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I had picked up 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' a few times but was always put off by the price (generally around £7) compared with the length of it (few hours reading at most) so it wasn't until I saw the Kindle version for £1.42 I decided to take the plunge.
I quite like a lot of the alternative views on the biblical times and stories as long as they are well researched and logically explained. I can't see how these books can be offensive, they are merely offering an alternative view point and usually provide material to challenge established thinking. Books like 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' are fascinating reads but suffer from being a little dry. I was hoping a story from a well respected author like Philip Pullman would be readable and challenging, sadly it was only the former of the two.
As the title more or less tells you, Pullman has come up with the theory that Jesus was a twin, his brother being called Christ. This is an interesting idea and allows certain things in the Bible to be more explainable (specifically around the resurrection). This is the premise of the entire book. Take the established thinking and put it in a way that is more believable to the modern reader. Whilst the presence of a twin is clever and even the use of the names makes sense; this is pretty much where the original thinking stops. The vast majority of the book is summarising the better known stories from the bible into a few sentences. The stories are summarised so much that someone who is not familiar with the bible will not have a clue what the relevance is. The explanations are lazy and are ones you will have heard a hundred times before. The feeding of the five thousand from two fish and five loaves was possible due to everyone else having food with them, or as Pullman puts it someone had some raisins in his pocket, someone else had some bread in his. So feeding five thousand suddenly becomes much more believable when everyone has a pocketful of raisins. I would be more willing to forgive using conventional alternative theories had the book had more substance or the occasional moment of brilliance but I felt it failed to deliver on all counts. Almost at all times Pullman goes with what your average person would come up with, a real disappointment from someone I expected a lot more from.
A further issue is that most of the story is told from the Scoundrel Christ's point of view. Firstly, he isn't much of a scoundrel and secondly you wonder what the fuss about Jesus is about. You are given so little of the story that it seems like all he is doing is causing minor public disturbances and his part of the story is vastly undersold. This makes the crucifixion all the more baffling as so little has been explained. You get the odd event described in detail as Christ attended it but for the vast majority it is not a first hand account. It is merely a recollection from someone in the crowd or an unnamed insider who feeds details to Christ. This was frustrating, Christ was in attendance at The Sermon on the Mount. This was the best part of the book in my opinion. It made you wonder how much better the other scenes could have been had Pullman put Christ there in person to witness them.
The relationship between Jesus and Christ is never given a chance to develop. In their younger days they interact a little but as they moved into and beyond their teenage years there is almost no interaction at all. This is something I would have liked to have seen developed a lot more. There was a real opportunity for some great dialogue and questions between the pair but Pullman keeps them well apart.
There is also another unnamed character who instructs Christ. In the early part of the book I speculated on who this character could be and one of the main appeals of the book was discovering the identity of this individual. Sadly you never do, despite him playing an increasingly prominent role. Again, this may be intentional to provoke discussion but it is also an easy way out for the author.
You start to wonder if this is a book that Pullman wants you to use as a starting point to further studies. By giving you the briefest of details he may pique the interest of a reader, prompting further research. However, this is not the reason I, or I suspect most other readers bought this book.
Pullman also seems to have quite strong views against the modern church. One of the few passages which lasts more than a page or two has quite a tirade from Christ about what potential evils the future Church could contain. Again, lazily Pullman just uses actual examples from history (and the present day) to illustrate this. This was another opportunity for some original insight but was it was neglected, so instead of being thought provoking it just brought about another sigh as the obvious was being used/stated again. However, the overall feel of the book is quite similar to the events of the Bible. It is not an alternate view of what happened, more a retelling with changes to remove the more miraculous events.
To be fair the book does hook you in but I feel this is more due to familiarity with the original stories rather than being due to the standard of this piece. You could easily read the entire book in one sitting and it may have been written with this intention (that's the only reason I can think for it being so short). I also found I kept on reading as I was wondering how Pullman would deal with certain upcoming events but the results disappointed with one exception.
The ending of the book was particularly well done. It was left slightly open-ended in terms of what would happen and the last dozen or so pages contained much more of the material that I thought would make up the majority of the book. So whilst it was a positive ending it just made you think that there was an idea here which wasn't fully utilised.
Probably worth getting at £1.42 just to satisfy curiosity. Not worth any more in my opinion.
I usually browse the cheap kindle section on Amazon and was intrigued when I came across the unanimous 5 star 'Silver' by Steven Savile, which was available for a mere 70p. It is rare for a book to have 100% 5 star ratings (admittedly from only 10 reviewers) so I decided to take a chance on it.
The story is an increasingly common one, riding on the coattails of Dan Brown's success. In this case Savile has written a tale around the Disciples of Judas, a religious group who believe that Judas was the true messiah and that his true place in history has been overwritten by people in the years following his death. To draw attention to their cause the group have promised forty days and forty nights of terror. These events start with 13 people burning themselves alive in a synchronised fashion across Europe. Each person delivers a similar message about the upcoming days of terror before they take their own lives. There appears to be little to connect the people and they all appear to be acting of their own free will.
We are then introduced to Ogmios. A black-ops group lead by Sir Charles Wyndham. Wyndham is more of a figure head than a leader. He is wheel-chair bound and co-ordinates the team of hand chosen operatives. These operatives are treated equally within the story and all have interesting issues and backgrounds. The writing style was unlike any I had read before. Rather than progress the bigger story, Savile followed one operative on their own part of the mission at the expense of all others. This tended to focus the reader exclusively on that part of the story and it was often a shock when this part was then dropped to go on to the next operative. How much of an issue this will be will probably depend on how much time you can devote to each session. If you prefer to read in small chunks then it may be initially difficult to remember what each operative was up to. It did feel that you were reading lots of small stories though, rather than a part of a bigger story. I could understand this more if it were written in the first person as that is how each operative would view the situation; however it is written in the third person.
Having said that I think this style was the thing that helped display Savile's ability as an author. Whether he was in the mindsight of a Russian male or an Israeli female you can actually feel the difference. Each character has his unique traits and ways of speaking that really illustrate that they are individuals. Not an easy task when you have half a dozen characters to do this convincingly with.
Another nice touch was that the odd chapter was set back in the time of Judas and his immediate descendants. This didn't form much of the story but it added a lot of the backstory and gave details which someone who wasn't familiar with the bible would find invaluable. I found myself hoping for more chapters from this era, something that is not usually the case when I read books primarily set in modern times.
My interest in the historical story peaked quite early on in the book which was a little disappointing. Most of the revelations occur in the opening third and I found that I was less and less interested in the Judas angle as the story progressed. This wasn't too much of an issue as Savile is a fantastic writer of fast paced action. It's just a small warning though if you are expecting this to focus heavily on the Judas part of the story.
Savile is clearly an intelligent author who has taken his research seriously. He threads together the details of his plot very well and is able to quote inconsistencies in the gospels to strengthen the case of the fanatics. You could argue that some of the dialogue is a little like a sermon but I guess it's pretty difficult to put across some of the large scale ideas he has without it appearing that way.
The only down side to the book was the very abrupt ending. It literally just finished with no warning which made me feel that I had only read half the story. There is a sequel due this year (inevitably called 'Gold') but it felt a bit like you were being cheated in this book. As mentioned above this book is really cheap at 70p but I hope that this is not a route authors are tempted to go down; offering half a story for a cheap price and then charging a lot more for the sequel.
As disappointing as the ending was there were a number of pages from the author where he explained a lot of how the story came into being. No doubt worried by the Dan Brown comparisons he explains he had been working on the story for a number of years before Dan Brown released anything and actually despaired at Brown's success with something so close to his story. These pages were excellent and revealed a lot about the thought process and sources he used. I would like more authors to provide these details where they are relevant and interesting.
