The Fireman by Stephen Leather…Vintage Leather

Published in 1989, The Fireman by Stephen Leather is his second book. Leather was still working as a journalist at the time so it is no wonder that his protagonist and his story are set in the world of journalism.

Fireman is the term applied to a ‘high flyer’ in the news world. They are the journalists who are sent around the world at a moments notice to cover the big stories. They are the heavy hitters, the Babe Ruth’s of reporting and as such are on call twenty-four hours a day. It is an exhausting job, but one that pays well and you have a guaranteed by-line.

The main character is the fireman that the title refers to. Or was the fireman before he got jaded and his intake of alcohol required that he be “dried out.” The rehab was paid for by the newspaper he works for and he has slid down the professional ladder to second string crime reporter. One step below an overpaid youngster.

The paper is being taken over by computers and their workforce is dwindling. The fireman gets a call from Hong Kong where his sister Sally is working as a free-lance journalist. She has fallen from a tall building and the Hong Kong police are calling it suicide. He now needs fly to Hong Kong and sort her things out and explain to the police that Sally would never kill herself.

Set in the days before Hong Kong was “given” back to China, the colour and the pace of the place is brilliantly painted for the reader. The ex-pats and their comfort in a self-imposed exile from England are just as colourful and also sad. These are not life’s movers and shakers, rather they are the ‘also rans’ who have managed to find a place higher up on the social ladder.

That Stephen Leather has a solid background in journalism is apparent in how well he describes the setting of the newspaper’s working environment. I worked for a local rag in the early 90’s. Not as a journalist, but as a driver. As the paper was more localized I was privy to how a lot of things worked and got to see how every thing came together to produce the paper.

But, even if you haven’t worked in that arena, you can feel the authenticity of the characters and the pecking order as laid out by Leather in his book.

Written in the first person, you never learn the protagonists name. When I went to write this review I ‘skip read’ through the book repeatedly to find his name. Not there. This, I have been lead to understand, is a common device with Mr Leather in a few of his books. It does not detract from the story, if anything it helps give the impression that you are living the action right along with the hero.

And there is a lot of action to live through. You follow him every step of the way as he tries to find out who was behind his sister Sally’s murder. It is entertaining and very fast paced. As this was his second work to be published, it lacks a lot of the polish that his later books have. But the rough edges don’t detract from the story and it is still a good read.

In an interview, Leather has stated that he was not too happy about the family circumstances that his editor insist that he put into the story. I can empathise with him as that part of the story stuck out like a sore thumb and did feel “tacked on.” I won’t say what it is but I do believe that you’ll find the same when you read the book.

When the villain is finally tracked down and dealt with it is one of the best cases of poetic justice I’ve seen. I enjoyed my leisurely perusal  of vintage Stephen Leather and I am looking forward to reading some of his other earlier books.

While this book is not in the same league as Fair Game or Nightmare, Stephen still shows that splendid ear for dialogue that makes his books stand out so much from other authors.

I would highly recommend reading The Fireman. It will entertain you and hold your attention.

Fair Game by Stephen Leather…Spider’s Web

Fair Game, published in 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton, and written by Stephen Leather is just what an action thriller should be; Fast paced, gritty, violent, hard and feature a main protagonist that your readers can root for.

This is only the second book I’ve read by Stephen Leather and it has convinced me that I need to read all his books. Having read his latest book in the Jack Nightingale series, I was already hotly anticipating the next in that series and I’m trying to go back and read Nightingale’s entire saga in preparation for the next instalment.

I am now a Dan ‘Spider’ Shepard fan.

Fair Game, touted as the eighth in the Spider Shepard series by Amazon, starts out hard and never lets up. I have written about Leather before in a review I did on his last Jack Nightingale series (check the afore highlighted Nightingale link) and I am no less impressed with Leather’s creation of Spider Shepard.

As with the Nightingale book, Leather’s ear for dialogue and accents and topical language is still top-notch. Each character is brought to living, breathing life via their conversations. The overleaf for the book states that Spider is going after Somalian pirates, which he does,  but the book also deals with the IRA and Al Qaeda.

This international cast of criminal characters is impressive and they are interwoven brilliantly by Mr Leather as he ties up all the separate elements to cast his Spider’s web.

The book begins with an IRA cell who are preparing to transport a bomb to its final destination. A group of IRA enforcers break into the bomb area and announce that one of their number is a traitor and working with the British forces. Once the traitor is identified one of the enforcers turns his gun on his enforcer comrades and executes them.

This is Spider’s initial entrance to this story and he does not fail to impress.

Shepard is a professional working for MI5 the spiritual cousin to MI6. Shepard is the “real” James Bond here. Rather than working as a super spook though, he is a super undercover operator who is also licensed to kill. This he does. Spider is fast, brutal and professional, he is also relentless. This combination makes him impervious to any feelings of guilt he may have connected with his taking of life.

The story goes on to show us Spider’s home life and his son Liam and his au pair Katra. We also meet Shepard’s boss Charlotte ‘Charlie’  Button and we meet Spider’s IRA equivalent Lisa O’Hara who is on a bloody mission to track him down and make him pay for his death-dealing in Ireland.

We also meet Crazy Boy a Somalian wide boy who is a pirate, terrorist, drug dealer and addicted Khat and Xbox Manhunt player. Crazy Boy’s pirates take up the vast majority of the plot. They take a yacht which was on its way to the new owner. The transport crew on the boat include the Prime Minister’s God-daughter and Crazy boy’s Somalian crew abuse them while waiting for the ransom to be paid.

