Review: “Torched!” By James Blackstone (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for reading another 1980s horror novel. So, after a bit of searching through my bookshelves, I found an old novel from 1985 called “Torched!” by James Blackstone. From the stamp on the inside cover, I must have got it from a second-hand book stall in Alnwick during a holiday near there in the early-mid 2000s.

Although I vaguely remember reading it back then, I couldn’t remember that much about the story (other than the fact that I later confused it with Graham Masterton’s “The Hymn). So, it seemed like it might be worth re-reading.

So, let’s take a look at “Torched!”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1986 Grafton Books (UK) paperback edition of “Torched” that I read.

The novel begins in New York. A middle-aged man called Al Andrade is staying at a swanky hotel for a convention and is looking for company. To his surprise, a beautiful – and somewhat nervous- woman approaches him in the hotel restaurant and asks to go to his room. However, a few minutes after they get into bed, she suddenly bursts into flames.

Meanwhile in London, cynical middle-aged insurance investigator Richard Grierson is investigating a warehouse fire that resulted in two deaths. After a bit of snooping around and some examination, he concludes that the fire was started by the owner for the insurance money. But, soon after he’s solved the case, he’s called back into the office.

Following a takeover by an American firm called Insill, Grierson doesn’t really like his trendy new boss too much. Something not helped by the fact that, following a spate of arson attacks, Insill’s main branch has asked for the UK branch’s best investigator to fly over and team up with their lead investigator, Jack Lattimer. With the threat of being fired if he doesn’t, Grierson reluctantly gets on a plane to New York….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is technically a horror novel, it is more like an old thriller/ detective novel than anything else. It’s a fairly enjoyable novel – although, if you’re expecting a splatterpunk novel, then you’ll be disappointed. It’s a little bit like a cross between a Clive Cussler novel, a low-budget 1980s movie, and/or something like James Herbert’s “The Jonah” than anything else.

Even so, the novel’s relatively few horror elements are reasonably effective. There’s suspenseful horror, fire-based horror, sexual horror, scientific horror, cruel horror, character-based horror and maybe one or two moments of gory horror. Even so, this novel probably has slightly more in common with the average 1970s/80s thriller novel than the kind of 1980s splatterpunk novel that the dramatic-looking cover art (seriously, I miss ’80s-style cover art) might lead you to expect.

Still, as a thriller, it is fairly decent. Although you shouldn’t expect an action-packed explosion-fest, this novel makes fairly effective use of suspense, mystery, multiple plot threads and a spectacular set piece or two. In a lot of ways, this novel is a little bit more like a detective/buddy cop novel than anything else – with Grierson and Lattimer investigating the fires whilst another character called Carol also finds herself involved in the case.

But, whilst the premise of the novel is ripe for horror (and I was expecting something like Graham Masterton’s “The Hymn”), this novel goes down the cheesy ’80s thriller route of having a sleazy criminal mastermind villain instead. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a suitably chilling antagonist (although his villainy gets a little cartoonish at times) and this allows the novel to have a suitably dramatic and suspenseful conclusion at his villa. But, still, it’s impossible not to think of something like this during a couple of moments involving him. Seriously, this novel is a lot more ’80s than I’d expected.

As for the characters, they’re reasonably decent. Both Grierson and Lattimer are weary middle-aged men who have lost their families (either through divorce or arson) and, in typical buddy cop fashion, don’t get along that well initially but become a better team as the story progresses. Interestingly, although Lattimer is described as looking like an American cop, the mild-mannered Grierson is actually the “loose cannon” of the pair. The other characters are also given enough characterisation to make them sympathetic or creepy, but you shouldn’t expect gigantic amounts of characterisation here.

