Gallows View, Peter Robinson

Tom Hanks’s writing is yet another sad story of how men write women
The actor’s debut collection, Uncommon Type, is blighted by Hollywood’s obsession with female bodies – but he’s not the only author to write too much about hair and breasts


gallowsThe article above came to mind when I read the first chapter of Peter Robinson’s Gallows View.
The book starts with a description of a Peeping Tom watching a woman undress, culminating in him being seen through the window by his victim as she stands naked in her bedroom. It was an uncomfortable page or two to read. Are the writer and reader any different to the fictional voyeur merely because they are viewing words vividly depicting the victim’s nakedness instead of literally looking through the window themselves?

Early on, I found the “obsession with female bodies” further demonstrated when the term “luscious mouth” was a prominent part of a description of a female psychological expert called in to advise on the case. It’s just not the kind of thing that would have been seriously used if it had been describing a man.

But two things helped the the book. Firstly recognising that it was written over 30 years ago and is a product of its time. Secondly, it does move on, attempting to address the kind of gender issues that it seems to transgress in the beginning. While that attempt might not completely succeed, I think it does a passable job for a book of the mid-eighties.

Gallows View is the first of Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks series.  The above mentioned situation with the Peeping Tom is woven with the investigation of a spate of robberies that grow increasingly violent and destructive, and Alan Banks finds that his work can encroach upon his private life in numerous ways.

dciAs with my earlier introduction to crime fiction I was draw to the series via a TV adaptation. The TV show picks up the career of DCI Alan Banks about halfway through the book series, so there is a lot of back story to be discovered through the earlier books, and I’ll be interested to see how the writing develops along the way as well as the lives of the major players.

One DCI Banks book down – twenty three more (to date) to go…



From the Midlands to the North and then Further North Again.

This week I finished Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw, and posted a review of it yesterday. I loved the book but not my review.

I’ve now started Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves, and I can easily see how her work helped draw me into crime fiction. She has an exceptional talent for telling story through character and place.

The first episode of the Vera TV series was based on this book.
I saw it a few weeks ago and was disappointed. I later saw other episodes based on books I’d already read and found them disappointing too. They cut and changed the stories far too much and didn’t capture the heart of Cleeves’ books.

That all changed when the series moved on to original stories with the same characters. They work far better than the adaptations and I’ve enjoyed the few original stories that I’ve seen so far.

I’m now most of the way through Shetland series two, another drama based on Cleeves’ characters. The first season was all adapted from published books, and in my opinion they were far better than the Vera adaptations. While there are still considerable differences between book and TV show, the first Shetland series worked for me.

Like Vera, the second Shetland series moves into original story territory and so far it has me hooked. I have two episodes to go, so I can only hope that the quality is retained right up to the final story resolution.

After I started Hidden Depths, my copy of Sarah Ward’s third book, A Patient Fury arrived in the mail. If it had come a little earlier I think I would have jumped right into that book, continuing my Derbyshire journey with Detectives Sadler and Childs. However I know I still have that to look forward to – and then there will be a long wait for book four, currently being edited.

I still have another route available on that Derbyshire trip, with the second novel by Stephen Booth, Dancing With the Virgins waiting on my bookshelves. I enjoyed Black Dog , a book I wrote about at the beginning of November (here) and have since started to order his subsequent books.


For more I’ve written on TV adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ books see here:

Broadchurch: series 1

The TV series Broadchurch has been something I’d thought about watching for some time, and my recent journey into crime fiction finally brought an end to my procrastination.

I’m glad I finally made the time to watch it.

When the body of a young boy is found on its beach, the small community of Broadchurch has to face up to its unpleasant secrets. But will the truth be found before the community self-destructs, and could the truth lead to more pain than the inhabitants could imagine?

Beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted and a very atmospheric musical score.

Here is the haunting song from the credits.

Beyond the show itself, there are some interesting links to the long running, iconic British TV series Doctor Who.

Chris Chibnall the creator and writer of Broadchurch starts his tenure as Doctor Who’s new showrunner with it’s next series. But the links between Broadchurch and Doctor Who extend beyond Chibnall.
Broadchurch featured three actors who have (or will) play the title character of the Doctor: David Tennant (10th Doctor), David Bradley will feature as the returning first Doctor in the 2017 Christmas special, and of course Jodi Whittaker is the well-publicised 13th (and first female incarnation) replacing Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor.

Additionally Arthur Darville played Rory, one of the Doctor’s companions, during the tenure of the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) and Olivia Colman played a small role in the 11th Doctor’s  first episode.

