Sleuths & demons

A cinema buff since puberty, I would often visit neighbourhood theatres in the Big Apple that showed double features. One had A-level stars, the other B-level. Often as not, the B-level offerings were more entertaining, British as well as Hollywood. US Republic and UK Hammer studios were on about the same level.

Republic specialised in horse operas, Hammer in ghosties. The Cowboy and Indian flicks were virtually identical, as were the haunted houses. Yet the twists on the basic plots made them seem different. Republic adapted the stories of Ned Buntline, Zane Gray and the like. H.P. Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley were Hammer's preferences.

Double features went the way of the Great Depression. Republic and Hammer appear to have bitten the dust, except in the memories of celluloid fans like yours truly. Westerns and howling at the Full Moon aren't the flavour of the times, but films in the genres are still being made —and written about.

Stephen King is the contemporary top scrivener of occult stories.

Nevertheless, I take Wheatley over him. I thought I was alone in this until I read the latest work by author Stephen Leather. Crime thrillers are his forte, and that is what Lastnight is expected to be.

And it is, for a while at least. Unsolved murders, children butchered in and around London. Scotland Yard's Superintendent Chalmers has no recourse but to ask for assistance from the person he most dislikes. Former cop Jack Nightingale is now a private eye. Needless to say, his investigation is more fruitful than the Met's.

The plot then takes a sea turn into Wheatley-esque waters. He encounters a satanic cult: The Order of the Nine Angels. And it turns on him. Evidence of the horrific crimes points to him. Chalmers believes it. He's on the run, meeting demon from hell Persephine, who wants his soul.

Our hero is reduced to chalking figures on the floor, reciting incantations, burning down a house, faking his death, attending his own funeral. While not plagiarism by any means. I found myself watching a Hammer flick. Leather leaves us wondering if we've seen the last of his literary creation.

To be sure, he has conjured up other sleuths (i.e. "Spider" Shepherd). This reviewer wonders what his fertile imagination has in store for us.

Ian Fleming deserves better

According to researchers, Ian Fleming's memorable James Bond was only partly his literary creation, and actually based on a Yugoslav secret agent working for the Allies during World War II. Be that as it may, 007 has become the role model of the cloak-and-dagger profession.

All Fleming's Bond stories have been adapted to the screen, but not in the order they were published. A good many people have read the novels. Even more saw the movies. While a number of actors have portrayed him, Sean Connery is regarded by many as the definitive Bond.

Fleming's death ought to have been an end to Bond literary stories, yet the crowds clamoured for more. A group formed to give it to them. There was a search for authors who could imitate Fleming's style, plots and characters. A reverse measure was taken. First the motion picture, than the book based on it.

On the whole, pseudo-Fleming films have done better than the post-Fleming books. The most recent Bond story is Solo by William Boyd. In it, Bond's MI6 boss, M, sends him to Africa to stop the civil war in Zanzarim. No, it isn't on the map; this reviewer looked.

Once there, our hero finds himself in a nest of spies from all over the globe. Par for the course, Bond locks eyes with a sultry woman.

He links up with the CIA on the scene, neither trusting each other enough to exchange the information they respectively picked up. Drug smuggling is prevalent. His life threatened, Bond goes to Washington to get some answers.

However, they are to be found in Zanzarim. It is revealed that the place is floating on a sea of oil. Agent 007 figures it all out and stops the war. No real suspense. The reader knew he could do it all along.

The minor plot, back in the UK, has Bond falling in love with the perfect woman. Will he give up his work to devote himself to her and family life? Two guesses. No, just one.

Ian Fleming deserves better.

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