The Queen of Crime Drama?

My latest visit to the public library netted me the 2 books I have already blogged about recently (both of them in the Zombie genre), plus Lynda La Plante’s Widows – written almost 40 years ago.

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I haven’t read any of La Plante’s work before and probably wouldn’t have chosen this book at all (since there isn’t a single Zombie in it – I say only half jokingly), had it not been for bumping into an old work colleague in the library who enthusiastically recommended it. Funnily enough, he had never been much of a reader himself, until the Covid lockdowns started…..and now he’s a book addict. Thank goodness something positive has come out of this whole Covid mess.

Anyhow, back to the book. The cover proclaims La Plante as the “Queen of Crime Drama”. Frankly I had my doubts, but having just finished the book, for a story that is now a little dated, having been written in the early 1980’s, it is rather good.

I won’t be rushing out in search of another of her books straight away, but I will probably read another one or two at some point down the line.

The story has been made into a TV series on British TV back in the 80’s and remade as a feature film in 2018. I remember watching the original series but couldn’t recall the various twists and turns of the story in detail until reading the book this week.

It’s a good story with strong female characters but somewhat stereotypical male crime gang members and the usual hard working but under appreciated London copper (police detective) out to prove his bosses and fellow officers wrong.

The general outline of the story is that 3 women are widowed when a security van robbery goes terribly wrong and their husbands – the would be robbers – are blown up and burned badly in the botched heist. One of the would be robbers is gangland boss Harry Rawlins. After having to identify what’s left of his burned body – his distraught wife Dolly identifies him based on his very expensive gold watch that he never takes off – she then discovers Harry’s bank deposit box containing a gun, money, business (that’s crime business) ledgers which names names and gives details of some very shady crime-land business, and detailed plans for the botched robbery.

Dolly has several options available to her. She could hand Harry’s ledgers to the police, in the form of under appreciated and rather slovenly looking D.I. Resnick and shut down half of the crime gangs in London; she could sell them to the underworld thugs who are eager to take over Harry’s turf; or she could bring in the other widows, of the failed raid, into the fold and form her own gang to finish the job that their husbands had failed to do.

It’s no real surprise and therefore not really a spoiler to tell you that Dolly decides on the last option and pulls together her gang of misfit widows to attempt to pull off a physically demanding robbery that their well built, criminally hardened and street wise husbands had failed to do. What could possibly go wrong?

Part way through their planning to replicate the robbery – less, of course, the explosion and fire carnage – they realise that the original plan that Harry devised would need 4 men, not 3……so who was the 4th man and where is he now? AND who should they draft in as the 4th woman for their team?

La Plante writes a very good story. I’m happy to report that she doesn’t spare the splattering of blood along the way either. Let’s face it gangland crime stories demand their ample share of blood and gore. There are several bone crunching, blood splattering moments strewn liberally throughout the story. We also experience the full spectrum of emotions felt by the widows as they firstly cope with the loss of their husbands and then deal with the stomach churning angst and thrills of plotting the robbery of a security van….involving stolen vehicles, disguises, shotguns, chainsaws and sledge hammers….and a gas mask. We are taken along for the ride and see the women slowly coming together as a team, even if personal differences will mean that it’s unlikely that they will ever be friends….or will they?

La Plante asks many questions of the plot and characters and gives us all the answers, including a couple of rather unexpected ones that I won’t mention here. But what we want to know as avid readers is…….Will they be successful where their menfolk failed? If they do pull off the robbery, will they get away from both the police and the underworld criminal fraternity? Who will they choose as their 4th team member? Will we find out who the 4th man in Harry’s team is? And will he be detrimental to the widows plans? I’ll say no more for fear of slipping up and giving a big spoiler away. Needless to say that not everything is as it seems to be.

All in all it’s a bloody good story – and I mean that both literally and figuratively speaking. Definitely worth a read. So, is Lynda La Plante the Queen of Crime Drama? Actually….she could well be.

As usual, many thanks for reading this blog. Comments, likes and shares are always appreciated.

Zombie Series for you to watch.

Zombies – love them or hate them, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground when it comes to the zombie genre. I love them, my wife hates them, so watching an entire zombie series is something I have to do alone….when she’s not around to hear the moans and shuffling feet of a herd of zombies.

As with anything Zombie, series are either done well or extremely bad. Again rarely are there any OK zombie series, or movies, or books – come to that. So just for the hell of it, here are 5 Zombie series that I have watched, or am currently watching….with a rating for each.

The Walking Dead – I’ll start with probably the most well known zombie TV series that has attracted a cult like following. If you’ve not seen The Walking Dead, you really should. Now in it’s 10th and probably final season – in my opinion – unlike a fine wine The Walking Dead is not something that has improved over time. I really enjoyed the first season, when the zombie plague first appeared, and I watched maybe the next 3 or 4 seasons, but by that point it seemed to me that they were just repeating storylines or wasting time with whole episodes delving into the relationships affecting this couple or that couple instead of concentrating on the actual zombie part of the series. They failed to keep me wanting to care what happened to the various characters, so I stopped watching. What began as a high scoring 4 out of 5 points for season 1, fizzed out to an overall 2.5 out of 5 points over all.