Colman was also rumoured to be a contender for the role of the 13th Doctor, prior to the official news that her fellow Broadchurch cast member had been given the role.


Why Now? ( a more extensive venture into crime fiction)

I’m approaching 60. I’ve been an avid reader since I was 5 years old, and half a lifetime ago, as a “mature-aged student”, I completed a BA degree in English literature and creative writing.

And yet, for some reason, only now do I find myself intentionally reading “crime fiction” – something that’s not really interested me before (apart from a short period in my 20s when I read a few Agatha Christies).

This interest seems to have started when a few weeks ago I watched Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect 1973 on TV. My motivation for watching had more to do with the “1973” than the “Prime Suspect” part of the title, but I got hooked on more than the 70s ambience of my youth.

Around the same time, for similar reasons I started watching the series Shetland, based on books by Ann Cleeve, fortunately catching it from the beginning.

While I’ve never been to the Shetlands, I’ve had a long lasting love of traditional fiddle music, and many years ago bought a CD of Shetland fiddle tunes. Again, while initially drawn by the potential ambience, I was hooked by the story and have watched all episodes screened to date on my local channel.

During the past two weeks I’ve bought or ordered most of the Shetland books, and all of another series by Cleeves, featuring Vera Stanhope. Those books have also been adapted for a TV series, Vera starring Brenda Blethyn.

I’m now halfway through Telling Tales, the second Vera Stanhope story after finishing the first, The Crow Trap in just two days.
I like the way Cleeves builds up the stories, using alternating points of view of the characters involved. Also the fact that the lead character (Stanhope) often remains in the background; although she always seems present, even when she’s not in a scene.

I still have a lot of potential pleasure ahead with so much more to read, but face the difficult choice between sticking with Vera Stanhope, or moving on to a volume of the Shetland series next.

At first I wondered whether watching the TV series would spoil my reading of the corresponding books (or vice versa). I haven’t found out for sure yet, but I suspect the extra richness of the books will make up for the inevitable “spoilers” revealed by the TV show. I’ll find an answer when I finish the book I’m currently reading now. Telling Tales is the next episode of Vera that I’ll be watching. I’m delaying my viewing of it until after I finish the book.

Along with Cleeves’ books I’ve also followed up that Lynda La Plante influence, her books follow a much grittier, seedier, urban path contrasting with the more rural settings of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope books.
La Plante is much more graphic in the detail of the murders at the centre of her books. In the two I’ve read so far (Above Suspicion and The Red Dahlia), La Plante’s story telling has been much more linear than that of Cleeves and her investigating police have been the focal characters, with less attention paid to the points of view of other characters.

These two books are part of the Anna Travis series, and while the storytelling is compelling, there is a degree of “sameness” between the books, with sociopathic, misogynist men being the perpetrators of exceptionally brutal murders of women, while being able to hide behind the respectable standing they hold within the community at large.

These two very different authors offer widely contrasting reading experiences.  La Plante gives a page turning rollercoaster ride though territory most us would never experience, compared to Cleeves’ more leisurely but no less compelling journey into more familiar parts of everyday society.

La Plante gives us serial killers, or others who kill for extremely nefarious reasons. Cleeves brings along the man or woman next door, with more down to earth and practical (even domestic?) motives for killing, more in keeping with the statistical fact that 80% of murderers were know by their victim.


Note: the above was written from my own introductory experience of the work of these two writers and the TV adaptations of some of their work. The views I express therefore don’t necessarily convey a true and complete picture of all of their work.


Brenda Blethyn (TVs Vera) reading an excerpt from Harbour Street (a Vera Stanhope story by Ann Cleeves)

Brenda Blethyn from Beeline Films on Vimeo.


Beyond the TV Whoniverse

 At the end of my previous post I noted an apparent discrepancy related to the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. While 2013 may have marked 50 years since the broadcast of the first Doctor Who episode, it is clear that there was a significant period of those 50 years when no new episodes of Doctor Who were being made for TV.

I think most people (myself included) gave little thought to the show during that period, assuming that like so many other once popular shows, this one had also been committed to history and occasional re-runs.

But not all people are “most people”, and there were enough who weren’t ready to allow the Doctor to fade away. Disappointed fans of the show did what they could to keep their connection to Doctor Who going. There were avenues beyond TV through which stories could be created and enjoyed. Some of those avenues were already being explored and exploited during the show’s successful years, with novelizations of TV stories and audio productions. (I recall reading Doctor Who and the Zarbi during my teens and recognising it as being based on an episode I’d seen as a child, which I later found was The Web Planet from the show’s second season.)

