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Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

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In 2004, during a weekend away for her father Sean’s 50th birthday celebrations, three year old Coco Jackson disappears – apparently taken from the house where she slept with her twin sister Ruby and other children in the middle of the night. A huge media campaign follows but Coco is never found.

Twelve years later, following the sudden death of Sean Jackson, the truth about what really happened on that weekend is slowly revealed as his family and friends prepare for his funeral.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Psychological thrillers are a favourite genre of mine but they can also be a real let-down when they venture into the realms of the ridiculous. However, this book seemed actually plausible and I think that may have been due to the writing. And, sadly, possibly also due to the fact that there have been some high profile disappearances of children over the years. Alex Marwood is a journalist and I can’t help wondering if this case was at least inspired by one particularly famous child disappearance.

There is a dual storyline – the first part set in 2004 and told from the point of view of various characters. The truth of what happened is drip-fed bit by bit. The second part is set in 2016 and is narrated by Mila, one of Sean’s daughters from his first of four marriages. As Mila reconnects with Ruby, the twin sister of Coco, she revisits her own past and deals with her feelings about her father and the fragile ties that can bind a family together.

In any event, it’s an absorbing read. Sean Jackson is a deeply unlikeable, narcissistic and selfish character and indeed most of the adult characters in this story are the same. Pity the children who had the misfortune to be part of their families. Speaking of those children though, I did love Mila and enjoyed her character development. I also adored Ruby, who was entirely believable as both a typical teenager and a young girl who had had to live with survivor’s guilt her whole life.

As mentioned earlier, I did think that the final twist was pretty predictable, but there were still a few surprises along the way, and the writing was great and kept me reading on and on.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by Alex Marwood.

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arbitrage

Richard Gere heads up the cast in this thriller – he plays Robert Miller, a successful hedge fund magnate. Miller is desperate to try and sell his company before his dodgy financial dealings come to light, but is soon faced with an even bigger problem on a more personal scale. Desperate to cover up his involvement in a young lady’s death, he tries to out manoeuvre the tenacious Detectiver Bryer (Tim Roth), who knows Miller’s guilt (no spoilers here) and is prepared to go to any lengths to prove it. Throughout all of this, Miller’s family life with wife Ellen and daughter Brooke (Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling respectively) starts to crumble. Can Miller outrun the truth – and how long will his power and influence be able to protect him?

This was another film which exceeded my expectations. I watched it because of Tim Roth and from the description was not sure that it would be something that I would really enjoy. However, it held my attention from the moment it started and I thoroughly liked the whole story. The cast were excellent – Richard Gere was great as the powerful businessman who could feel everything he had achieved slipping through his fingers. He moved seamlessly from a loving father to a ruthless businessman and although I did not really like the character (and I don’t think we were meant to like him) I still found him interesting. Tim Roth was – of course – excellent in the type of role that he plays so well; determined and persistent. Although his character was essentially on the side of the good, Bryer’s own morals were somewhat ambiguous. I do feel that Susan Sarandon was somewhat underused, appearing in only really a handful of scenes, although there was one very relevant one towards the end – I won’t say more about that because the ending was excellent and I don’t think anyone watching this film should have it spoiled for them.

Also brilliant was Nate Parker as Jimmy Grant – a young man with a criminal past, who is  now trying to rebuild his life, but whose connections with Miller and a favour which he does for Miller threaten to ruin his future.

Overall, an enjoyable and absorbing thriller, which is well worth a watch.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Writer: Nicholas Jarecki

Main cast: Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon, Nate Parker, Brit Marling

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May 1983 – 14 year old Cynthia Bigge wakes up the morning after an almighty row with her father, and discovers that her entire family – her mother, father and brother have disappeared.  The mystery is never solved, and for 25 years, Cynthia has to live with not knowing what happened to them.  Are they dead? Alive?  Did they just choose to leave her, or did some other fate befall them?

2008 – Cynthia appears in one of those hokey true-crime television shows, which revisits the mystery of her family’s disappearance, and soon afterwards, strange things start happening – a phone call from someone saying that they know where her family are; her father’s old hat suddenly appearing in their house, and other events.  Is someone playing cruel games with Cynthia, or is they mystery finally about to be solved?