The hardback version is a ridiculously overpriced £12.40 but the Kindle version for 70p is well worth a download just now (in case the price rises). I would be tempted to hang off reading it until the sequel has been released then you can read the whole story (assuming it's concluded in the next one!).
File size 524 kb
I tend to read the same genre of stories so I was unsure when a friend recommended 'Room' by Emma Donoghue. It was a friend whose opinion I trust, so with reservations I picked it up and I am glad I did.
The story begins on the 5th birthday of Jack, who acts as the narrator of the story. Waking up on his birthday he starts to describe the day like most 5 year olds would. It is only when you get a little further into the story that you begin to appreciate that his circumstances are vastly different to most 5 year olds. Jack has spent his entire life contained in a custom built 11 feet by 11 feet shelter. He shares this with his mother who was kidnapped and imprisoned over seven years ago. This structure is his world, he has never stepped outside of it and the only human he has ever been in contact with is his mother. He believes they are the only real people in the world, outside is Outer Space and the light from the Sky Light is the only glimpse he has ever seen of what lies beyond the four walls.
Being a custom built structure they are almost self-sufficient, having access to a television, a bath, cooking facilities and a toiler. However, they are dependent on their captor providing food on a regular basis and their weekly Sunday treat which can be as basic as pain killers or other essentials.
The early part of the book brilliantly describes how the two people have adapted their lives to dealing with their confinement. The author has really thought things through, especially in all of the games that they play, both of the educational and physical type (as much as you can in the space). From Jack's point of view he appears to enjoy what he considers a normal life. His only discontentment comes from the odd days when he describes his mother as 'gone' but even then he seems aware that this is a temporary state and she will be back to normal the following day.
The book is incredibly depressing though. It is sanitised a little, in that Jack doesn't comprehend a lot of what is going on. He struggles to tell what is real from what is TV. So when, for example, their captor 'visits' his mother Jack hides in the cupboard waiting until he is gone. Jack will then describe confusion over certain events which will be all too obvious to an adult reader. This was a clever way of writing it. It meant that as disturbing and uncomfortable as it was to read it was never described in a graphic way. Indeed, some of the most interesting dialogue in the book comes from the visits. The point that sticks in my mind is when the captor is justifying their living conditions and saying that they have it a lot better than other people in their circumstances.
However, with everything being told from jack's perspective a lot of the language is childish. This made it a more difficult story to get into. Initially the style of writing jarred a lot and I would say it was a quarter of the way into the book before I found I was reading it naturally. It also sets up a difficult position for the author in that she has the principal character failing to understand some things but then grasping far more complex issues. This didn't bother me too much as I viewed it as a necessary contradiction to advance the plot, however, I could see it bothering some readers.
The book moves slowly throughout. I am certain this was an intentional plot device given how time moved so slowly for the main characters. It is further evidence of how well written it is that at no point did the book lag, even when the characters had little to do, there was always a lot to be thinking about. The author does this well, constantly challenging the reader to assess the situation and to reflect on modern life and your own life. Is life better for having all the things we have and crave? What is freedom and at what price? These are just some of the more obvious questions you will ask yourself. There are many more. This is the perfect text for a book club or discussion group, especially in the kindle version where you can see the parts of text that other readers are highlighting.
As the story progressed my worry was how the ending would be handled. I couldn't really see a satisfactory way of wrapping things up which would be true to the story and satisfactory to the reader. Thankfully the ending was absolutely perfect. It was not an ending I had even considered and could not have been more suitable.
I would whole heartedly recommend this book but with a large caveat that I did not find it an enjoyable read. It was a challenging read and a depressing read but not what you would want if your reading is purely for pleasure and entertainment. Especially with the all too recent Fritzl case being in the media, you are only too aware that this is not fiction for all people.
Currently available for £2.51 on kindle or £3.58 in paperback.
I tend to browse through the top 100 free books on Amazon for Kindle. Generally these are the classic books which have expired copyrights. However, recently there has been a trend for authors to offer free books, generally the first in a series, in the hope they can hook you in to buy the following books. I guess this is almost following the 'TV drug dealer business model' of offering free samples to get you addicted!
One of the first batch I downloaded was Dennis Batchelder's Soul Identity. The idea sounded intriguing. A security consultant has been recruited to help a mysterious organisation who are being attacked internally and externally. This organisation, Soul Identity, track souls as they move from one life to the next. The soul tracking is based on each person's individual iris reading. An Iris is assumed to be unique, but the organisation discovered thousands of years ago that the individual readings reappear in the future, but crucially two identical Iris's are never present at the same time. So it is on this basis that a soul trail can be established, where a member can trace their previous self, and leave things to their future self/selves, through the iris readings. This permits Soul Identity to give their future selves a start in life whether it be it financial or by passing on knowledge. However, a rival business has been set up and member's are flocking to them and taking their substantial deposits with them. With Soul Identity on the verge of bankruptcy they seek assistance from the security consultant Scott Waverly. Scott suspects an inside job and has conflicting feelings as he has personal issues with what the organisation are promising people.
This was not the type of book I would typically read but I thought it was the chance to try something new at no cost. With any new author I tend to try and judge if their material is going to be worth reading within the opening 20 or so pages. I have to say I was not initially impressed. The prologue contains awful dialogue and characters I was struggling to connect with. To be fair it becomes clearer why the characters are behaving this way but with it being a free book I almost gave up on it and moved onto the next one before the first chapter had finished. However, once you get the clunky opening out of the way the book does hook you in. With it being a secret organisation, dealing with an unusual topic, the author has to come up with complex rules which are plausible within the scene he has set. Batchelder does an excellent job in this respect. His Soul Identity organisation is appropriately complex and rigid in structure. All of the details are revealed to you through Scott Waverly conducting his investigation. This means the details are leaked in a natural way and Waverly raises a lot of questions which immediately come to the reader. In addition to the obvious questions he also poses quite a few that I didn't think of but which I may have done in the following days. This was probably the main highlight of the novel for me, the way that all aspects of the organisation stood up to scrutiny.
Having said that there are parts of the book which fail to meet the required standard. Inevitably Waverly gets a love interest. This is Val Nikolskaya, she is a programmer at Soul Identity and is a cross between a supermodel and Lara Croft. She is as ridiculous a character as Waverly and falls in love with him instantly. I assumed she was a plant as that was the only plausible (in my view) explanation. This was probably my biggest issue with the book, almost all the characters were one dimensional. Even with the knowledge that someone was working against the organisation from the inside, you never really thought there would be much of a twist as the characters were so black and white. A further weakness was the reliance on a large coincidence which held the story together. It turns out that Waverly knows someone who will become a major player in Soul Identity's future. There are only a handful of people in the world who are capable of attaining the position and it turns out the relevant candidate is right on Waverly's doorstep. This is something that often happens in fiction but I always think it is a sign of weakness. I would much rather have had this person introduced in a manner which required the organisation tracking him down using age old procedures rather than coincidence.
One of the reviews I read before I downloaded the book mentioned that it was a great concept but in the hands of the wrong author. From memory they speculated what the likes of Michael Crichton may have done with the same concept. I thought this was harsh but can now see exactly what the person was getting at. Betchelder deserves great credit for coming up with the idea but you cant help but feel that he hasn't quite delivered on the idea. Hopefully he will rectify this in the sequels.