In terms of the writing, it’s fairly standard old-school thriller stuff. In other words, it is “matter of fact” enough to move at a decent pace but is a little bit more formal than you might expect from a modern novel. Still, the novel has a fairly decent atmosphere and sense of place to it – with the brief scenes set in London being reminiscent of James Herbert and the US-based scenes looking like something from a 1980s movie. Even so, the novel’s settings are the clichΓ©d triumvirate of London, New York and Los Angeles.

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly decent. At an efficient 223 pages in length, it makes me pine for the days when even thriller novels could be short if they needed to be. Likewise, although the novel is fairly moderately-paced and/or mildly-fast paced, this is one of those stories that becomes a bit more suspenseful and dramatic as it goes along. Even so, a few moments later in the novel seem a little bit contrived/coincidental, although they help to make the ending a bit more dramatic.

As for how this thirty-four year old novel has aged, it probably hasn’t aged that well. Leaving aside a few “politically incorrect” moments and the general roughness of many of the novel’s sleazier moments, this novel is very ’80s. Normally, this is a good thing – since old novels usually provide a much more nuanced, realistic and immersive window into the past than films or TV do. However, aside from maybe the segments set in London, the rest of this novel has slightly more of a stylised movie/TV show-like tone to it. Still, this adds a certain cheesy charm to the story and the plot itself is reasonably compelling.

All in all, if you want a cheesy ’80s buddy cop-style thriller novel with a few horror elements, then this novel might be worth reading. It isn’t anything spectacular, but it’s a reasonably compelling (if a little silly) story. But, if you want a better old-school pyrotechnic horror thriller novel, then read Graham Masterton’s “The Hymn” instead.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

The Complete “Slasher” – The New Halloween Comic by C. A. Brown

Well, in case you missed any of it, I thought that I’d collect all seven pages (including the cover) of my recent Halloween comic into one easy-to-read post.

If you want to see some of the previous Halloween comics, they can be found here: 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. And, if you want to see more of Harvey’s investigations, they can be found here, here, here and here. You can also find links to many other comics featuring the characters from this one here.

As for this comic, due to being busy with lots of things, it ended up being slightly shorter than usual. Even so, it turned out better than I’d originally expected and it also allowed me to use elements from an unused idea (involving all of the characters ending up in the afterlife) that I’d originally had for 2017’s Halloween comic.

Anyway, here’s the comic πŸ™‚ Enjoy πŸ™‚

As usual, all seven pages of this comic are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. You can also click on each page to see a larger version (although, it might be worth looking for the “view full size” option after you’ve done this)

“Slasher – Cover” By C. A. Brown

“Slasher – Page 1” By C. A. Brown

“Slasher – Page 2” By C. A. Brown

“Slasher – Page 3” By C. A. Brown

“Slasher – Page 4” By C. A. Brown

“Slasher – Page 5” By C. A. Brown

“Slasher – Page 6” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (27th October 2019)

Woo hoo! Here’s the second page of “Slasher”, this year’s Halloween comic πŸ™‚ Stay tuned for the third page tomorrow πŸ™‚

If you want to see some of the previous Halloween comics, they can be found here: 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. And, if you want to see more of Harvey’s investigations, they can be found here, here, here and here.

You can also find links to many other comics featuring the characters from this one here.

As usual, this comic page is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Slasher – Page 2” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Dead Man Rising” By Lilith Saintcrow (Novel)

Well, after reading Lilith Saintcrow’s “Working For The Devil” a week or two ago, I’d planned to read more books in Saintcrow’s excellent “Dante Valentine” series – especially since I found a cheap second-hand paperback omnibus online. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the next novel in the series – “Dead Man Rising” (2006).

Although this sci-fi/urban fantasy/horror/detective novel can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (since it contains recaps), it is best read after “Working For The Devil”. Not only will some elements of the story make more sense, but this novel will also have a much greater emotional impact if you’ve read the previous one first.

So, let’s take a look at “Dead Man Rising”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Orbit (UK) paperback omnibus which contained the copy of “Dead Man Rising” that I read.