Apart from the very brief prologue describing the night of the disappearance from Cynthia’s point of view, the rest of the story is narrated by her husband, a high school English teacher named Terry.  Cynthia and Terry have a more-or-less happy marriage, and an eight year old daughter named Grace, but the mystery of what happened to her parents and brother has haunted Cynthia for years, to the extent that when odd events occur, Terry questions Cynthia’s sanity.

If you are a fan of thrillers/whodunnits, then I’d recommend this story.  Sometimes the writing is a bit cliched, and I did figure out the ending before the big reveal, but there was plenty here that kept me entertained.  The writing flowed well, and I read huge chunks at a time, because I was eager to find out what happened (and if my guesses were correct).  The plot sometimes veered close to being ludicrous, but I just went with it, and enjoyed it anyway.  As with most books in this genre, I would not read it again, because it’s more about the destination rather than the journey, so once you know who ‘dunnit’ there’s not much point in re-reading.  Terry was a decent enough narrator, although not a particularly interesting character (to me anyway), but this book is definitely more plot driven than character driven, so the fact that he did not make a huge impression on me did not really matter.

All in all, it’s not brilliant, but it’s an enjoyable diversion and I’d read more by Linwood Barclay.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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ID Plays Ltd. present this performance of Donald F. East’s play.  Set in the 1970s, Clive and Moira Richards are an unhappily married couple; Moira is having an affair with Clive’s younger business partner Philip, and Clive is fed up of Moira’s deception, and her constant snippiness and dissatisfaction.  Philip wants to sell his and Clive’s business, and is prepared to go to almost any lengths to do so, while Clive is equally determined to stop the sale happening.  When a woman claiming to be Clive’s first wife Jane arrives on the scene, the stage is set for murderous plots, swapped allegiances, and neither the characters nor the audience are quite sure who is deceiving who.

The play had a cast of just four – Paul Lavers and Carly Nickson as Clive and Moira, Peter Amory as Philip and Bridget Lambert as Jane.  With all of the action being set in the Richards’ living room, this made for a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere.  All of the cast were excellent, with Lavers and Nickson really showing the cracks that have appeared in their marriage, while Amory is immediately unlikeable as Philip (although it’s not hard to see how he could have charmed Moira).  Lambert was terrific in what was the least developed role.

This play is not particularly gory or scary – some unpleasant things do take place off-stage, but on-stage is reserved mainly for the characters plotting.  None of the characters are actually very likeable, and all of them have no apparent concern for any of the others.  This actually worked well, because it meant that you never knew what any character might do next.  There were many twists and turns, and double-crosses, so that the audience were kept guessing throughout.

Overall, this was a lot of fun for any fans of murder mysteries.  I bought my ticket on a whim, and was very pleased that I had done so.  I will definitely be looking out for further productions by ID Plays Ltd.

(For more information about this production, or ID Plays Ltd., please click here.)

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Barry and Cheryl are a young, desperately poor couple, who get picked to appear in a reality television series about poverty in Britain.  Initially, they are taken to the hearts of the public, but predictably the tide of opinion turns – fuelled by a ruthless tabloid press – and they find themselves reviled, hated and scared to show their faces in public.  And then their three children are kidnapped, and events take a truly monstrous turn.

This book sums up so much about why I hate reality television.  Such programmes can be exploitative and cruel, making heroes and villains out of ordinary, often vulnerable people.  Barry and Cheryl think that all their dreams will come true by appearing on this programme – and for a while it seems that they are right – but the media care little about them, and encourage the public to vent all their hatred on this young couple, determined to show them as irresponsible and greedy dole-scroungers (if this all sounds familiar, it’s probably because there are programmes that do EXACTLY this, although this book predates many of the current crop of such shows).  The venom with which they are treated – and it is mainly aimed at Cheryl, rather than Barry – is breathtaking and disgusting.

The twists and turns come thick and fast, and at times I was not sure who or what to believe.  As the public animosity takes its toll on Cheryl, her thoughts become confused and a sense of paranoia creeps in.  I found the story utterly compelling, although in many ways it was not at all enjoyable.  It was all too believable, and quite accurately reflected how people are worshipped or reviled as a result of their appearance on programmes like the fictional one in this book ‘The Dark End of the Street’ – yet they are not really prepared or equipped to deal with such strong feelings from a public who don’t really know anything of them, other than how the programme makers manipulate their appearances on television.