As mentioned above the book is a free download but is also available in paperback for £6.83 on Amazon. I can recommend the book as a decent bit of escapism when it is available for free but I would be reluctant to spend much more than a couple of pounds on it. To be fair I did download the sequel which was available for a very reasonable £1.75 (now £2.23) so it is not like they are charging excessive prices for the downloads, even once they may have you hooked in. However the paperbacks are not worth the prices, especially the sequel which is an eye-watering £9.50.
'Call of Duty: Black Ops' is the seventh game in the best selling series. This is a series I have avoided since returning the original Call of Duty to the shop I bought it from, as it was so poor. However, having been caught up in the hype surrounding the latest release I decided to give Black Ops a try, thinking there must be a reason why eighteen million copies were sold.
The issues I had with the original game are still prevalent in the story campaign in this title. With it being a first person shooter you are often being attacked by people you cannot see. There is a damage indicator which quickly lets you see the area the shots are coming from but it is still a frustrating experience when up against multiple enemies. Whilst you don't have to storm a beach front this time; there are scenes in Vietnam where you are faced with a similar number of enemy soldiers so you need to be prepared to be shot from all directions. The campaign mode is quite wide, it isn't just set in Vietnam, it covers the Cold War period and takes you to Russia, Cuba and Laos amongst other places.
The story is quite professionally done but lacks originality. It borrows heavily from the Jason Bourne series and takes the numbers element from Lost. The main character is Alex Mason, an American special ops agent who has trouble remembering what has happened. As the story develops it turns out this is due to treatments he has had which perhaps fits in with the period better than I was expecting. You travel with Mason through most of the '60s, meeting the likes of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Fidel Castro. There is a decent variety in the campaign mode. You will control everything from a tank to a helicopter and will fire every kind of weapon you could ever want to. However, I didn't think it was any better than average as an overall package. There are a large number of cut scenes and a lot of flashes (I would seriously worry about letting anyone with epilepsy near this) which aid the progression of the overall story but seriously slow down the gameplay. On the plus side, the game does look great and the accompanying soundtrack fits perfectly but if you are only looking to buy the game to play in on the campaign mode I wouldn't bother. You will do it in 6 hours or so and whilst there are 3 difficulty levels I can't imagine anyone would start on the bottom one as the middle one was easily achievable. I also had little inclination to replay the campaign mode, although I may do so at some point to try and get the trophies I missed on the first run through.
The online mode is easily where the game comes into its own. At any time there are between several hundred thousand and over one million people to play online. You compete with a random selection of people (or your friends if you link up with them) on one of the 14 custom maps. The appeal for me was that I am up against human players. If I get shot from an unseen enemy it is because they have taken a better position than me. These maps are incredibly well designed and have a huge variance. You have everything from jungle maps to firing range training maps. There is nowhere that is safe to hide, every location on the map has multiple access routes so the action is always frantic.
It is hard to cover all the different things you can do. The online system records every statistic imaginable and you get bonuses as you achieve certain things. Typically this will be kill X people with a certain weapon, or whilst crouched, or whilst wounded etc, etc. This gives quite a sense of achievement as at the beginning you will be continually getting achievements which you were not really aware of. In addition, you can unlock better and different weapons as you get promoted through the levels. This keeps it fresh and allows you to keep upgrading your character. You can also buy contracts which give rewards if you meet certain challenges. The rewards range from minor for the easy ones to quite extravagant for the difficult ones. However, all have a time limit and if you fail to complete the contract you lose the price of buying the contract. Finally there are three levels of perks that you can choose (one from each level) which allow you to have certain advantages. This perks can be upgraded as well so your initial soldier is going to get killed a lot whilst you upgrade him to a level that he will be competitive at.
I have played the online mode for over 45 hours now and the story mode for around six. Given the price was £30 on release I have had incredible value for money from this title. The price seems to have increased to around £40 but even at that I would recommend it, if you have online facilities. It's fair to mention the PS3 servers haven't been available all the time, twice they have been down for a number of hours (that I am aware of). This can be frustrating but I guess it's hard to complain given the online access is free.
The game had a number of bugs on release, thankfully most of these have been fixed with patches. The online game does still lose connection occasionally but its encouraging that so many patches have been released (and you can never be sure if the host of the game has quit as he/she may be losing).
Downloadable content is due on 1 February 2011 for the Xbox 360 but not until mid-March for the PS3. This is a further annoyance but for 6 weeks its one I can live with. The content will provide an additional four maps for the online games which will freshen things up again.
I have to give this five stars in terms of value for money but with the large caveat that that this rating is heavily weighted by the online content.
P.S. my PS3 tag is 'tommy7uk' if you want to add me online.
When I picked up my kindle I thought one of the benefits would be easy access to some of the older books I had never gotten round to reading. The one book which kept getting 5 star ratings was Frederick Forsyth's 'The Day of the Jackal' so with little else appealing I decided to take a chance on it.
Released in 1971, the story opens with a failed plot to kill President Charles De Gaulle in 1963 by the Organisation Armee Secrete (thankfully OAS for majority of the book). This was a group which took exception (putting it mildly) to De Gaulle's decision to grant independence to Algeria in 1962. They believe that Algeria should still be part of France and decide to assassinate De Gaulle in retribution for his decision. The failed plot is quite amateurish and the leadership of the OAS decide that for the job to succeed it's time to call in a professional. So the hunt begins for the man who will ultimately be given the codename Jackal and tasked with killing the President of France.
I thought this was an excellent book. My worry was that with it being written so long ago that it would not stand up to a modern day thriller. I could not have been more wrong. Of course there are elements of the book that are dated. People being uncontactable for days on end, customs being a matter of hoping certain bags wouldn't be looked into and people viewing £1,000 as a huge sum of money all remind you of how long ago this book was set. Having said that, the lack of contact adds hugely to the story. This is something the modern author cannot do given the number of methods of contact these days. In fact the lack of contact between anyone in this book opens up a lot of angles. Things which would be resolved by a quick phone call these days are left so that different interpretations can be made. This is something Forsyth does well and I found myself smiling on a couple of occasions at how he had worked the angles.
This is a work of fiction but Forsyth cleverly sets it against real details, people and organisations. The story is very cleverly written in terms of it being told from the viewpoint of the OAS and ultimately through their hired assassin. You naturally side with these people given the story is told from their point of view but instinctively you know what they are doing is wrong. Throughout the entire book you have these conflicting feelings, especially the better you get to know the Jackal. However, it seems like each time you develop an affinity with his character his actions quickly remind you what he is doing is wrong.
Whilst the story has a huge scale at the beginning it develops into a manhunt as the French police begin to get details of the hired assassin. The story becomes less about the objective, which is days away, and more about a battle of wits between the lead detective and the Jackal as the cat and mouse chase develops. The map shrinks as the authorities discover more and more about the hitman. Their initial information is only his codename and a very vague description. It was intriguing seeing how their enquiries advanced from working with scraps.
The plot advances slowly in places but even that works well. The Jackal is working towards a specific date and has time to kill so you spend days with him where his main objective is just to remain invisible. Even these aspects were brilliantly written and always entertaining.
What I admired most about the story was how plausible every plot advancement was. A lot of thriller writers rely on coincidence or long shots. There was none of that here. Just logical policework and clever actions on behalf of the Jackal. As the reader you are told what the Jackal is doing and then it is left up to you to fathom the reasoning behind it. This happens simultaneously with the detectives trying to find him. Again this works well, giving the reader an opportunity to second guess the Jackal's reasoning before it is revealed.
The pace of the book picks up rapidly towards the end as the central characters come to their inevitable showdown. This was described expertly and you could picture the scene exactly from the vivid description (I haven't seen the film yet so had no pre-conceived ideas about any characters or settings).
