minor niggles along the way, there is a slight tendency to go for the happy-ever-after so you're never truly worried for the characters, but they're so small as to be inconsequential in comparison to how much I enjoyed them. 

So, what are you waiting for? Get your teeth into these: 

Bitten - Introducing us to Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf in the world and one of my favourite paranormal heroines ever. The series highlights are always around Elena and her pack, their dynamics and behaviour, and this book does a fantastic job of introducing us to the Otherworld without drowning us in it. I tore through this in a day while waiting for a plane, then rushed straight to the book store on the other side for the follow-up. 

Stolen - The second book starring Elena goes in for a bit of world-building; a group of scientists/rich bods are collecting supernaturals for research into improving the human race (which always goes well) and features witches, sorcerers, shamans, vampires and half-demons, showing the potential for growth in the Otherworld. 

Dime Store Magic - Moving away from Elena and allowing us some time with young witch Paige Winterbourne and her even younger ward, 12 year old Savannah. This gave us a fresh new perspective as well as exposing us to Cabals (think Mob, but with magic and nicer headquarters), who we'll be coming across more and more in the series. 

Industrial Magic - Paige is drawn into a case where the Cabals need her help and although I don't like her half as much as I do Elena, it's still interesting reading things from her point of view, especially as she doesn't live in such a closed environment as the wolf pack and instead interacts with a wide range of supernaturals. 

Haunted - This time our heroine is already dead, but that's not about to stop her from being badass. Introducing us to the Fates and showing us some nice flourishes when it comes to the ghost world, the series starts to show here that it might be a little bigger than just a few, self-contained stories. 

Broken - We're back with the pack, who inadvertently open a portal to Victorian London after stealing the Jack the Ripper 'From Hell' letter, with complications arising from cholera, killer rats, zombies and more... 

No Humans Involved - This time we're in the company of Jaime Vegas, celebrity spiritualist (though a far more likeable one than Derek Acorah) and real necromancer, who is shooting a TV special hoping to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe but stumbles across something far more disturbing. 

Personal Demon - One of the weak spots in my opinion, with Hope the half-Expisco demon in the lead. I liked the added moral ambiguity in this one - Hope's power (visions of chaos, and feeding off chaotic energy) means that we're not dealing in black and white - but I found Hope a little too passive a character to really get behind. 

Living With The Dead - The other weak spot in the series, this one shares narration between a few characters, along with a civilian to give us the 'human' view of our supernaturals, and I found it fairly unmemorable. 

Frostbitten - Wolf pack time again (yay!) as they try to track down some man-eating mutts and find themselves in Alaska, which is home to more than just werewolves. 

Waking the Witch - While the witch instalments aren't my favourites, thankfully by the time we get to this one Savannah is all grown up and ready to take on her own book, and we get our first cliffhanger ending...

Spellbound - Following from exactly where we left off in Waking the Witch, and it's becoming more apparent that a supernatural war is brewing. While I squee'd at some of the cameos in this instalment I did also find myself frustrated at ending with another cliffhanger. 

Thirteen - And finally, the last book of a series that had interesting plots and sub-plots that had all been leading us here, with our women banding together to face off the biggest threat the supernatural world has seen yet. Action packed and terribly exciting, I tore through this while knowing I'd be gutted as soon as I'd finished it.

It's probably also worth knowing that several short stories have been published dealing with some of our characters at other times in their lives, so if you didn't get enough from the thirteen above, you should start Googling now.

Sadly it's time for me to bid goodbye to the Otherworld. I'll miss you...

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Freebie 5 - teenage edition

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today following my soundtrack, and it got me thinking about the men in my (imaginary) life. 

I'm a fickle girl at the best of times - it's easy to win my heart, but easy to lose it too - but these men had my heart, and my wall space, when I was a teenager.

The All-Timer

I still have a soft spot for Keanu these days. I don't care that he seems a little dumb, I don't care that he had a terrible accent in Dracula, and I don't care that he looks like a tramp most of the time. I will watch absolutely anything he makes (still), and love it. The news that they're now remaking Point Break and Bill & Ted makes me feel a little bit stabby.

The one that didn't need to be understood

I loved Faith No More. And even though I could barely make out what Mike Patton was singing most of the time (he became even less understandable as time went on and he cut his hair), I loved him too. I can only find terrible photos, so it's a good excuse to post one of their videos instead.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

The one with the best hair

You may be noticing a trend here towards long hair. This one had the longest, plus tattoos, and liked dancing around with a sock on his willy. What's not to love? He doesn't look half as good these days with short hair and a porn moustache...