Set in a futuristic cyberpunk-style city called Saint City, the novel starts with half-demon necromancer Dante Valentine and her ex-boyfriend Jace in the middle of a dangerous bounty hunting mission. After the events of the previous novel, Dante has thrown herself into her work in order to distract herself from the emotional and physical pain that she feels.

However, after the bounty has been caught, Dante gets a call from her old friend on the police force. There have been a series of grisly murders and a clue found next to one of the bodies suggests that Dante and one of the victims have a common history. Despite the fact that Dante is still deeply troubled by this distant part of her past, she agrees to help investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is both very gripping and it also contains far more horror elements than the previous novel did πŸ™‚ This novel is also more of a character-based drama too, with lots of emphasis placed on Dante’s emotional battles as well as more physical conflicts. So, yes, the emotional tone of this story is a lot darker and grimmer than the previous one, although this segues quite well with the ending of the previous novel in addition to emphasising the horror elements of the story too.

Talking of which, I cannot praise the horror elements of this story highly enough. Although this novel contains a decent amount of gory horror and paranormal horror, there’s also a chilling focus on the nightmarishly dystopian psychic school that Dante was forced to attend when she was younger. Whilst the reader is given enough grim details about this to make them recoil and shudder, there’s also the creeping sense that these details are just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. So, unlike the previous “Dante Valentine” novel, this novel is actually a horror novel.

The novel’s detective elements are reasonably good too, since they lend the story a level of claustrophobic suspense and gritty tension that the previous novel lacked slightly. Although the solution to the mystery is something that you might guess about half to two-thirds of the way through the story, it includes some really clever flourishes – such as a variation on the traditional “locked room mystery” sub-genre of detective fiction.

In a lot of ways, the detective elements of this story reminded me a bit of both Mike Carey’s excellent “Felix Castor” novels and the “Blackwell” computer games (which I reviewed here, here, here, here and here). Not to mention that they help to keep the story moving at a reasonably decent pace too.

But, whilst this novel is more of a traditional detective/horror thriller, there are still a few action-packed moments too – the best of these being a really cool, if somewhat superflous, fight scene set in a vampire nightclub – which reminded me a little bit of Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” novels (which is never a bad thing πŸ™‚).

In terms of the writing, Saintcrow’s first-person narration is as good as ever – and it is written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you would expect in a good thriller or noir novel. Like with the previous novel in the series, the narration also includes a few mildly cyberpunk flourishes (eg: futuristic jargon like “holovids”, “plasguns”, “plasteel” etc..) in addition to including a fair amount of introspection and characterisation too.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re reasonably good and this story devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation too. However, the characterisation in this story is very much on the “gritty drama” side of things, with lots of scenes showing how traumatic effects have affected the characters. Likewise, the story’s main villian is left mysterious enough to be genuinely creepy too. So, yes, the characterisation in this novel is pretty interesting.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. Whilst the omnibus edition of “Dead Man Rising” seems to be an efficient 250-70 pages in length, this is only due to larger pages and smaller print. Looking online, the stand-alone paperback edition of this novel is about 416 pages long. Still, the novel never really felt like it was too long. Likewise, even though some of the gloomy introspection slows the story down a bit, this novel was still gripping enough for me to binge-read most of it within the space of a single day.

All in all, this is a gripping paranormal detective thriller/horror novel πŸ™‚ Yes, the emotional tone of this story is a bit on the depressing side of things – but, despite this, it is still a creepily chilling and grippingly compelling novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Blue Streak (Film)”

Well, the next film in what seems to be turning into a series of 1990s film reviews is a comedic heist/detective thriller movie from 1999 called “Blue Streak”.

Although I’d vaguely heard of this film quite a few years ago, I hadn’t seen it before. But, since it sounded interesting and was going fairly cheap second-hand, I decided to check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Blue Streak”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

And, yes, this is a DVD from the days when film studios added small print to DVD covers about the BBFC increasing the age rating due to the special features.