Some parts of the book did make me laugh. When one detective calls someone a 'sod' we are told that the other detective would never do this as he doesn't use strong language. In addition 'The Jackal' uses some ingenious ways of maintaining his low profile. Whilst there is usually a lethal edge to it he does get in some bizarre circumstances.
A lot of the book is set in France and Forsyth does an odd thing by inserting the odd line of dialogue in French (usually the simple stuff) before switching the conversation back to English, even though the whole conversation would have been in French. This is just a small thing but it jarred when he dropped it in. He also has to explain certain French customs that are common knowledge now but I guess the average reader may not have had much access to continental Europe in the early seventies.
As a final point on the book, the closing page is excellent and fitting for such a story. There are other elements which are unresolved but you feel that this story has been told.
As with all great stories you immediately want to dig deeper into the subjects raised. Since reading the book I have spent a fair bit of time reading about some of the characters, organisations and the decision to grant independence to Algeria.
The kindle version was excellent. Probably the best one I have read so far, there were no issues with formatting at all.
Currently available for £4.99 in paperback and £4.74 on Kindle.
I can still remember the first time I saw the movie 'Donnie Brasco'. I watched it mainly due to the principal actors, assuming it would be a poor film given the lack of hype compared with other Mafia themed films. However, I thought it was every bit the equal of the likes of 'Goodfellas' so when the chance came up to read Joseph D Pistone's book I was keen to read the thoughts of the man himself.
Joseph Pistone was an undercover policeman who infiltrated the Bonnano family of the New York mafia. Posing as a jewel expert (and thief) he started hanging out in known mafia locations, hoping to get a foothold in the lower levels. Pistone, having worked undercover before (as Donnie Brasco), having a Sicilian background and coming from the right area in New York was a natural choice to take on this undercover role. Back in 1976 there was little in the way of standard procedure and protocol for undercover missions so Donnie Brasco had quite a free rein, although he was obviously limited in that he couldn't be actively involved in criminal activities. Especially when he had to be a credible witness in any future trials.
I think the thing which shines through in this book is just how difficult it is to perform an undercover role. Constantly having to remember who you have told what to, is difficult enough, but knowing more than you should, or could, is a certain way for a premature death. Pistone gets round this issue by completely immersing himself in the undercover role. He would often go months without seeing his family and at times when reading the book you forget that he isn't a single guy. His level of commitment is way beyond anything I could have imagined and it must have taken a massive toll on his young family. This comes through in the writing, Pistone isn't one for talking up what he did or complaining about how tough things were for him. He just tells the story, usually in an understated way, which I liked. I am sure there were plenty of opportunities for embellishment but I couldn't trace any of that in the entire book.
There were times in the book where you struggle to believe that Brasco's cover wasn't blown. For example, to impress the guys higher up he takes them out on a luxury yacht for the day. When photos of the same yacht appear in a magazine story of how the FBI used it in a sting operation you think the game is up. However, he had immersed himself deeply enough that he was able to move any accusations on to the guy who had provided him with the boat. On other occasions he was brought face to face with contacts who it turned out he had arrested in the past. Fortunately although he remembered the criminals they seemed not to remember him. This current of tension was always present in the writing. One slip was all it needed to catch him out, and given he was trying to jeopardise every job, it was only a matter of time before question would be asked. This became really evident when a guy would 'no longer be working' with Brasco due to too many jobs failing. It became obvious that this guy had been killed as the assumption was it was him that had been giving details to the police. It must have taken a huge amount of courage for Pistone to continue in this role, given he had to keep jeopardising future missions.
For all that it is a fascinating read it perhaps suffers from Pistone telling it exactly how it was for him. You find out exactly how he was able to rise up in the Mafia so at times the story can progress a little slowly, compared with how a fictional account would be written. Also, it takes him time to gain trust and rise through the ranks so a lot of the jobs are petty crimes, things like moving on stolen goods rather than strategic Mafia jobs you would maybe want to read about.
A surprising amount of the book takes place in the form of dialogue between Brasco and the people he encounters (both fellow undercover agents and Mafia members). Given how clearly Pistone stated that he could not afford to keep any kind of recordings or records it is surprising that the book takes this format. I guess the dialogue can't be relied upon for anything other than conveying the general conversations but it is easy to forget it is not a completely accurate record, in this respect when you are reading the book. Relying on memory over a six year time period you have to think a lot of the dialogue is questionable at best.
There is an interesting section near the book where Brasco is about to be pulled out and arrests will follow immediately after. He has obviously built up a lot of affection for the guys he has spent so much time with. You can tell a small part of him regrets what he is about to do. Knowing it is the last time he will see people he almost feels compelled to say something meaningful, the way you would when say a close relative moves abroad. He manages to console himself with the knowledge that the guys he is about to put away would happily have had him killed, or indeed would do it themselves, had they known about his real motives. Pistone doesn't paint these guys as being evil throughout the book, he tells it pretty factually and appears to give a fair assessment of what occurred. In fact he seems to have a fair amount of affection for them as individuals and appears to deeply regret knowing what will happen to Sonny Black. Both Pistone and Black knew that Black would be murdered by his fellow gangsters for allowing Pistone to infiltrate them, being the capo that allowed him to infiltrate the organisation. Pistone resolves this conflict by saying it's the Mob rules which will kill Black, not his rules. Even knowing what will inevitably happen to him Black doesn't appear to bear any ill will to Donnie Brasco, he seems to regard it as being beaten in the game they are all involved in. Strange all round but indicative of the mutual respect between the men.
The epilogue adds a lot to the book. Pistone gives his closing thoughts, including on whether looking back he would do it. I will leave that for you to discover but I thought his words were well measured. He also gives a very brief summary of what happened to the major figures involved.
The version I have contains an update at July 1988 where Pistone tells you of the changes in the Mafia which are at least in part to do with his infiltration of the organisation. Sadly he has had to move six times in twelve years to keep his identity hidden. This is something he will probably have to do for the rest of his life. He is proud of what he did but sums it up perfectly with the closing lines of the book when talking about if he ever met some of the guys again they would say 'But if you did so good exposing us, Donnie, whyzit you and your family gotta live a coverup for the rest of your lives'.
'Worth Dying For' is the 15th outing for Lee Child's wandering hero Jack Reacher. The 14th book '61 hours' was released six months ago and had a cliff hanger ending with the final 3 words 'to be continued' so I was keen to find out how that story resolved itself. Although to be honest the previous story had resolved itself with the exception of how Reacher was going to escape from a perilous situation. There were no other plot threads to be picked up so I was a little bemused at the ending of that book.
So it was with little surprise, but a fair amount of disappointment, that this 15th book is a standalone entry in the series, with the exception of about 3 lines of dialogue, hidden away one-third of the way into the book, which explains how the previous situation was resolved. This seemed a really lazy way of bringing the reader up to date; and not for the first time it felt like Child had conned his reader. In fact part of me hoped that he would kill off Reacher at the start of this one and pick things up with the female character (who does Reacher's old military job) introduced in '61 Hours'. That's how much I felt this series needed to be freshened up.
However, we pick up Reacher wandering around as usual with the only difference being he has some unexplained injuries which you assume relate to how he escaped from the previous situation. The story is as standard as it gets. Reacher arrives at a small town where all is not as it seems. A minor incident with a local means he stumbles upon a larger plot where he begins to uncover some fairly major crimes. At least three-quarters of this series follows that formula.
