Few tentpole films have suffered more from the privations of the last two years than No Time To Die, which has been slated and reslated so many times that one could have been forgiven for thinking it would never see release. Star Daniel Craig, famous for his exhaustion with the productions, had to follow the promotional trail far longer than any mere multimillionaire actor should reasonably be expected to. Somehow not the Craig Bond film burdened with the most meta-narrative (a title owned by the largely forgotten Quantum of Solace, brung low by industrial action), No Time To Die is nonetheless the end of an era: Craig’s swan song, a Bond vehicle that hits so many of the right notes that the ones it muffs are both glaringly obvious and largely forgivable.
In times of trouble, humanity needs hope. We need the likes of Kong and Godzilla, to ruin our cities and cause billions in collateral damage. Godzilla goes where he pleases, but Kong is historically transported against his will. Godzilla vs. Kong posits a question first asked in 1962, and recently twisted by Zack Snyder: what if two of the world’s greatest heroes came to blows? Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth entry in what has been termed the Monsterverse, and it is easily the dumbest yet, in the best possible way. You may protest “they should be friends!” but, as a great man once said, “let them fight”.
By the time Bill Buford’s Heat and its impossibly long subtitle came out in 2006, the modern era of food writing was well and truly kicked off; Anthony Bourdain was on his fourth book and second television series. Buford is not Bourdain, but no one was. Rather than being from a chef turned writer, Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany is the tale of its author’s journey from writer to at least cook, if not a chef.
Heat is different to read fourteen years later, especially as the man who opened so many doors for Buford was ultimately revealed to be a sex pest (to put it mildly), but fortunately it’s about so much more than that.
“Exodus“, “Churn“, “Mother”
Possibly the best thing that Jeff Bezos has ever done is bring The Expanse TV series back from the brink of extinction simply because he wanted to see more of it. The insane whims of billionaires should always be pointed in that sort of direction, because it is the one that bears the most fruit and hurts the fewest people. Though it has been recently announced that The Expanse ends (or “goes on hold”) after season six (out of a potential nine), we’ve got two entire books worth of story to tell.
Season five is based largely on Nemesis Games, the book where shit gets real. A lot has happened in the series to date, but this particularly story raises the stakes to an intense degree. In the first three episodes of Season Five, handily released together before the show switches to a weekly onslaught, we have the prelude to all bets being off – and, with some of the changes afoot, not even a dedicated book reader can see all of this coming.
The initial set of Expanse coverage does not contain heavy spoilers – this is subject to change as the season progresses. This piece should be pretty safe if you’ve seen up to the end of season four – and can handle cryptic references to the book series.
After taking a breather in 2019, John Rebus is back for dark times indeed. In a post-Brexit-vote but pre-COVID world, is there room for a retired detective for whom everything is changing too fast? Ian Rankin returns with his most enduring character and his two sidekicks still on the force, for whom he feels varying degrees of affection, and none of them are found wanting.
Before The Survivors, Jane Harper had written three books: two set in drought stricken and lonely Australian wilderness, and one set in dense forestation. The drier books were intense and deep, but the forest floundered in not being able to locate a purpose for its characters or a compelling setting for them to come apart in. In The Survivors, Harper offers readers a new environment in the cold beaches of Tasmania, and she works it. That it’s her third book about a pariah returning to the society that shunned them to reckon with their past is something that we’ll politely gloss over at this point.
Westwind: the Ian Rankin novel that got away. Published to little fanfare and few reviews back in 1990, Rankin’s attempt at the “the sort of high-tech thriller that sold by the pallet-load in airports and railway stations” disappeared without trace after scarcely receiving a first printing. Fortunately for Rankin, the Rebus novels started to pay off, rendering Westwind a mere footnote until 2019. An unlikely cocktail of Twitter queries and, presumably, the concept of a calendar year looming without a new Rebus title, lead to Westwind being reissued, slightly renovated and given an introductory segment more interesting than the book that follows.
The sun may have set on the British empire, but if there is one thing that the assortment of isles has perfected over the years, it’s the panel show. Countless comedians (from within an admittedly countable pool) are kept in work by virtue of being grist for the mill of the panel show. Our Pointless friend Richard Osman is responsible for much of this reverie, both in front of and behind the camera, often hiding his prodigious legs behind a counter and a fake laptop.
It’s no real surprise that Osman would go on to try his hand at writing a crime novel, or that it would feature a band of mystery hungry sept- and octogenarians; the only question anyone can reasonably ask is what took him so long. The Thursday Murder Club is the gentlest a multiple murder mystery can get without being classified as “cosy”; there are no cats or recipes between these pages, but those familiar with that venerable genre will feel right at home.
If you knew how Catherine House ended, you would never start it. The book is enough of a hodgepodge of blind alleys, ciphers of characters, and that deadly mix of hedonism and anhedonia granted only to the particularly privileged already, and then you hit the final sentence. You are in the house and the house is in the woods. But the book is thrown across the room.
With its conclusion, Catherine House transforms from an unenjoyable novel to a loathsome exercise. This ending was better in 1985, but so was the whole book leading up to that functionally identical conclusion. Readers do not forget.
What happens when you concatenate something that had taken place over thousands of years across a galaxy into a short hop through a space gate and a visitation to a space station and a planet which practices slavery in all but name? You have Ancillary Sword, the compact second instalment of the Imperial Radch trilogy. Now Ann Leckie is wasting no time, and she’s straight to business: one way or another, the Radch must go.