“Blue Streak” begins with an elite jewel thief called Logan (played by Martin Lawrence) pulling off a thrilling high-tech heist in a skyscraper in Los Angeles. Things start out fairly well for Logan and his accomplices, and he is soon able to purloin a rather impressive diamond.

A daring late-night heist in a heavily-guarded building in the middle of a large city? What could possibly go wrong?

However, thanks to a betrayal by one of his accomplices and a couple of unfortunate coincidences, the police are soon alerted. On the run from the law and threatened by his traitorous accomplice, Logan manages to get to a nearby building site and hide in an air vent. But, he realises that it’s only a matter of time before the cops find him. So, he conceals the diamond in the vent and hands himself in.

Two years later, Logan is released from prison and decides to go back to the building site to pick up his diamond. However, there’s just one problem…

The building is now a police station.

After a failed attempt at sneaking into the station, Logan quickly realises that the only way that he’s going to get hold of the diamond is to impersonate a detective. However, although he just planned to sneak in and grab the diamond, his disguise is perhaps a little bit too good – since he quickly gets assigned a partner and sent out to investigate crimes. Needless to say, hilarity ensues…

Even more amusingly, Logan is also told to teach his inexperienced new partner how to be a detective.

One of the first things that I will say about “Blue Streak” is that, like a couple of the films from the 1990s I’ve reviewed recently, it is just fun to watch.

Not only does it work really well as a comedy film, but it also works fairly well as a mildly suspenseful light-hearted thriller film too (since Logan’s former accomplice is after him, since Logan gets involved in a major case and since Logan still also has to find that pesky diamond too).

The premise of this film is also fairly clever too. This certainly isn’t an ordinary detective movie! Not to mention that the fact that Logan is somewhat out of his depth also easily allows for a good mixture of comedy, action and suspense too.

For example, in one scene Logan accidentally ends up in the middle of an armed robbery at a cornershop. Having very little police experience, he hides behind a row of shelves whilst the robber and the shopkeeper have a dramatic shootout. Outside the shop, Logan’s new partner rigidly follows police procedure to the letter.

And, yes, this part of the scene is played in a hilariously stuffy and serious way.

By a slight twist of fate, Logan then apprehends the robber… only to discover that he is none other than his old friend (and accomplice) Tulley, who is somewhat surprised to see him. Logan then tries to help Tulley escape before his partner makes a dramatic entrance.

However, Tulley ends up fleeing down a one-way alleyway and ends up hiding behind a dumpster whilst the police gather at the other end of the alleyway. Disregarding procedure, Logan strides down the alleyway (as the other cops look on in awe) to “confront” Tulley. Of course, the two of them then end up having an absolutely hilarious argument with each other.

So, yes, the premise of the film allows for an enjoyable mixture of comedy, action and suspense.

Needless to say – the comedy elements of this film are absolutely brilliant, with a lot of the best comedy in the film coming from both Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle’s hilariously funny performances as Logan and Tulley. This is especially true in scenes where Logan and Tulley end up arguing with each other.

Interestingly, in the special features on the DVD, the makers of this film point out that the film ended up containing a lot more “Logan & Tulley”-based scenes than originally planned, purely because these scenes are so hilarious.

Not only is this film filled with all sorts of amusingly irreverent, ironic and informal dialogue but, like a lot of good comedies, the film also includes a variety of different types of humour.

In addition to the comedic dialogue, there’s also character-based humour, slapstick comedy, “double act“- based humour, farce, parody and satire too. Although the humour in this film isn’t always the most sophisticated thing in the world, it is rarely predictable and it works really well.

The film’s action/thriller scenes are also fairly well-handled too. Unlike in some action-comedy films I’ve seen, the emphasis remains firmly on the comedy. Whilst the film might contain a few dramatic gunfights and suspenseful scenes, these are often used as a basis for amusing dialogue or slapstick comedy rather than just as an excuse for a spectacular gunfight or car chase. Even so, the action in some later scenes of the film is handled in a mildly more “serious” way.