DWMThere was also the continuing popularity of Doctor Who Magazine (DWM), which started in 1979 and is still being published today. After the cancellation of the TV show, the magazine provided an outlet of new Doctor Who stories through comic strips.

Other publishers gained the rights to release novels of new Doctor Who stories. Both the comics and novels continued from where the TV show left off. Through these the seventh doctor, (played by Sylvester McCoy on TV) was given new life and adventures for several more years until an attempted reviving of the TV show introduced the next regeneration of the Doctor.

In a made-for-TV movie that failed to generate enough interest to commission a continuing series, Sylvester McCoy handed over the role to the 8th Doctor played by Paul McGann, and while a new TV series didn’t eventuate, McGann’s Doctor was kept alive in DWM’s ongoing comic strips, along with new companions to share his journeys.

As well as the authorised stories in various media, creative fans produced their own Doctor Who tales including the “Audio Visuals” a series of audio dramas made in the 1980s and 90s starting even before the TV show was cancelled. Although the Audio Visuals were unlicensed and technically illegal, the fans involved were never challenged by the BBC, who held the copyright, and many of them have since worked on authorised Doctor Who productions.

Big FinishSome of those involved with the Audio Visuals went on to work with Big Finish, a company that started with audio stories adapted from the New Adventures range of books published by Virgin. Initially denied the opportunity to record Doctor Who related stories, Big Finish started with adaptations of a series of Who spin-off books.

Virgin New Adventures had introduced Bernice Summerfield as a new companion for the Doctor and later gave her a series of her own. Big Finish obtained the rights to adapt the Summerfield books and the quality of the resulting recordings helped to convince the BBC to issue the Doctor Who rights.

Big Finish has now released well over 200 Doctor Who stories, most of which feature original actors from the TV show and TV movie, including Doctors played by Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann; and several original companions.

As well as this link to the past, Big Finish also has links to the new Doctor Who series. Big Finish director, writer and actor Nick Briggs has been the voice of the Daleks, Cybermen and several other aliens from 2005 through to the present.


So while the Doctor had a 15 year screen absence, he never really went away, making last year’s half century celebrations fully justified


The Many Faces of Doctor Who: (Introduction)

 Those familiar with Doctor Who will know that over the 50 years of the series’ history, there have been many different actors playing the lead role since the show was first screened in 1963. The first change was needed because of the ill health of William Hartnell the original Doctor.

Other shows have maintained popular characters by changes to cast members, giving no explanation for that character’s change of appearance, expecting the audience to follow along until the new actor becomes the accepted face of that character. But Doctor Who producers came up with a logical reason for the change that could be re-used when necessary in the future.

The Doctor is a member of an alien race that can extend life through “regeneration”. When exposed to life ending conditions, his body can be renewed, taking on a different physical appearance, a different personality and different dress sense.

A roboman from The Dalek's Invasion of Earth

A roboman from The Dalek’s Invasion of Earth

I first saw Doctor Who in England when it was originally broadcast by the BBC. I was only 5 at the time so my memories of the early episodes are minimal and seem to come from only two stories (The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Web Planet).

I also recall a few of the later episodes featuring the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, but again, being so young, the memories are vague. It was after Jon Pertwee took over the role (3rd Doctor) that my recollection improves, probably because I saw regular repeats of episodes after I moved to Australia as well as new episodes with Tom Baker (4th Doctor) and Peter Davison ( 5th Doctor) in the title role. I must have stopped watching some time during the tenure of the 6th Doctor, Colin Baker, because I remember least about his stories, and I know I saw nothing at all of Sylvester McCoy’s brief time as the 7th Doctor..

During McCoy’s time as the Doctor, the show was axed in 1989.

I gave very little thought to Doctor Who after I stopped watching it on TV sometime in the mid-1980s, and was no longer interested enough to watch a 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann (as the 8th Doctor). Likewise when a new series started in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston I wasn’t tempted to watch it.

Things changed at the end of 2012 when I saw that year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. I’m not sure why that particular episode sparked my interest enough to start buying the newer Doctor Who series on DVD, but it helped that they were being sold with large discounts early in the new year.

Throughout 2013 I built up my collection and watched all episodes of the new series featuring three new Doctors. I was able to catch up in time for the 50th anniversary episode shown in November.

Those with mathematically attuned minds might be wondering how a show that ran for 26 years before being cancelled and then renewed almost two decades later and then running for another 8 years making a total of 34, would be entitled to a 50th anniversary. But there is more to the story than a TV show.

More of that story to follow…