Child often introduces elements to Reacher's character which are inconsistent with how he has been previously. This book presents a dumber and much more sadistic Reacher than any of the previous books would indicate. This was a real shame as the story, although predictable in format, introduced a few elements at the beginning that made me hope that this would be more of a detective story than a run of the mill beat 'em up. Annoyingly the detective element is pushed to one side and it is just a tale of Reacher finding and maiming or killing the 20 or so people whom he is up against. In fact Reacher is dumbed down so much that his initial decision to get involved seems a ridiculous one in itself. He is described as struggling to hold a coffee cup due to the injuries suffered. However, he happily starts fighting numerous people within hours of that description. Whilst you could argue that this is as a result of his integrity; the initial incident which sets things in motion here is based on a hunch and is one most people would steer away from or report to the police. It just makes him appear to be a man set on getting involved in fights rather than attempting to right wrongs.
The sadistic element came from nowhere. I can't recall much in any of the previous books which even hinted at this. On one occasion Reacher had knocked two men out, he then went and got a wrench and broke all of their wrists, comparing this with rendering an enemy's weapons useless. He is also not averse to a large body count in this book. In the past he would have gone out of his way to avoid this. Here it is a case of you may have tried to kill me so that's enough for me to kill you. No thought to the rights and wrongs of his actions, just some token comparison with a military situation as justification. This may be an intentional decision from Child as Reacher becomes increasingly desensitised to violence and killing but given his background it has taken him a very long time to change.
The opening third of the book was quite strong and I was making time to read this which is something I have not done with this series for a while, but from this point on things rapidly go downhill. Child reverts to his usual tactic of having Reacher wander around a lot (or drive around a lot in this case) for little benefit in terms of story progression. This really just allows him to pad out the story a bit. Iranians, Italian and Syrian gangsters are introduced to add to the number of enemies. These people are total caricatures of what a cartoon gangster would be. Child can't even be bothered naming half of them, in fact that's something which features throughout this book. Of the 25-30 characters you read about over half are not named. They are 'the doctor', 'the doctor's wife', 'one of the football players', 'Messano's Man' etc. It is like he doesn't think the average reader can remember that the guy giving Reacher painkillers is called anything other than 'the doctor'.
I have to say these books have become so bland that it is increasingly difficult to remember the more recent ones. I can recall the plot of the earlier entries in far more detail than I can the last half dozen or so. In fact the detail of the last book largely escapes me and that was only six months ago. I expect this one to be similar. The twist in this one is that you don't know what the cargo being transported is. Once it is finally revealed it turns out to be one of the only two things it could be.
On the plus side Child doesn't appear quite as infatuated with Reacher as usual. He gets the odd thing wrong. Most of the characters he encounters are bigger than him and he sustains injuries both in the book and in the period since we were last with him. Although, the description of him resetting his nose was stomach churning and unnecessary.
However he can't help himself on the odd occasion, we find out Reacher is the opposite of a haemophiliac as his blood clots so quickly, which is odd but handy for the situation he is in. The clock in his head (which is ridiculous enough) thankfully doesn't work when following being knocked out he finds himself in a dark room. However this is just because he hasn't reset his nose (as above). Once that's done the clock works again despite not having any indication of what day it is never mind the time of day. Total nonsense.
I have threatened to stop reading this series in the past but always get sucked back in. This time I am definitely finished with it in terms of hardback prices.
Currently available on Amazon for £7.59 hardback or £6.64 for the kindle edition. It was the kindle edition I read and it was a good conversion, just the very odd paragraph spacing which didn't quite work.
Every year I find myself shelling out around £40 for the latest Tiger Woods game. It is the only title I buy annually as it is generally great value for money.
The game is the closest thing to a golf simulation you can currently find. There is little else in the market that comes close so it's basically this or nothing. The game caters for all; you can set things up to make it an 'arcade' game where you can drive the ball 400 yards and eagle or birdie every hole or you can make it a real challenge, making it as difficult as the pros find things (or even harder).
Previous versions of the game have always been too easy, even on the most difficult settings but 2011 has made massive strides in the right direction.
On the disc you are given 17 courses which is plenty to provide enough variety to keep you interested. Disappointingly additional courses were available for download almost immediately, at a cost of £4.79 per course. I don't see the need for this other than excessive profiteering. Especially when I paid for additional downloads in 2010 and now have to buy the same courses again if I want to play them in 2011. A further annoyance is the cash element of previous games has gone. You used to be able to win some prize money and spend it buying better equipment or improving your player's attributes. Now, you get experience which you can trade in. Conceptually nothing wrong with that but it takes a lot longer to build up and if you don't have enough the game tries to get you to pay for the items at the Playstation Store. I cannot believe people spend £40 on a game then spend further money to avoid having to spend time completing it. Obviously people must though.
The courses feature some perennial favourites such as St Andrews, Pebble Beach and TPC Sawgrass. However, the line up is refreshed with new courses such as the stunning Liberty National, the US Open hosting Whistling Straits and the Ryder Cup hosting Celtic Manor. With St Andrews hosting the Open this year the game gives an excellent opportunity to learn the courses before you watch the professionals take them on. Additionally, in the week of the tournament you can compete with the professionals in real time, with the actual weather conditions.
One of the biggest selling points has been the inclusion of the Ryder Cup for the first time. The format of the tournament is perfect however the technical details leave a lot to be desired. To begin with there is no country affiliation needed. There are not enough golfers to fill the rosters properly so you may find, as I did, that you have Colombian Camilo Villegas facing Fiji's Vijay Singh in a Europe vs USA match. Really disappointing for what was the unique selling point of this year's edition.
Graphically the game has regressed a little from the very realistic 2010 version. There is more of a cartoon feel about the graphics which shocked to begin with. You become more used to it as time goes on and I like it now but I did think it was odd when it first loaded up. Also the close ups of Tiger Woods look more like Emile Heskey than Tiger Woods, strange all round.
As usual the sound is fantastic. There aren't many noises that you need in a golf game but the background sounds create the perfect ambiance.
The online mode works well for me when I am competing in the weekly tournaments. However, the same server issues, as every other year, plague me when I try to play 95% of other people online. Seemingly if you open all the ports on your PS3 this allows you to play freely online. But as you are increasing the level of online threats by doing this I have never bothered.
The other main innovation this year is the introduction of True Aim. Using this you only get the information a PGA tour player would get from his caddy. So instead of hitting to a tiny aiming circle and knocking every approach stone dead, you are told its 200 yards to that bunker, 230 to the front of the green and 260 to the back. It is then up to you to do the calculations based on how far your club will hit the ball (and where it will bounce etc). This has added a lot to the game, as has increasing the sensitivity of the putting. Instead of holing every putt you are now happy to get within 6 feet if you are more than 40 feet away. The realism is now fantastic. I can finally say this is the game I always wanted in this series. You have to think about everything. Is the ball above or below your feet, what's the wind doing, is there any elevation, the speed and slope of the green etc etc. Basically everything a real golfer would contend with.
Even though the game is more difficult it is in the right places. An errant drive will likely find you in a bunker or in deep rough. Gone are the wild drives that plagued the 2008 (I think) version. It's on the green you need to be precise, the way it should be.
The game is also move compatible which means you will be able to use the Wii style controllers when they are released later this year. The wii version of this game is incredibly poor in comparison so it will be great to get the real swing aspect added to this version.
As usual there are plenty of trophies to collect for doing things for the first time within the game, most are achievable with a little effort and some of them are very easy, playing a course for the first time for example.
I would definitely rate this as a 5 star game, mainly for improving the difficulty levels. However, if you are only interested in playing this on the arcade type settings then it's maybe not worth buying at full price.
'The Chosen One' is the fourth book written by Sam Bourne. I have found each of his books to be an improvement on the previous and the topics he covers are always interesting, so I was quite keen to pick up his latest novel.