My only real criticism of the book would be the final two pages.  The story is completed by then, and these last couple of pages feel like a clumsily tacked-on, and unnecessary epilogue.  Other than that though, it’s a gripping thriller which can make for uncomfortable reading.

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This book is a tie-in to the ABC tv series ‘Castle’ – but not your usual kind of tie-in.  In that show, celebrity author Richard Castle tails NYPD Detective Kate Beckett and her team, in order to research his latest crime series.  He bases his character Nikki Heat on Beckett, and releases a number of Nikki Heat books.  This book is the first one in that series, so in effect it is a book written by a fictional character! (The identity of the actual author of the books is a closely guarded secret.)

The way it’s done is very clever, complete with an author photo of Richard Castle (actually Nathan Fillion, who portrays him on the show), and in his acknowledgements he thanks both the fictional characters and the actors on the show.

The story of the book revolves around the death of property mogul Matthew Starr.  There are no shortage of suspects as Nikki and her colleagues, including Jameson Rook (the character which Castle bases on himself) investigate the murder, and Nikki finds herself in danger as she works to uncover the truth.

It’s hard to review this book without connecting it to the tv series.  It could be read as a straightforward crime thriller, even if the reader had never seen the show.  However, I think fans of the show (and I count myself among their number) will probably get more out of it, as the characters in the show all have counterparts in the book, and I found myself hearing their voices in my head as I read the story.

I definitely enjoyed the book.  It moves along at a rapid pace, and certainly captures the atmosphere of New York City.  I was kept guessing right until the end, and there were enough twists and turns to make it difficult to predict what was going to happen.

And for fans of the show – the much-referred to sex scene between Heat and Rook is in the book, and does indeed happen on page 105, just as stated in the show!

Overall, an enjoyable read – I will definitely read the subsequent books in the series.

(‘Author’s’ website can be found here.  For more information on the tv show, please click here.)

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Stalag 17 is part of a prison camp in World War II, where American prisoners of war are kept. When two of them attempt to escape and their plan is foiled, a POW named J.J. Sefton (William Holden) is suspected of leaking details of the escape plan to the Germans. When the German Officers seem to be constantly one step ahead of the POW’s – finding out about the radio they have smuggled into the camp, for instance – the suspicion grows, and Sefton is ostracised by the others, especially since it is known that he trades goods with the guards in order to obtain privileges for himself. As tensions rise, it becomes clear to Sefton that he will have to find the real informant if he is to exonerate himself.

This film was not the first, nor the last collaboration between director Billy Wilder and actor William Holden. I would not even count it as the best (that honour would go to Sunset Boulevard), but still, I thoroughly enjoyed Stalag 17, and unhesitatingly would rate it 10/10.

Holden – one of the most under-rated actors of the 20th century (in my opinion, for what it’s worth) – turns in a superb performance as Sefton, a not-altogether-sympathetic or likeable character. He quite rightly won the Oscar for his performance in this film. Otto Preminger, usually known for directing films rather than starring in them – is also great as the head of the camp, and Sig Ruman, as the officer in charge of Stalag 17, is perfect in his role too.

The tension is mainained throughout – the audience becomes aware of who the informant is, quite a while before the POWs in Stalag 17, but this does not detract from the tension of the story at all. And it is quite some achievement to incorporate comedy, thrills and tension in a film about a WWII prisoner of war camp, but that is exactly what happens here. It has quite a claustrophobic atmosphere, as most of the action takes place in the hut where the POW’s live, and all of it takes place inside the camp itself. This helps to raise the sense of distrust and suspicion.

The ending is great – it rounds off the story perfectly, and I could not have predicted it.

Overall – definitely a film worth seeing!

Year of release: 1953

Director: Billy Wilder

Producers: Billy Wilder, William Schorr

Writers: Donald Bevan (play), Edmund Trzcinski (play), Billy Wilder, Edwin Blum

Main cast: William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Richard Erdman, Sig Ruman, Peter Graves

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