It’s a stand-off, in Mexico. Now, if only there was some quick and pithy way to describe this unusual situation….

The set design, special effects and lighting design in this film are all reasonably good too. Thanks to the focus on practical effects and the relatively small number of action scenes in the film, the special effects are pretty much “timeless”.

Likewise, the film’s locations all look reasonably ok and, best of all, the film also contains some really cool lighting in a few scenes too. However, most of the lighting in this film is fairly “realistic” and “modern” when compared to the cool high-contrast lighting in a lot of other films from this decade. Still, there’s a little bit of classic 1990s-style high-contrast lighting in this film (especially in the earlier scenes).

Seriously, more of the film should have included lighting like this!

Not to mention that lighting and visual style during the opening credits looks really amazing too πŸ™‚

In terms of the music, the most memorable music in the film consists of a couple of rap songs. Interestingly, the DVD’s special features also include a few music videos too although, at the time of writing, I haven’t got round to watching these yet.

All in all, “Blue Streak” is a fun, funny, feel-good film. Not only is this film a really good comedy, but the crime/thriller elements of it also work reasonably well too. Yes, it isn’t a “serious” thriller movie or anything like that, but it still contains some enjoyably light-hearted action and suspense.

Plus, at a lean and streamlined 90 minutes in length, the film moves along at a reasonable pace too. Seriously, if you want something to cheer you up if you’re in a slightly gloomy mood (like I was when I started watching it), then you can do a lot worse than this film.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Today’s Art (21st January 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the second comic in “Damania Reflection”, a new webcomic mini series featuring the characters who have appeared in most of my other webcomics. Although this mini series will consist of self-contained comics, I’m kind of thinking of making a more introspection-themed mini series this time. You can catch up on previous comics from this mini series here: Comic One

And, yes, it has been way too long since Harvey last solved a case (and even longer since any of the gentleman rogues last appeared). In keeping with the introspective theme, this comic is also a comic about things like highly-inspired creative projects, amazing videogames etc.. too.


As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Reflection – Project” By C. A. Brown

All Ten Of My “Noir Christmas 2017” Short Stories

Well, in case you missed any of them, here’s a handy list of links to all ten of my recent “Noir Christmas” short stories.

These stories are best read in order, although many of them are fairly self-contained. If you just want to read the basic underlying story arc, then read the first, third, fourth and tenth stories. My personal favourite story in the collection is probably the ninth one.

Surprisingly, this was the first collection I’ve written in quite some time to feature a single unnamed main character throughout the collection. Surprisingly, the stories also ended up being set in something resembling present-day Britain rather than the more traditional “1920s-50s America” setting I’d originally thought about using.

Anyway, here are the stories πŸ™‚ Enjoy πŸ™‚

1) “Preludes And Portents – A private detective hasn’t had a client in days. Perhaps a piece of junk mail holds the answers….

2) “Headlines“: The detective muses about Raymond Chandler, only to find that a mysterious man with a gun has appeared outside the office door.

3) “Stakeout“: The detective decides to investigate the slick new detective agency that has recently appeared in the local shopping centre. However, things may not be as they seem…

4) “Amateurs“: Finally! A client! And, perhaps many more…

5) “Magic“: The detective is asked to explain a magic trick…

6) “Espionage“: The detective’s latest client wants the private computer codes of a senior German politician. Not only is the case illegal, but it’s too much *ugh* effort. What will the detective do?

7) “Night Off“: The detective takes a night off.

8) “Paranormal“: A rich property developer needs the detective’s help. Ever since he planned to turn the local community centre into luxury flats, he’s been hearing ominous noises at night….

9) “The Twelve Cases Of Christmas“: Twelve clients in one morning!? What will the detective do?

10) “Finale“: The detective’s new business strategy has ruffled some feathers…