The one I wanted to look after

It's impossible to look at Evan Dando, or listen to any of his music, without going 'Aww'.

In case you're wondering what his music sounds like, here's The Lemonheads with one of my favourites:
For iPhone/iPad click here.

The one with the fantastic name

Of course, it helps that Whitfield Crane IV looked fantastic too.

And if you're thinking "Who he?", here's a song I'm sure you'll remember:

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Thinking about it, my tastes haven't really changed all that much...have yours?

Soundtrack of my life - TheShitWizard

What better way to spend your rainy weekend than compiling a soundtrack of your life? It's much better than doing housework. So, after much soul and Youtube searching, I present to you....

TheShitWizard - Soundtrack to my life...

My Theme Song

The song that should open the movie of my life (when they make it which, why wouldn't they?!) and that seems to sum me up best would most definitely be this:

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Reminds me of being a kid

Mostly chosen due to the fact that our local video shop only seemed to have 2 videos, ever, and as a result my brother and I watched this at least once a week. Ray Parker Jr should get a shout-out here too, as we also watched Ghostbusters approximately 9,999 times growing up.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

First single I ever bought

After checking release dates (I take this way too seriously, no?) I can now report that the first single I ever bought was in fact...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Reminds me of college

I spent most of my time whilst at college twatted on £1 pints at JFK's, and many a night drunk-dancing to this with my besties. I'm sure we looked very cool, and covered in beer after the 2:20 mark...

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Then I went and got a job

And now....
For iPhone/iPad click here.

First single he ever bought me

Then I met him, and he bought me this. It's 15 years later and we're still here, so he must have got it right.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Makes me wanna shake my ass

It probably helps that I do have a lot of 'back', as this is guaranteed to get me shaking my thang. The jury is still out on whether or not that is a good thing.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

When I'm angry

I have a list. It's been updated quite a lot over the years...I also wish I was Juliette Lewis, so this suits very well.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Makes me feel good

It's absolutely impossible to stay in a bad mood after listening to this. 

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Makes me feel a bit sexy

I've never been one for subtlety...although I hasten to add it's the music and not the visuals that make me feel that way. I'm not quite that weird...yet.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

And we're done

The only thing left is for the song to be played at my funeral. If this song isn't, I'm coming back and haunting all of your asses.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

And that's it for my soundtrack. You can look forward to seeing NikNak's, Midge's and Rerab's once I've bullied them into it. 

In the meantime, what's yours?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Midge's Mini-Rant: Where are we going? I hope you have a compass...

So last night I was casually reading before bed, as per my usual ritual, when a simple word in a book set my teeth on edge:
“I know where it is, my brother used to work near there.”
“It’s worth a try. Which direction?”
“South” Gunning the engine, he turned the car in that direction.
South? Where the hell is South? I yell. Seriously….where?

So you’ve probably realised by now that I wasn’t exactly reading Austen, but still I realised this annoying truth that seems to occur with directions in a lot of novels - from a lot of American authors, I might add - they always appear as compass points. Now, I’m not sure how many of us are taught to guide by the sun (or the moon in the case of this particular raunchy vampire piece), but no teacher has ever sat me in a playground and asked me to readjust myself to the earth’s natural pull. I know, in some corner of my mind, that the sun sets on one side and rises on the other from some brief encounters with cowboys books and pistols at dawn in my earlier childhood reads, but put me in the middle of nowhere and ask me to head south and I haven’t a frigging clue. 

So why, in books, are heroines (without diplomas in navigation) constantly referring to cardinal points in how to get from A to B? Do they have compasses on them, or is this how it is done in the States? If my friend asked me how to get to the pub, should I no longer use road names? Am I supposed to state “It’s south westerly, until you hit the tip of the nearest earth plate, then take a slight north westerly turn, then it's on the eastern side”? No, I wouldn’t. 

So please authors, if you've gone far enough within your imagination to write a fiction book, I beg you to at least invent fictional roads, or even stick to left and rights. Failing that I give you a pre-Midge-approved one-liner, which you have my permission to use for free: 
“I’ll programme it into your sat nav, love”.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

For the True Crime junkie...

My name is TheShitWizard, and I am a true-crime-aholic.