A spin off, or prequel to The Walking Dead, called Fear The Walking Dead actually had the reverse effect on me. The first few episodes of season 1 I more or less forced myself to watch just because it was about zombies. The acting seemed wooden, the characters were weak as was the scripted behaviour of the characters. For example, having just seen a zombie in the street rip apart an unsuspecting civilian, one of the characters goes into a neighbour’s home to find the guy on his knees feeding on his own dog. He is obviously a zombie not only because he’s ripped the belly out of his dog and is feeding on its entrails, but his mannerisms plus being covered in blood and gore kind of gives him away, but our hero says “Hi Mr whatever….what’s wrong?” and moves towards him. Or they wander into dark rooms without putting on a light…..or they’re out in the woods and lean their weapons up against a tree and wander away from them just as a zombie comes into view. I found myself yelling at the zombie to please eat these stupid, inept people so I can turn off the TV and go to bed. BUT shock horror sensation…..it actually got better over time and the characters developed depth and strength of character. Perhaps the script writers shook off their earlier hangover and sobered up…who knows? So, what began as a 1 out of 5 actually grew to maybe a 3 or 3.5 by the end of season 2.

Next comes Z Nation – I knew after watching one episode of this zombie series that it was too terrible not to watch. It appears to be a bit of a “piss take” and certainly does not take its self seriously. I’m not sure if it was in the first episode, but certainly very early on in season 1 where a soldier and a rag tag group of hangers on have to transport a prisoner, who is thought to be resistant to the zombie virus, from one side of the USA to the other, to a CDC lab where a cure for the zombie virus will be made from the prisoners blood. So far so good. But when confronted by a zombie baby in an abandoned building you know that no good is going to happen when, instead of leaving it there and continuing with his priority mission, the soldier in charge decides to go into the building – alone – and put the baby out of its misery. Of course the unarmed zombie baby manages to bite the AR15 carrying, battle experienced, soldier…so it’s then up to the rag tag team of civilians to complete the mission. It’s scenes like that one that make the series unmissable…..just when you think it can’t get more ridiculous, the writers pull one out of the bag to top the ridiculousness (if that’s even a word) of the one prior. I give it a sold 3 out of 5, because the audacity of the writers deserves it.

Following on from Z Nation comes another spin off – Black Summer was a specially made for Netflix 8 part series that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

Jaime King stars in the lead role as Rose, a mother who is separated from her daughter during the earliest and most deadly days of a zombie apocalypse. The action is fast and furious and I had to remind myself to take a breath every now and then. The final scene of the final episode let this otherwise exciting and almost believable zombie series down. BUT, that final scene apart, I heartily recommend it. I was very happy to hear that Netflix had commissioned a second series, again of 8 episodes, but filming has been disrupted due to our real life zombie apocalypse….covid-19. The final scene robbed it of a perfect score…it therefore gets 4 from 5.

And finally, rounding off my pick of 5 is Dead Set. It’s a kind of Big Brother household meets the Zombies. This British TV series again is one you’ll either love or hate. What attracted me to it was that having once accidentally watched part of an episode of BIG BROTHER all I wanted was to be able to let loose the zombie hoards on the contestants. Dead Set does just that. I’ve only just started to watch it on Netflix but so far so good. I give it a tentative 3 from 5 for a good start. What sets this series apart from the other 4 I have featured, is that it’s British so has that touch of irony that Americans just don’t understand.

There are many other Zombie series around but these 5 are my top pics. Thank you for reading…and watching….

I will be back with my personal top 10 Zombie movies list. Stay tuned.

Black Summer – Yes folks it’s a quick plug for the ZOMBIES!!

As I mentioned in my last post, which was about the post-apocalyptic novel “Earth Abides”, (which incidentally has nothing to do with Zombies) …I love tales about Zombies…..be it books, movies or TV series. Black Summer (released April 2019) is a “made for Netflix” series about the Zombie Apocalypse and although there has only been one series so far, (I believe another is in the pipeline…watch this space!) I think it’s great. It was inspired by and is produced by the same company who created another series on Netflix called “Z Nation” …..in which someone mentioned the start of the Zombie Apocalypse as being the “Black Summer”, when the whole map of the USA suddenly turned black with Z’s.

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It’s not like the “Walking Dead” – with their shuffling Zombies that even granny with her walker would be nimble enough to dodge….nor is it like the voracious Zombies of “World War Z” who are so fast that world champion sprinter Usain Bolt would have trouble outrunning them. The Zombies on Black Summer move fast….but human fast, not super hero fast. The story begins just six weeks in from the outbreak of the Zombie Apocalypse and is the usual escape the Zombies by trying to reach an almost mythical “Safe Zone” road trip. You have to have your wits about you to survive, and each episode from start to finish gets the heart pumping. It’s definitely “on the edge of your seat” stuff. And it doesn’t pay to get too attached to any particular character…for Z-obvious reaZons. Give it a look if you get a chance. There are just 8 episodes in series one and as of yet series two has not been confirmed. It’s low budget with mainly B grade actors, but it’s a lot of fun, thrills and spills. The Official Trailer is below…..enjoy!