Bourne's previous books have always been standalone titles. This is the first one which picks up on previous characters. The principal character is Maggie Costello the negotiator we were introduced to in Bourne's second book 'The Last Testament' when she was involved in peace talks in the Middle East. I liked the idea of this. Costello is the best character Bourne has conceived (to date) and here he had found a fairly plausible setting for where she would be, a few years on from the last book.
Costello is now a political advisor in the White House. As well as her official role she has a personal relationship with President Stephen Baker and his family, so she can easily get to the inner circle. The story is part political intrigue, part thriller. Baker is two months into his term, which is still riding the initial wave of optimism, when a person with an unknown background, Vic Forbes, starts to reveal scandals about the President on national television. After the first revelation its damage limitation time, the second is far graver but most worryingly is the promise of a third which will force the President from office. When Forbes dies under suspicious circumstances before the third revelation the focus switches to who may have been behind the death and what was the secret which had to be covered up.
Having previously covered the Jewish faith, the Middle East peace process then the United Nations and the Holocaust this was another new setting for Sam Bourne to base a book on. Bourne is the pseudonym of Jonathan Freeland, an award winning journalist and broadcaster. Freeland writes for the Guardian newspaper and was previously the newspaper's Washington correspondent so he is very familiar with the American cultural and political scene. This shines through in his writing and adds a level of authenticity to the story.
Bourne also has a great way of writing which allows you to power through the story. This one is not taxing on the brain at all. It is a much simpler read than his previous books but this means there is an element of this being a more standard thriller rather than the grand scale he worked on before. In fact it was a little disappointing the way that this story progressed. Whilst there was intrigue in who was pulling the strings and what the revelations were, the actual method of moving the story alternated between implausible and ridiculous. This got more frustrating as the story went on. Whilst you allow a fictional author a certain amount of leeway there were far too many coincidences and longshots in this one. Maggie Costello is a negotiator and as such will be a lot more persuasive than most people but she seems to have people falling over themselves to allow access to confidential material or to reveal the hidden locations of people (who have asked for this information not to be divulged). However, the most ridiculous thing was when a school teacher was able to remember a pupil from a generation ago purely by being given a fairly common Christian name (which was discovered following another very unlikely series of events). He is able to go through his memory of his classes, year by year to locate the individual. By this stage you just have to accept that these coincidences and keep reading.
A further annoyance was when a character who had just broken ribs was able to break into a jog. Anyone who has broken a rib will tell you how difficult this would be. Bourne acknowledged this with 'battered ribs complained' before making the character break into a faster jog. It just added to the overall feeling that this was very much a fictional book with little basis in reality. The ending is perhaps the strangest thing. Even Maggie has to question why the 'enemy' is treating her a certain way, there is that much bemusement about what is going on. However, the very final page did leave me with a smile on my face.
At 436 pages it is the shortest of the four books which I think is also telling. The other books appeared to have been condensed into their 500+ pages. This one felt its natural length. It wasn't padded but had none of the detail the others had.
I have probably focused on the negative too much as it is an enjoyable read ignoring these points. I just felt it wasn't up to the standard of the last two books and is more at the level of the first book, 'The Righteous Men'. I am not sure if we will see Maggie Costello again, I think she would be best left here. However, I will buy Sam Bourne's next book in the hope that this was a bit of an aberration and he will return to form.
436 pages (paperback)
Currently £3.98 on Amazon (paperback) or £3.58 (Kindle).
There is a plethora of books on the market just now claiming various things based on the findings of economists. 'Why England Lose and other curious phenomenon explained' seemed one of the more intriguing ones and its certainly topical at the moment so I thought I would take a chance on it.
The title of the book is slightly misleading. The 'Why England Lose' part is twice the font size of the rest of the title and it is in red as opposed to white. As a result you will probably refer to the book by the first half of its title and would assume that this book focuses on this theme. Actually only one of the 16 chapters really focuses on this topic. It is the most interesting part of the book but with it being the first full chapter you find that your interest peaks at the beginning and then reduces chapter by chapter.
What was impressive was that this book was released just prior to the 2010 World Cup. If England had been successful at this tournament then the basis of the book would have been proven to be unsound and it would have been obsolete within days of release. Of course, England were not successful and as a result the book can claim that tournament as proof of its theories. To be honest some of the theories in the opening chapter are not earth shattering. For example the World Cup is broken down into eight phases (from England's point of view)
Phase One, pre-tournament - Certainty that England will win the World Cup.
Phase Two - during the tournament England meet a former war time enemy.
Phase Three - the English conclude that the game turned on one freakish piece of bad luck that could only happen to them.
Phase Four - moreover, everyone else cheated.
Phase Five - England are knocked out without getting anywhere near lifting the Cup.
Phase Six - the day after elimination normal life resumes.
Phase Seven - A scapegoat is found
Phase Eight - England enter the next World Cup thinking they will win it.
Each phase is expanded upon and to be fair you can find a match for them all at the South African World Cup. Although you can also argue that some of these are as open ended as some of Nostradamus's predictions. For example as verification of a former war time enemy the authors include the defeat to the USA in the 1950s. With a war history like England's you could probably find at least a minor skirmish with most countries at the World Cup. Although losing to Germany does add a bit more credibility to this phase.
The book introduces some new (to me anyway) theories linking things like a country's population, wealth and experience to come up with a figure which can then be compared with another country. Tweaks are needed to make allowances for the home team's advantage etc but the authors are then able to predict how a country should perform based on these metrics. The results are interesting and force you to reconsider a lot of preconceived ideas. For example, based on these metrics England have actually over performed over the last 20 years.
There are other interesting parts to the book. The chapter focusing on the model Olympic Lyon used in France, to progress from a small provincial team to the main power in France was interesting. This dovetailed nicely with the chapter on how to avoid mistakes in the transfer market.
There are some more obvious theories investigated. The most obvious being the correlation between the total wage bill at a club (unless you are Man City (historically)) and the success it enjoys. Instinctively you know this must make sense but it is surprising just how statistically significant it is. The authors then cleverly draw out further theories using this as a starting point. Impressively, they are able to tell how much of an issue racism was in the 80s in football in England. It was a fact that black players were paid less than white players at that time. So a club containing no black players (Everton is a commonly referenced example) which performed below where its total wage bill would have normally placed it was likely to be at least in part as a result of employing a white player on higher wages, than his black equivalent. This is quite a simple summary, the book goes into a lot more detail. Thankfully the issue of racism had disappeared when a similar test was run in 2000, although how much this has been to do with morals and how much it has been to do with results is perhaps a different matter.
There are other theories explored in the book. Why is it that the European Cup/Champions League has never been won by a club from Moscow, Istanbul, London or Paris when the size of those cities would make you think that the resources, at the clubs' inhabiting those cities, disposal would ensure success. Interestingly the authors speculate that these cities could go on to dominate in the years to come.
As with all books of this type there is an element of taking the word of the authors. For example when Real Madrid appear as an outlier or anomaly in the data (being a capital city in a democratic country which has produced a Champions League winning team) it is claimed this is due to Madrid viewing itself as still being under a dictatorship and the players viewing it as if it were 1955. This is a nonsense claim. If Madrid had added to the theory none of this still being under a dictatorship would have been mentioned. Similarly I am not convinced that there isn't an element of double counting in some of the theories.
However overall it is a decent read and will introduce a few things which you may not have considered before.
Currently available at £5.27 on Amazon it is probably worth about that.
Film Only Review.