Ever since I was a kid I've been fascinated with true crime, and serial killers in particular. It's not that I like them - I'm certainly not about to sign up for any jailhouse pen-pals any time soon - and I don't get off on people being hurt in any way so you don't need to start backing away just yet, but when it comes to books and TV, I simply can't get enough. And it seems I'm not the only one - there's now such demand that a rash of dedicated TV stations show us 'Snapped - Women Who Kill' and 'Born To Kill' and 'Other Variations On Killing' on a daily basis, and there's always people hovering in the well-stocked True Crime section of my local bookstore. 

There's so much to choose from, and I've read a lot of the many books out there on the subject. Some of them have been lurid, some have been incredibly poorly written, and some have been pants-wettingly terrifying. Here's my selection of the best true crime reads for my fellow crime-freaks.

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

In a small Kansas town in 1959 the Clutter family were brutally murdered in their home, with no apparent motive, by two drifters. Capote takes us through events, leading up to and following the murders as well as on Death Row, painting so vivid a picture that you feel as though you know both the Clutter family and their killers intimately. An incredible book that didn't feel the need to lapse into hysteria or sensationalism, there's not much to say about this book that hasn't already been said - it's very easy to see why this is feted as a masterpiece. 

The Ice-Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo

I got chills, they're multiplying...Nope, nothing to do with Danny Zuko but Richard Kuklinski (aka The Iceman) greased a hell of a lot of people and this is a riveting, chilling account of his life and crimes.

Having had a truly horrific childhood that did away with whatever humanity he had to start with, Richard was already a killer by the age of 13. Discovering a fearsome talent for murder he was already killing for sport by the time he was tapped to carry out contracts for various Mob families, and continued indulging in his hobby alongside his mob work leading to a truly terrifying trail of dead people behind him. The likes of Gacy and Bundy seriously have nothing on this guy.

While he did have some form of a code - women and children were off-limits (though that didn't stop him from being violently abusive to his own wife) - anyone else was fair fame and you could terrifyingly find yourself killed for such misdemeanours as being a bad driver, flipping him off or even just for walking your dog down the street when he's got a new weapon he wants to try out. Even worse were the various tortures Kuklinski thought up for those who 'had to suffer'. When even hardened gangsters are sickened, you know you're in a different world altogether.

Compiled from hundreds of hours of interviews, while its contents are sensational this never felt sensationalised and was instead written in a matter-of-fact, unhistrionic way with the author's voice never becoming intrusive, quietly putting you firmly in Kuklinski's shoe and giving you a picture of all sides of the man, not just the killer.

Also looking at how he was caught, I have to admire the size of the balls on the detectives that went after Kuklinski, and particularly on Polifrone who got to chum up to him undercover, continuing to meet with him even knowing from the phone taps that the Ice Man was planning on killing him. That must have been some high-octane nightmare fuel...

Highly recommended, but this one's definitely not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. Also currently being adapted into a film starring Michael Shannon (who always gives good psycho).

The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy - Stephen G. Michaud & Hugh Aynesworth

Warning - do not read this book during an unexpectedly warm period of weather as you will end up sweating and gasping in bed all night due to your insistence at making sure the house is completely sealed up, and what will turn out to be the sound of your cat in the kitchen will have your heart nearly stopping every five minutes in fear that it's actually someone breaking into your house.

A well written, compelling and completely terrifying look at the life and crimes of Ted Bundy, one of the world's most notorious serial killers, the authors could have been forgiven had they gone down the tabloid route - after all, a case where the killer represents himself in court and gets to interrogate his own surviving victims is pretty sensational in itself, before you add in the jailbreaks and the horror of his crimes, but instead they chose the far more interesting path and focus on the personality and 'psychopathology' of the killer - sometimes in his own words (which had a lot to do with my not being able to sleep afterwards).

Bundy managed to escape from jail twice in the course of his murderous career - leading to the infamous Chi Omega killings - and one of the things this book really brought home to me was how each time he was caught it was largely due to his own blundering (seeming like he almost wanted to get caught) rather than due to any brilliant deductions on the part of the police. In fact, Ted's name had come up many times in the early course of the investigations and was never followed up. This, and Bundy's assertion (amongst others) that "there are a lot of people who are not in prison, a lot of people who are not in prison, who were far more successful than I" went a long way towards giving me a serious case of the wiggins.

Make sure you have someone to stay with you for a while after reading this one...

The guys above were, thankfully, finally caught and felt the full weight of the justice system. Time now for a different kind of crime, and the dark side of justice...

Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three - Mara Leavitt

"I didn't think there was no possible way they could find us guilty when we didn't do it. Not in America. It's not what I was raised to believe would happen in America." - Jason Baldwin.
You might hold the same beliefs as Jason - I know I had always held to the notion that 'the truth will out' and believed that the justice system would ensure that people accused of crimes would be considered 'innocent until proven guilty', with evidence being a major consideration when investigating crimes. I couldn't have been more wrong. 

In 1993, three eight-year old boys were brutally murdered. Lacking any evidence other than the boys' bodies, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the next step would be for the police to start looking for and documenting evidence, interviewing anyone with a possible connection, and using logic, reason and years of proven procedures to build their case. Bless you. Instead what would occur is a flagrant and appalling abuse of the justice system in which prejudice and hearsay, along with defendants' music tastes, style of dress and choice of reading material is 'evidence', and where actual, physical evidence that links other suspects to the crime will be discounted as it doesn't fit with the theory the detectives have chosen to work with.

The theory the detectives chose to work on would build a sprawling, chaotic and nearly completely incoherent case centred around the idea of satanic cults operating in the area - the obsession of one Jerry Driver. The Chief Juvenile Officer for the county (whose job title should have more accurately read Chief Fucking Fantasist), Driver had an unhealthy fixation with a teenager named Damien Echols and had already been harassing him for the best part of a year, based on his belief that Damien was a Satanist. His reason for these beliefs? Damien was weird, wore black, wrote poetry, had read some books on witchcraft as well as enjoying Stephen King, and identified himself as Wiccan. (Well shit, you'd better arrest a lot of the people I know too). As for Jason? Well, he was a friend of Damien's, wasn't he? So, obviously also a satanic killer. Instead of looking into Driver's 'theories' impartially and with an eye for evidence, the police would take Driver's accusations and run with them, choosing to ignore (and if necessary, 'lose') any evidence that didn't agree with them and taking things such as Jason's owning 15 black t-shirts as proof of them being child-murderers, backing up this 'proof' with extremely suspect 'confessions' and witness statements. Jessie Miskelly Jr, whose 'confession' would be the basis of the state's case against the boys, was a vulnerable and intellectually challenged boy and the 'confession' itself is astounding - riddled with contradictions and errors, with detectives clearly suggesting what he ought to be saying next, and with Jessie clearly eager to please. The next most important statements came from an 8 year old boy, whose 'eyewitness' accounts were wildly conflicting and became increasingly lurid as time went on. Surely not the basis for a solid conviction, right? Surely when the case gets to court it'll be thrown out? Surely the fact that real, physical evidence exists that points to other suspects will see the boys cleared? Sorry, wrong again.

Instead, the boys will go to trial under one Judge Burnett, who has clearly already decided the boys are guilty and will not only do whatever he can to help the prosecution but also actively hinder the defence and ultimately lead to life sentences being given to Jessie and Jason, with Damien due to receive the death penalty.

After 18 years in prison, in 2011 Damien, Jason and Jessie were finally released after years of appeals and a huge campaign following the Paradise Lost documentaries, which I'd watched and which had piqued my interest in the case. However, the fact they're now free doesn't change the fact that not only were three little boys brutally murdered, but three other children had their lives stolen from them while a vicious child-killer has gotten away with murder.

It's my belief that the behaviour of the police, the prosecutors and the Judge in this case were nothing short of criminal - a malicious and wilful obstruction of justice. I spent most of my time reading about the case nearly howling with fury, and think that not only the people involved but the entire state of Arkansas should be ashamed of themselves for letting such a blatant miscarriage of justice occur.

As for me, I own a ton of black clothing (way more than Jason's 15 t-shirts), read lots of Stephen King, am a true crime junkie, and prefer Guns N Roses to pop music. I'm never visiting Arkansas as I'll probably be the next person accused of the murders, regardless of the fact that I've never visited America. The cops would doubtless find an impressionable child to say otherwise and I'd be done for.

As for this book, it's compelling, well-researched and documented and was clearly based on more investigative work than the detectives involved ever put in, and is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the justice system. Just don't expect to have the same faith in that system by the time you've finished.

And for the truly dedicated....

The Executioner's Song - Norman Mailer

Previous to picking this up all I knew of Gary Gilmore had been gleaned from The Adverts' track, Gary Gilmore's Eyes. I now know everything I could possibly want to know (and more) about Gilmore's life, crimes, trial and death and while I may not have looked through Gilmore's eyes, I've seen through those of virtually everyone associated with him and his case.