Real Somalian pirates.

Crazy Boy also arranges to “take” a container transport ship (usually ignored by pirates) as part of his dealing with a middle-man for the Al Qaeda.

Shepard gets his hand dirty working against the odds to sort out all the problems he is handed by Charlie. He is also working against Lisa O’Hara who is getting ever closer to killing Spider.

This is how a spy thriller should be written. I have not read a book with such vivid characters. Stephen Leather’s ear for the speech patterns of his characters is spot on and I’ve said before (as well as earlier in this article) that this serves to make them come alive. Where most authors miss the nuances of their character’s speech, Leather nails it firmly and solidly.

As the winter days grow ever shorter and the nights grow longer, treat yourself to an exhilarating ride with Spider Shepard and Stephen Leather.

I will.

*On a side note, after I wrote my review on Stephen’s Nightmare, he actually tweeted the review and started following me on twitter, moreover he thanked me for the review. Not many writers do that, I know I’ve written a ‘couple’ of reviews now. He is a class act and proof that talent and hard work will out.*

Wilderness (2006): Who Let The Dogs Out

 

 

Cover of "Wilderness"
Cover of Wilderness

Directed by Michael J. Bassett (Deathwatch , Solomon Kane) Wilderness is only the second feature film helmed by Bassett. He has stepped up his game with this film. Made for a budget of three million, the film did not make back it’s production cost and only pulled in  just over twenty-four thousand pounds. Which is a shame, because it really is quite a good film.

Wilderness opens in a Juvenile Detention Centre aka Prison.Sean Pertwee is  prison officer  Jed, who is in charge of the young criminals. This disparate group of six lads do not get on well together. Steve (Stephen Wight) is the self proclaimed leader of the boys, his right hand man and enforcer is the hulking but simple Lewis (Luke Neal). Steve makes life miserable for Lindsey (Ben McKay) and Dave (John Travers). Steve especially likes humiliating Dave. A new arrival, Callum (Toby Kebbell) is a tough customer, who is more interested in keeping a low profile, than in challenging Steve for the position of leader.

Steve and Lewis’s campaign of hate against Dave intensifies. Dave cannot  face the abuse any more, and kills himself. Callum makes the discovery when he slips in a pool of blood and traces it back to Dave’s bed. The alarm is raised and Jed deals with the body. The prison Governor comes in to talk to the boys. He is furious that this has happened. He tells Jed to take the lads to the Island and to work them hard.

The island is uninhabited and shared with other prisons who have to book time there. There should only be one group on the island at a time.When Jed and his charges arrive on the island, they begin to set up camp. These are all city lads and they are very uncomfortable camping in the woods. Every noise serves to make the boys nervous and jumpy. They get their campsite  set up and spend their first night uneasy and restless.

In the morning Callum goes down to a river to get the camp water. On his way back he notices what looks like an animal skull stuck on a stick. After examining it he turns to go and is bashed on the head. He falls to the ground unconscious. Jed gets tired of waiting for Callum to return so he gets the lads together to search for him. They find Callum and Jed decides that he must have tripped and fallen. The inmates spend the rest of the day participating in team building activities. Returning to their camp site, they encounter another camp site. As they are supposed to have the island to them selves they decide to investigate.

While Jed is looking into a tent Louise (Alex Reid) shows up and asks Jed what he thinks he is doing. It turns out that the island has been double booked and now has juvenile delinquents from both sexes camping out.  After a short discussion, Jed and Louise decide to share the island. Jed and his six lads are to stay on the east side of the river and Louise and her two charges are to stay on the west. Once Jed and the lads return to the camp, he sends them out orienteering.

Steve and Lewis find yet another person on the supposedly unhabited island, a hermit. They begin to beat the old man up. Later Callum goes to the same place and finds the hermit with his throat ripped out. While Callum is checking to see if the man is alive, Louise’s two girls see him and go back to tell Louise. Callum goes to a stream to wash his bloody hands. Jed and Louise take Callum down and handcuff him, thinking that he has killed the hermit.

The two groups decide to band together and leave the island the next day to contact the authorities. In the morning Jethro goes to collect water for the two groups.When Jethro doesn’t come back Jed sends Blue and Lindsay down to find him. When they get there they discover that Jethro has been killed and hung from a tree. They rush back to the camp and tell everyone about Jethro.

Jed immediately starts trying to get everyone organised when he is struck in the chest with a crossbow bolt. He is shot twice more as he slumps down against a tree. While Louise and Callum try to help Jed, attack dogs are running through the woods to the camp. Callum and Louise get away but not poor Jed the dogs savage him to death.  In the mad scramble to get away from the dogs, Louise goes missing.

The remaining campers now have to keep away from the killer dogs and the mystery person who is shooting the crossbow. They must fight to stay alive and get off the island.

Wilderness boasts a splendid cast. Sean Pertwee, dying as usual in the second reel; Alex Reed, no stranger to horror films (The descent) and Toby Kebbell in a role completely different than the character he played just previously in Dead Man’s Shoes. In fact the casting for the film was brilliant. The youngsters playing the prison inmates sounded exactly how they should. They all seem to have come from London and talked in the ‘gangster’ style that juvenile delinquents favour. The cinematography is crisp and makes the most of the location. The plot is nothing spectacular, but it kept me guessing until the last minute as to who was killing everyone.

I was impressed with Bassett’s second visit to the horror genre. I would recommend this film highly, if for no other reason than to see the excellent performances from the actors. Not to mention the chance to hear what English teen criminals sound like, because they really do talk that way. I know.