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WILLIAM MEIKLE

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Book Review: 5 of 5 stars to The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

The Stress of Her RegardThe Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite Powers books, and that’s saying something, this ranks up there with THE ANUBIS GATES and LAST CALL in the pantheon of greatness.

Again, it’s a simple enough idea — what if the muses of the great Romantic poets were actual supernatural beings, a kind of psychic vampire? From that Powers imagination takes flight and we get Nephilim, Byron, Shelley, Keats and all manner of innocent bystanders pulled under the influence of ancient creatures, Lamia, trying to find a foothold again in the world.

As ever with Powers the language is lyrical, the imagery is staggeringly well conceived and the characters meticulously drawn. There are majestic supernatural set pieces high in the Alps and in the narrow canals and palaces of Venice, musings on the nature of reality, and tying it all together a fractured love story that starts, and ends, in an English pub garden.

It’s such a beautifully put together novel. I’m in envy of the man’s talent.

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Book Review: 5 of 5 stars to Three Days to Never by Tim Powers

Three Days to NeverThree Days to Never by Tim Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do love Tim Powers’ writing. THREE DAYS TO NEVER marks me catching up completely, and finishing reading all of his novels, and they’ve all been brilliant in their own way. A couple haven’t quite grabbed me as much as others, but this one has time travel, remote sensing, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and a great cast of characters tightly bound in an intricate plot. I was hooked from the start.

I’ve been away for two days in Powers’ head, held by his way of taking a weird idea, such as Einstein inventing a time machine, then filtering it through a world view that contains ghosts, ESP and all manner of psychic phenomena. Anybody who has read Powers in recent years knows all his tics and enthusiasms, and they’re here in full, but this is tighter, more controlled than the frenzy of, say, Earthquake Weather, and all the better for it.

There are moments of brilliance here too, in descriptions of how a blind woman can live by seeing through others’ eyes, of swooping travels in the astral planes, and a climactic sequence as tense as any thriller.

But at heart, it’s a story of a broken family, working together for each other against heavy odds, and it’s often rather touching and tender. And funny too, with a comedic touch that’s sometimes absent from Powers’ books.

I’m sorry I took so long getting to this one.

It’s another winner.

And I’m also sorry that there’s no more new Powers books for me to read now. I’ll be waiting impatiently for his next one.

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Book Review: 5/5 stars to Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd

Dan Leno and the Limehouse GolemDan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The play’s the thing.

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for Victorian London fiction, whether it be fiction written at the time by Conan Doyle or Robert Louis Stevenson, or modern takes on it by the likes of Tim Powers, Dan Simmons, Kim Newman or, in this case, Peter Ackroyd.

As in all Ackroyd books, the city itself is a character, and in this one the cast and crew enact a drama while their lives and fortunes intertwine over a period of years. As ever Ackroyd’s literary mechanics are flawless, switching between voices seamlessly, whether it be in the form of trial transcripts, diary entries, or the over-arching, all seeing eye of the city itself. The plot moves along equally seamlessly, each cog in the clockwork moving as it must. At times I was greatly reminded of The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr Hyde in the way matters unfolded.

Reality and fiction are both at play, and they too are intertwined, as bloody murder is mimicked on pantomine stages, and grotesque pantomine is played out in the streets of Limehouse when the Golem walks abroad.

It’s a tour-de-force throughout, and Ackroyd keeps all his balls juggling in the air like one of his music hall performers.

A fine addition to the ranks of Victoriana. I loved it.

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BOOK REVIEW – 5/5 stars to OUR LADY OF DARKNESS by FRITZ LEIBER

Our Lady Of DarknessOur Lady Of Darkness by Fritz Leiber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OUR LADY OF DARKNESS isn’t an exciting read. It’s a slow burner, a mass of details, all seeming inconsequential at first, that build and grow into something that is ultimately rich and strange and terrifying.

There’s a lot going on here, in the range and depth of characters that remind me of some of Raymond Chandler’s or Ross MacDonald’s lost people in California, in the details of the occult nature of city building, and in the secret pasts of famous genre writers such as Jack London and Clark Ashton Smith among others.

It’s all wrapped up in a mystery being solved by a broken man, trying to put a jigsaw of pieces back into some kind of order that might make sense to him.

It’s compelling stuff, and the denouement is the stuff of nightmares for bibliophiles.

One of the great works of modern supernatural literature, it deserves to be much better known than it is.

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Book Review: 4/5 stars to GHOST TRAIN by Stephen Laws

Ghost TrainGhost Train by Stephen Laws

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my introduction to Stephen Laws way back when, and led me to seek out everything he has written.

It’s based on a great premise… that the main East Coast rail line from London to the North of England is on a ley line that can channel power to the London End, with a view to waking an ancient demon.

Strange deaths abound on the line. Our protagonist, himself a survivor of a strange experience on a train, has to try to stop the energy building up.

The climax is a tour-de-force as the train hurtles to London, the demon grows ever more powerful, and the deaths pile up.