Based on what must be an absolutely breathtaking amount of research and interviews, this is a painstaking recreation of the nine months following Gilmore's release from prison in 1976 (after spending much of his life incarcerated) and leading up to his execution following the murders of two strangers.

Presented in two parts, the first deals with Gary's release and adjustment to normal life. Due to the level of detail it soon starts to feel as though you're living alongside him, which isn't exactly a pleasant experience. Aswell as being clearly intelligent, Gary is a real piece of work and his behaviour soon starts to alienate those around him, including Nicole - the young woman with whom he's become involved. Their initial break-up is especially significant as Gary will later claim that he committed the murders for which he was tried so that he wouldn't kill Nicole, a claim I'm not entirely convinced by as he seemed to be something of a timebomb even prior to their break-up, with his temper and law-breaking rapidly escalating.

Gilmore's crimes are not extraordinary, sadly, but what happens next is - sentenced to death for the murders and refusing to appeal, the media goes wild and lawyers are sent scrambling as they move to try and stay the execution or fight for it to go ahead. This second part of the book did a great job of piecing together the events and this very murky moral issue is seen from all sides. I'm still not entirely clear as to what my own position is - whilst strongly opposing the death penalty I also support an individual's right to die, and it did seem as though the ensuing legal fight added a layer of cruelty to the sentence.

In addition to this, we also get a very intimate look at the relationship between Gary and Nicole which resumed following his arrest, and his influence over her is very clear from his letters as he seeks to manipulate her into suicide so that no other man can have her following his death. Perhaps even more manipulative though are the movers and shakers in the field of the media, and the tactics of fighting for exclusives and the amount of money that was changing hands for the story (which would have been far less valuable if Gilmore had not been executed) left me feeling very uneasy.

While at times this did start to drag a little (perhaps a little too much detail was included in places, and with so many players I got a little waylaid with keeping track of everybody), I don't believe I'll be lucky enough to read as comprehensive a book on such a subject again. I certainly won't read one as big!

That's it for my rambling. Good luck with your reading - my next True Crime read promises to be The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo, but I keep putting it off thanks to a) needing a looong time to get over the serious case of the wiggins that the Bundy book gave me, and b) seeing Ramirez on 'Born To Kill'. I don't believe in angels and demons, but he looked like the fucking devil. Yeesh...

Friday, 5 April 2013

Wanted: Empathy

This week, the war on the ‘greedy’ poor has intensified with the chinless, soulless tosspots in charge of us using the less scrupulous in our media to saturate us with their lies about poverty.

First Iain Duncan Smith claimed he could live on £53 a week benefits “if he had to”, though apparently the petition of 400,000 people (so far) demanding he prove it is nothing but a “stunt”, and now we have the one-two punch of Demonspawn Osborne (pictured above) claiming that Michael Philpott, convicted of the deaths of his 6 children in a fire, is representative of everybody on benefits with the Daily Mail backing him via an appalling front page headline with Philpott presented as the ‘vile product of Welfare UK’.

Aside from the fact that Philpott is no more representative of the average benefit claimant than Peter Sutcliffe is of lorry drivers, they seem to have missed the irony of their claims in the same week that the Queen was given a £5 million a year rise, taking her yearly income to £36.1 million courtesy of the taxpayer, and MP's proved we’re all in this together by refusing to scrounge up their own dinners and demanding higher expenses for their free lunches instead. Who are the scroungers now? 

While all this happens, instead of getting angry at the people responsible for the attacks on their livelihoods, communities and families, the public at large seem to be swallowing it all and directing their anger at their neighbours instead.

We all seem to be in need of a little empathy injection, to be able to see things from the perspective of those at the bottom, rather than from that of those at the top. What better way to start feeling that empathy than to read? With that in mind, I’m making three reading recommendations which should give plenty of food for thought while the Government tries desperately to think of a way in which to present slavery as desirable:

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

A remarkable book that’s both beautifully written and structured and still incredibly relevant today, 70 years after original publication.

The Joad family are sharecroppers, forced from the land their family has lived on for generations by the banks who now own it to join the thousands of other families headed out west to California on the promise of work and food, both of which are far harder come across than initially believed.

