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1.3 – All Fall Down

CD cover for All Fall Down

All Fall Down

Ring a ring of roses

A pocket full of posies

Atishoo! Atishoo!

We all fall down

Traditional English Nursery Rhyme

Sapphire and Steel are summoned to a condemned warehouse in the City area of London. There is a team in the warehouse transcribing documents and cataloguing artefacts found beneath the land the warehouse sits on. The warehouse was built over a plague pit dating back to the Black Death.

As expected, the past starts to creep in and affect the present. Why is Sapphire’s voice stored on a wax cylinder recording from 200 years ago? What is in the book that Dr Webber keeps to himself? And why is everyone coming down with what appears to be bubonic plague? Sapphire is trapped and Steel is falling ill. How can our heroes save the day…? Read the rest of this entry

1.2 – Daisy Chain

Sapphire and Steel - 1.2 Daisy Chain

A bit of a change for our heroes this time. Sapphire and Steel arrive at a suburban home to deal with an incursion by time. They meet a normal family – son on holiday from university; daughter still at school and coming into her womanhood; and their widowed mother. All seems to be ordinary, but why does Brahms Lullaby keep playing and why does the television seem to be attempting to communicate… As the story progresses, Sapphire and Steel face death and danger and uncover secrets going back 16 years. Finally, Sapphire and Steel have a hard decision to make that will affect the family deeply.

In the audio plays, it’s possible to see the writers struggling with the format – trying to break away from the set up put in place by the television series. Whereas the television series portrayed isolation by making the settings fairly isolated from everywhere else (the remote farmhouse, a railway station, a filling station by the side of the motorway), the audio plays have more range – the steam train is clearly isolated, but this has a suburban house as the setting: showing that you can be alone even in a large crowd.  The characters also show their isolation (and we will see this recurring motif in later episodes) – the family secrets, Philip Burgess with his own secret in 1.1.

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1.1 – The Passenger

Sapphire & Steel 1.1 - The Passenger

Sapphire & Steel 1.1 - The Passenger

This is a choo-choo train
Puffing down the track.
Now it’s going forward.
Now it’s going back.

In this, the first outing for David Warner and Susannah Harker, our eponymous heroes meet on a train.  Their “target” is Philip Burgess, a steam train enthusiast and antique book seller.  While investigating, they realise that each of the carriages has it’s own time and each of the passengers in the carriage has their own story and their own connection with Philip Burgess.  An old detective novel appears to be the trigger for the events.  A new operative, Gold (Mark Gatiss), is also on the train in one of his first missions – how will his actions affect the resolution of the case?  And what is Philip Burgess’ secret? Read the rest of this entry

The Erast Fandorin Mysteries

I enjoy reading a good detective novel. I prefer the more “hard boiled” detective, but once in a while I like to read about a more cerebral detective. The most famous of these is, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Erast Fandorin could well be described as a “Russian Holmes”. He applies logic to his dealings with the criminal mind and always, at least, unmasks his prey. Though, like Holmes, he doesn’t always keep hold of them. Written by Boris Akunin, the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, the Fandorin mysteries have sold more than 18 million copies in Russia alone. The translations are, I believe, faithful – though I have to take that on faith as I don’t read Russian!

Despite being set before the turn of the Twentieth Century, these tales are always thrilling. They show us a Europe before the various wars and revolutions that have helped create the world as we now know it. At that time monarchies were the norm and it was accepted that the monarch’s word was absolute law – all served at their pleasure. It also shows that the world wasn’t very much different: poverty was everywhere, travel around Europe was the norm (despite various border controls it appeared to be easier than now), art, politics, intrigue and international politics were as much in everyone’s minds as they are now.

We first meet Fandorin as a young and naive clerk to the police service. He is eager to make something of himself and is brought to the notice of a young and progressive superior and is enlisted to help with a case where young people are committing suicide in public places. Through this first book we see him fall in love and lose his innocence and naivety in a most brutal fashion. Through the series of books we are shown different parts of Europe, introduced to a war in Turkey and finally discover what became of Jack the Ripper! Throughout this we are taken along with Fandorin and learn how the young naive becomes a cold and ferocious thief taker.

The similarities with Holmes really end with the methods and some of the coldness. We know that Fandorin can love – romantically, fraternally and platonically. He has respect for women – as much of a man of his time can be allowed to. That period was a time of discovery and invention – we are introduced to an early telephone, for example, and learn that the uniqueness of ears and of fingerprints can be of great help to a detective – and the novels never fear to use them as a plot device. Fandorin is a great fan of physical exercise, rising early for stretches, bends and lifts; he learns Japanese martial arts while posted there as a diplomat and returns with a Japanese manservant and new skill.

Akunin clearly has a love and respect for this character. This admiration for his creation carries over into the tales and the adventures can be followed with ease and with a certain respect. If you want a slice of Imperial Russia and a detective who works primarily with his mind, I would recommend this series to you wholeheartedly.

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Storm Front (The Dresden Files Book One) – Jim Butcher

One of the dangers, for me, of reviewing a series of books is that I read so quickly that by the time I’m ready to write a review I have to review them all in one fell swoop. I won’t do that with The Dresden Files: firstly, because the way they are written demands a review per book to avoid spoilers and secondly because I’m going to make myself do it properly.

This is the debut novel in the series. Harry Dresden (Harry Copperfield Blackstone Dresden, conjure by it at your own risk) is the only wizard/private investigator in the Chicago area. He’s also the only wizard in the Yellow Pages. He is at constant risk of eviction, he’s under threat of death from his own side and he’s also managed to put himself in the way of a black magician, the Chicago police and a bunch of vampires. All that and a new drug hitting the streets which gives the addicts access to their third eye. Luckily, his friends have his back.

This is an excellent intro to the series, Butcher manages to give us backstory in small doses so that we can follow along without getting fed up. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and we understand and empathise with their motivations. Every action taken is logical within the constraints of the story and you find yourself waiting for the end with bated breath.

Merging magic, detectives and all things that go bump in the night could have gone two ways. Butcher has managed to make it work extremely well. He is also a very patient writer (as we’ll see in later books): he is happy to set up a story yet to come in a book and then wait to spring it on us 2 or 3 books down the line – enough time to wonder what’s coming, not enough time to forget that it is coming.

I would heartily recommend this whole series. Jim Butcher has included sex into the books without falling into the trap of making the whole book about sex and turning readers off him. The writing is simple, intelligent and elegant. The motivations of the characters are easy to get behind. Above all, the book is very very entertaining.

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