Laws has a wild imagination, and he likes to kill people in very gruesome fashions, but if, like me, you like your horror fast and action packed, then he’s the man for you.

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Book Review: 5/5 stars to FEVRE DREAM by George R R Martin

Fevre DreamFevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best written vampire novels I have read. A real pleasure after having waded through so much tripe elsewhere.

GRRM knows how to write, and how to plot.

The main character in this book isn’t really a person at all… it’s a steamboat, the Fevre Dream. It is built by a Captain, and his strangely pale partner. Together they take to the river, getting involved in trying to set fast times and race other steamers.

Things hot up when it becomes obvious that the pale partner has night-time interests. He is hunting for others of his kind. And when he finds them, we get to some of the most vicious vamps in literature, along with their equally vicious human “pet”

The characters are all vividly drawn, especially Abner, the steamboat captain who just wants to be on the river, in a big boat.

And GRRM has enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the reader interested through until the end, which comes with a perfect grace note. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

They really should make this into a movie… just to show what “Interview with The Vampire” COULD have been.

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Book Review: 4/5 Stars to THE SIX MESSIAHS by Mark Frost

The Six Messiahs (The List of Seven, #2)The Six Messiahs by Mark Frost

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first read THE SIX MESSIAHS, I was more than a bit disappointed with it. I wanted a sequel to the excellent LIST OF SEVEN. I wanted Jack Sparks and Conan Doyle, hunting down the bad guy, with all the appropriate Sherlockian nods and winks that would entail. What we get instead is a dizzying host of characters, hardly anything of Jack Sparks, and not much at all of Doyle.

If you’re looking for Sherlock in this one, you’re really looking in the wrong place. THE SIX MESSIAHS is a different beast entirely. It’s more about suffering, and redemption, and the power of cults than anything else.

On this second reading I got the point a lot quicker than on the first, and I raced through it. Frost is great at pacing, has an eye for what makes a character memorable, and an inventive imagination that keeps the whole thing careering along.

There’s a bit too much head-hopping around the point of view characters for my liking, and even a couple of places where it gets confusing trying to figure out which head we’re supposed to be in at the time. And in the rush to the finish, a couple of characters get sidelined and don’t really get to finish their part of the story.

But that’s just quibbling. All in all, it’s a fine romp. And despite what I said earlier, there is indeed a glimpse of Sherlock, right at the end, when the right thing is done and most of the threads are tied up.

I keep hoping for another sequel from Frost to see what Doyle gets up to next, but the new Twin Peaks will do just fine in the meantime.

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Book Review: 4/5 stars to HIDE ME AMONG THE GRAVES by Tim Powers

Hide Me Among the GravesHide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a big Tim Powers fan for many years now.

I adore the way he attacks a plot with exuberance and bravado. In this one we’re tossed into the lives of the Rossetti family, a veterinarian, a prostitute and an adventurer in Dickensian London all plagued by a family blood curse that has come back to claim its own. It’s also a sequel to an earlier work, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy this one on its own merits.

19th Century London is a locale Powers has detailed before of course, in THE ANUBIS GATES in particular. HIDE isn’t quite in that league of baroque brilliance – then again, what is? – but it’s a glorious, almost breathless romp that throws snatches of poetry and music hall at you, draws in legends of London from the Roman era onward, dances in the bars and descends into the sewers and caverns beneath the Old Lady to meet the denizens, natural and supernatural who live there.

It’s all driven along by Powers’ at times poetic language and feel for a story. You’ll find death, romance, seances, exorcisms, high magic in Highgate Cemetery, ghosts by the Thames and derring-do in Cheyne Walk.

It’s a fine addition to Powers’ catalog.

Reading him always makes me feel like a rank amateur in my own writing – but it also makes me want to strive to do better, so I’m off to try.

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Book Review: 4/5 Stars to REVIVAL by Stephen King

RevivalRevival by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a constant reader of the man since CARRIE – over forty years now, and in recent years have found his work a bit hit or miss for me – I loved 11/22/63 for example, but was terribly disappointed in Dr. Sleep. So there was some trepidation when I picked up REVIVAL, having read scathing reviews.

I’m glad I ignored them though for, despite being another slow burner, there is much to enjoy in this tale of broken people, redemption and mad science. King references Arthur Machen’s THE GREAT GOD PAN but I found echoes of other works here, from Theodore Sturgeon’s THE DREAMING JEWELS to Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, and also B Movie nods to the likes of THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES and even I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

As I said, it’s a slow burner, and it’s only as we approach the climax that all the threads come together and we see why we needed to look so closely at history, family, young-and lost-love and how life changes as the years grow. Then it’s a rush riding the lightning to the bitter-sweet end.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit myself now, having been on this journey with the writer since I was 16 myself, but this book spoke to me, and I liked it a lot. It reminded me in style of another much maligned King, FROM A BUICK 8, and, yes, I liked that one a lot too.

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