Through the relating of the Joad’s story, Steinbeck also tells the story of the many thousands of other families that shared their fate during the worst days of the Depression. Not only an intimate family portrait, it’s also a history lesson, a story of a troubled nation, a righteous howl at the human cost of the unfettered march of capitalism, and an illustration of how the seeds of dissent are sown.

Poverty, hunger, greed, fear and love are all powerfully felt within the pages as we see both the decency of people, and the unflinching love of Ma Joad struggling to bind the family together during the worst of times, and the callousness and moral bankruptcy of owners, burning food rather than giving it to the starving for fear of profit loss.

I can only imagine the impact this book must have had when published, and it truly is great that Steinbeck gave these people a voice to be heard by the wider world. Sadly, I still know people today who like to sit in front of their flat screen TV’s eating pre-packaged food and moaning about people ‘coming in and taking our jobs’ (whose lifestyles and jobs remain entirely unaffected but still feel the right to complain about the have-nots having anything at all) and to those people I would like to go out and give copies of this book in the hope of changing their outlooks a little. If any book could accomplish that, I think this would be one of them.

Dark Heart: The Story of a Journey into Undiscovered Britain - Nick Davies

An astounding, horrifying and heartbreaking look at the extent and effects of poverty in Britain; at the time of its publication 13.7 million people were living below the poverty line (this has now risen) and yet it's a world that is largely hidden (albeit in plain sight), ignored as the majority of us go about our daily lives or, more recently, see people attacked for being undeserving, greedy and lazy, regardless of the circumstances that have put them in that position.

Looking fully into the circumstances of, in particular, the child prostitutes of the Forest area of Nottingham and the deprived inhabitants of a crime ridden estate, and looking into the causes of much of the poverty and its associated effects (crime, drugs, prostitution, abuse) and the damage inflicted on communities and people living under its shadow, this is a terrifying look at what is happening to a large section of the country. Horrifyingly, it's a situation that can only get worse as the Government hacks wildly at public spending budgets and welfare.

Essential reading for anyone who wants to know what's going on outside of their front door, and one that should make you angry enough to want answers, and change.

Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell

An excellent book that had me wanting to go out afterwards and slap copies into the hands of passers-by, attempting to turn everyone I meet into some sort of class warrior, this is a fictionalised account of Orwell's time on the other side of the poverty line that most of us are lucky not to have to experience - not the kind where you're wondering what bills to pay this month in order to meet your rent, but where you're wondering where you're going to sleep that night and how to get food after days of hunger. It's easy to see how these experiences informed Orwell's politics and morals, which are a huge part of his later works (well, of the ones I've read, anyway).

It contains absolutely fascinating insights into many areas of life not seen by the lucky majority, as well as some vivid characters and places (being behind the curtains at the Hotel X. in Paris has made me look at those in the 'service industry' with new eyes, and I'm not quite sure I'll ever enjoy a steak in a smart restaurant half so much ever again) as well as questioning the necessity of some of the work those hard-up are forced to do in order to survive. The life of a plongeur is hardly a life at all by most people's standards, and yet 'jobs' like these will always abound while we have people willing to pay for the illusion of luxury:
"Essentially, a 'smart' hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want."
Things appear to be harder again once we reach London, where instead of hustling his way into day work or a bed for the night, vagrancy seems the only option left and we find ourselves in a world of 'spikes' where you may be locked in for the night and fed a small amount of bread and tea before being moved on, well-meaning churches that will feed you on condition you get on your knees and pray ("It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level"), and the ridiculous laws that govern the streets of England that are ostensibly there for protection (people are stopped from begging for being a nuisance, and tramps are stopped from sleeping in public places apparently due to the risk of dying of exposure, but mostly it would seem because being poor immediately makes you 'other', something to be viewed with suspicion and despised).

Sadly, it's a situation that we don't seem to have learned anything from over the past 60-70 years, and it seems you could take the sentiments presented within as those of the average educated man and pop it straight into the mouths of the Government and the well-off today:
"We know that poverty is unpleasant; in fact, since it is so remote, we rather enjoy harrowing ourselves with the thought of its unpleasantness. But don't expect us to do anything about it. We are sorry for you lower classes, just as we are sorry for a cat with the mange, but we will fight like devils against any improvement of your condition. We feel that you are much safer as you are. The present state of affairs suits us, and we are not going to take the risk of setting you free, even by an extra hour a day. So, dear brothers, since evidently you must sweat to pay for our trips to Italy, sweat and be damned to you."