Director (and writer in this case) Chris Nolan has a habit of making me watch his films repeatedly. Sometimes because they are excellent (almost all are actually), but sometimes because they are so complicated and layered that you only pick up a fraction of the detail on one viewing (thinking 'Memento' here). 'Inception' falls into both categories in my opinion.
The first time I watched I was blown away by the visual effects and the excellent performances. However, the story lost me. Halfway through I gave up and thought I will watch to the end and work things back. I never managed it though. On second viewing the effects were still breathtaking but crucially the story made perfect sense, to the point that I was thinking how could I have missed so much the first time round.
The movie's central character is Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is an extractor. A man who can enter people's dreams to retrieve information they would not normally give away. There is huge demand for his services, especially in the corporate world. I won't say much more about the rules of this world as part of the joy of this film is it all unravelling in front of you. The only other thing worth mentioning is the title relates to the untested task of planting the seed of an idea in someone's mind. Planting it so deep that the person thinks it is their own idea. Cobb is considered the best extractor, if anyone can achieve Inception then it has to be him. Although it turns out he has his own demons.
Dream scenarios can often be difficult to follow. However this film takes it to another level, you have levels of dreams within dreams, within dreams, where projections of people can appear in more than one of them. As a viewer you are never totally certain of what is reality and what is a dream and even when you think you are certain can you say who is the dreamer? A master storyteller like Nolan crafts this into an amazing tale.
The rules of the world are explained in a typical fashion. Fairly early on we are introduced to a character who is being brought into this world for the first time. As a viewer you learn a lot of the rules as they are explained to this character. In many ways it's like when Neo starts to learn about 'The Matrix'. Again Nolan is brilliant here. He doesn't dwell on the rules to the nth degree, in fact a lot of how it is possible is never explained. He concentrates on the rules within the dream world. This means you can concentrate on what's occurring whilst accepting it is possible on good faith.
I think there is a fine line with the complexity of the story. A fair amount of people will probably write this off as bring rubbish based on one viewing and not fully understanding it (a friend of mine commented that he thought that if you went to the toilet at ANY point in this film you had no chance of understanding it, I tend to agree with him). After watching it for the first time I enjoyed it but left with the feeling that it was probably brilliant but I would have to go again to confirm this. This annoyed me and you could argue (assuming my understanding is that of a typical viewer) Nolan has failed in this regard. You shouldn't have to watch a film twice to get it. However, he deserves a lot of praise for forcing you to concentrate for the full running time of 2hrs 20 minutes in what is essentially a science fiction film with a lot of action thrown in.
Before I went the casting of DiCaprio put me off. I just cant take to him as an actor but to be fair I thought he was exceptional in this. The only slight negative is he plays a character which has a few similarities to the one he played in Shutter Island and my mind drifted back to that on a couple of occasions (not a good thing when watching this movie). The support cast were fantastic, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt a particular standout.
As much as this is a film for thinking, there are some unbelievable visual scenes. A fight involving Levitt's character takes place in an environment with no gravity. It is completely groundbreaking and almost impossible to watch without a large grin on your face. It is the most original effect I have seen on screen since the Wachowski brothers gave us bullet time 11 years ago.
I would urge you to go and see this. I found myself mulling it over for days after my first viewing. Incredibly this was worse the second time as a lot of it was clearer in my mind. I cant remember the last film to have that effect. Another real surprise was how quickly it went in the second time (I didn't feel this at the first viewing, it felt its full runtime). I suppose this relates to understanding it more but I have never felt that on repeat cinema viewing before. Even at 'The Dark Knight' there were a couple of scenes I thought could have been shortened or removed. There is no excess baggage here.
I expect to see this a third time before it leaves the cinema and I have never done that before. I have an umlimited card which means it won't cost any more to do this. But I wouldn't mind paying for this one again.
'61 Hours' is the 14th outing for Jack Reacher, the roaming ex-Military Policeman brought to life by author Lee Child. It was with little enthusiasm that I picked this up, the stories have been on a downward trend since 'One Shot', the 9th book, with the last three being particularly poor. However, the early reviews seemed promising so I hoped it was a return to form which it was, and it wasn't.
The one thing Lee Child does consistently well is write excellent openings. The last book 'Gone Tomorrow' was really poor, but 60 pages in had potential to be the best in the series. This time the opening is as strong as usual. It can't be easy to find a way to introduce Reacher plausibly into a new situation every time. The formula tends to be Reacher stumbles across a small situation in a small town and gets involved with the local law enforcement to resolve whatever the issue is (it is usually mushrooms into something massive, compared with the local environment). Child doesn't deviate much from the formula here but he brings all the elements together in an interesting way. In fact, the whole story is pretty formulaic, if you have read any of the previous stories. There is an unknown building on the outskirts of town. There is a mastermind pulling the criminal strings in the background. There is an unknown hitman, who may or may not be someone on the inside. All pretty standard stuff throughout the series.
However, for all that Child sticks to the tried and tested route he has an exceptionally natural way of telling stories that makes you want to read more. At 395 pages, in hardback, with a fairly large type face, this is the kind of book you are likely to read in a couple of sittings and it is a pleasurable read, without ever being challenging.
Thankfully Child doesn't give Reacher any crazy abilities in this one which haven't been mentioned before. Although, he is still fond of referencing the 'clock in Reacher's head' which is always accurate to the minute. In fact Reacher isn't quite the all conquering hero Child often paints him out to be. When he borrows a jacket, it's too big, a small detail but given that Child usually stresses how Reacher is the biggest, strongest etc. it was a surprise. Then later in the book when Reacher makes an absurd prediction (mirroring one of the more ridiculous points in the series), he is wrong. Of course it turns out he was only fractionally wrong but hopefully a sign that Child is starting to write more realistic stories. Although he still can't help himself when it comes to fighting. Reacher faced with 100 potential opponents in a fist fight figures the odds are decent as only a third of them are fully grown men!
As with any series which features the same principal character there is a delicate balance between filling in the back story (for the first time reader) and boring the people who already know it. Child handles this quite well. The details a frequent reader will already know are dealt with quickly and by way of Reacher giving the locals some detail on his background. So the back story comes out fairly naturally. What I liked most about this story though was that we were given additional details of Reacher's history. Not massive amounts but enough to add to what you already know. In a story this formulaic it was refreshing to get some new details. In fact Reacher's dealings with the military person performing his old role added a lot to this story and it seems fairly obvious this relationship will develop in future book(s).
The title '61 Hours' relates to the countdown which occurs throughout the book. It seems like every chapter ends with the time and XX hours to go. There is no reference to what this event will be. I found it quite irritating at the beginning but it did start to grown on me, especially when you got more details so could start to speculate on what the event was going to be. Not something I would like to see repeated but it worked quite well towards the end of the book.
Perhaps having read so many of these books makes it easier to tell where the author is going. Even allowing for that, I found it incredibly obvious who the hidden adversary was. I assumed it was made to be this obvious as Child was going to throw in a twist and I was looking forward to seeing who it would be. Sadly this was not the case. I have spoken to someone else who read this and they expressed the same disbelief at how obvious this mysterious person was.
It is only fair to point out that this is the first of two parts. This is not disclosed anywhere other than at the very end of the book when you are abruptly told that the story continues on 30 September 2010. I thought this was pretty poor. The person who gave me the book told me they had no idea until they reached that page. Given the book is on offer at around £10 (RRP £18.99) in most places you are faced with paying £20 to get the whole story if you want the new book in a timeframe where you can remember the detail of part one. For this reason I wouldn't recommend buying this book just now. You will have it finished well before the end of September. I would wait and see if you can get the two as a package.
Not a highlight in the series but a small step back in the right direction.
Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar's take on the Wild West. With the Grand Theft Auto brand being their flagship product it was going to be interesting to play a game which is very similar to that series but in an entirely new setting. It was worrying the length of time it took to finish this (rumoured 6 years) and there seemed to be regular development problems associated with this. However, as always with Rockstar products, the end result is a resounding success.
The hero of this story is John Marston. The story is set in the early 20th century and we pick it up with the government encouraging Marston to find and kill the main members of his former gang. By way of leverage the government capture Marston's family and he will only obtain their release by complying with the government's wishes. The first of many long cutscenes ends with Marston confronting Bill Williamson, the man who is now leading his former gang. This episode ends badly for Marston and sets up the long road to Marson's redemption.
Anyone who has played any of the Grand Theft Auto series will immediately be familiar with the vast majority of the gameplay on offer here. Rockstar have a formula which works and they have maintained the best parts of it and improved other parts with small tweaks. The early missions are standard fare; which are really just a way of introducing you to the control system within the limited early map. There are a lot of nice touches, covering everything you could ever want to do as a cowboy. The tasks range from showing you how to fire a gun through to lassoing wild horses. Even at this early stage the feel of the game is absolutely perfect. You will never have played a better looking game. Every aspect of it is spot on, from watching the sun set to duelling with various people you meet on your travels.
Duels are one of a huge number of side games you can play. There are also horseshoe throwing, arm-wrestling, poker, blackjack, liar's dice and five finger fillet all waiting to be discovered. These mini games are excellent and a lot of thought has been put into them. For example, arm-wrestling is a lot more about strategy than button bashing. Duels are the real highlight though. Highly cinematic and full of tension you will find you look forward to these highly satisfying showdowns more than anything else in the game.
This is an open world/sandbox game where there is little in the way of a linear story. You can pretty much do whatever you want. There are dozens and dozens of things you can occupy yourself with, without going near the main story. You can become a bounty hunter by bringing in wanted criminals from the posters, you can hone your skills killing wild animals, you can increase your survivalist skills by collecting plants or you can just ride around appreciating the stunning landscapes and graphics. I have never seen a better game graphically. The sun setting adds as much to this game as anything else. In addition, the soundtrack is amazing. It's more like what you would expect a movie sound track to be and the tracks are that good you can buy them on itunes.
The main story took me about 30 hours to complete. This included about 5 hours on the side games so there is plenty of playing in this. In fact, whilst playing the game I kept thinking that the end was upon me, only for more missions to appear. It felt like the longest game I have ever played, in a good way.
For all its brilliance there are a couple of negative points. Firstly it's too easy. There are two things you have to your advantage here, the first is an automatic targeting aid, which is the default setting. As a result you can kill three or four enemies just by aiming, shooting, taking aiming off and re-aiming. This meant that showdowns against multiple opponents could be over very quickly. You can switch the automatic aiming off but I only thought of this when I was 75% of the way through, on replaying I will definitely be using the expert aiming system. The second thing is the 'dead eye' meter. When you are aiming you can activate this. It slows time down and allows you to place markers where you would like your shots to go (much in the same was as you do in duelling). Whilst this is handy when trying to shoot fast moving things such as rabbits, it makes gun fights too easy. Although you have a finite amount in your dead eye meter it does regenerate reasonably quickly and you can replenish it by buying items at the store. These things make it highly likely you will progress quickly through the game and at no point does it seem like a challenge in the way that GTA IV did.
The only other negative I had was the length of the cutscenes. Clearly
there is a story to be told here but I felt that not every mission needed a lengthy cutscene to introduce it. As a result I ended up skipping some of the scenes with the ancillary characters.
The final frustration for me is that the online play has been highly temperamental, to the point where I am leaving it a few weeks until all the bugs are ironed out. Having sold over 5 million copies I can imagine that the servers are struggling to cope with the online demand. It's still quite disappointing that I have not been able to use this aspect of the game yet. Once it is working I am sure it will add a whole new dimension to the game as it looks like there are a lot of different aspects to it.
As usual you can collect trophies for your various achievements in the game. What is unusual here though is it is quite difficult to get them. I only have 35% of the trophies despite completing the single player story and having 85% completion for it. To be fair quite a few of the trophies are online ones so maybe this figure will increase quite a bit once I get online access.
I would class this as a must buy for any PS3 owner. It has huge depth and I am sure there are many aspects I have still to uncover.
Film only review
I was originally told that 'The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans' was going to be a remake of the 1992 film 'Bad Lieutenant' which starred Harvey Keitel. At that point I had little interest in seeing this as I hated that film. However, as it approached its release date it started to become clearer that this was going to be an original story, with some influences from the previous film. Not least caused by Victor Argo being a writer on both movies. Initial reviews were positive so I thought I would give it a chance even though I remained sceptical.
The film starts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We get an immediate impression of the character of Lieutenant Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) when he starts to make bets with a fellow policeman about how long it will take a prisoner to drown, appearing to be willing to let him die to win a bet. This is typical of the decisions he makes throughout the movie. With strangers McDonagh regularly behaves in the last way you would expect. Sometimes this leads to incredibly dark humour so it's not always about the writers darkening his character.
The movie is loosely based around a multiple murder. Five people were killed in their home and McDonagh is the lead detective on the case. This is notionally what the film is about, but the real story is almost a character study of McDonagh. The murder allows McDonagh to meet the key characters, who are mainly in the drug trade. McDonagh has no family beyond his parents and his main relationship is with prostitute Frankie Donnenfield (Eva Mednes). His life is on a major downward spiral and is unravelling before him. This trend is in both his personal and professional life. Whilst there is hope that there will be redemption at some point you can't help but feel you are watching a man's life implode and it's only a matter of what the terminal act will be. McDonagh seems to know this as well and acts in a reckless way for the majority of the film, almost willing his day of reckoning to arrive.
Nicolas Cage is obviously the main character. He is not an actor I am particularly fond of but he does an excellent job in this movie. He seems to play the destructive characters with a lot of conviction. When you are watching this your mind will inevitably go back to his performance in 'Leaving Las Vegas', mainly due to his destructive behaviour and involvement with a prostitute. Although, this time cocaine is his crutch rather than alcohol. He and Eva Mendes have a great screen chemistry and both have been perfectly cast in this movie. Val Kilmer is the other big name actor in this. He has a much smaller role to play, working as McDonagh's colleague. He is another actor I don't care for but he managed to get through this without annoying me too much.
The movie is rated 18. I can only assume that it was the drug use which forced this rating. There is some violence but its certainly not overdone and there isn't much in the way of bad language (with the odd exception) to justify much above a 15. One of my initial worries was that this would be a film which pushed both boundaries but it didn't at all. It doesn't glorify drugs, in fact it is quite the opposite. There isn't anything on screen I would be too worried about most adults watching.
As black as this film is, there are moments of brilliant humour and outright madness. Some of which is shock humour but most of it is as a result of very clever writing. This was a surprise and fitted in very well with the overall film. It is especially evident when McDonagh has been taking drugs and at times you are not quite sure if he is hallucinating or not. This added an element of quirkiness to the movie and again fitted in well with the overall feel of it as it was not overused.
With this type of movie it can be difficult to close it in a satisfactory way. It would appear that there is the potential for sequels here and it ends as well as you can hope. Some people may feel the ending is a little rushed and extremely implausible, which it certainly is, at least in the case of the latter. That's not really the point of this movie though. It would be like complaining that a James Bond film isn't realistic. This is not a film about exact police procedures or what is likely to occur to someone. So I wouldn't go in expecting a standard police film or even a standard thriller. Go in with no expectations and you will enjoy what is my favourite film of the year so far.