Category: Books (page 1 of 2)

Sex, Lies & Statistics

Sex, Lies & Statistics is the title of the American edition of the book The Sex Myth  originally published in 2012. The U.S edition published in 2017 couldn’t be more relevant in 2018 when FOSTA-SESTA is hurting the very people it’s supposed to help in the U.S, the British government wants to block internet porn to ‘protect children’ and just a few days ago British sex workers were protesting over numerous MPs in the British government apparently  inspired by Trump’s FOSTA-SESTA now want something similar for Britain and U.K

Scientist and former sex worker Dr Brooke Magnanti takes a look at the data and research behind the headlines of recurring media narratives around sex work. Broken down into 10 chapters which focus on a different aspect.  The results a combination of journalistic research and scientific analysis  demonstrate that as far as much of the media and various anti-sex work campaigners are concerned evidence and research is irrelevant if it points to something that goes against an ideological aim.

The calls to ban or further restrict ‘sex work’, an  umbrella catch all term for myriad different things, isn’t really anything to do with ‘evidence’ as much as it is to do with moral outrage and a puritanical backlash against both sexuality and sex work in general. One of the latest manifestations of this is developments concerning Patreon, a platform which has apparently decided to arbitrarily suspend the accounts of creators it deems to be creating ‘inappropriate’ content. This seems to be the result of pressure from payment processors essentially engaging in redlining against anyone associated with sex work. This is in itself is nothing new porn stars were complaining about banks closing or freezing their accounts several years ago.  Elsewhere strip clubs that’ve been a city fixture for years with no problems are facing a backlash from irate activists insistent that strip clubs  ‘normalise the commodification of women’s bodies’.

One of the most pertinent aspects of this book is that Magnanti as a scientist points out that regardless of your personal perspective on things if you’re incapable of actually engaging with the evidence if it contradicts your perspective, then you’re not interested in the evidence but rather just furthering your own agenda.

A major part of this ‘debate’ is the way sex work is acknowledged by governments and the law and it breaks down into several different manifestations globally,

Decriminalisation – The removal of all legal impediments to sex work, where sex workers can work in regulated premises for others or in private premises for themselves. Decriminalisation, often shortened to ‘Decrim’, is approved by various sex worker led organisations and Amnesty International amongst others. ‘DECRIM NOW’ placards are often seen at sex worker protests

Legalisation – Sex work is only allowed with regulated workers in licensed premises. A good example being the Bunny Ranch in Nevada in the U.S. This approach generally isn’t approved by sex worker organisations because it creates a situation where some sex workers are penalised by the law whilst others aren’t.

Partial criminalisation – Where customers of sex workers are criminalised. This isn’t favoured by sex worker organisations because it indirectly criminalises sex workers and makes for a more dangerous scenario as customers will avoid reporting anything to police for fear of prosecution.

Full criminalisation – Both buying and selling sex is illegal. This results in shunning and stigmatising sex workers being common place.

As Magnanti explains sex workers being shunned, ignored, stigmatised and demonised is by no means anything new. One of England’s most notorious serial killers, Peter Sutcliffe aka the Yorkshire Ripper, evaded capture for several years in the 70’s partly due to his victims being prostitutes, which the media, the police and the public didn’t really care about. Both in the news and in film and TV the sex worker is often the victim that nobody cares about or serves as the basis for an underlying moral message about the ‘evils’ of sex work.

What’s alarming is when Magnanti does some digging tracking down the origins of the various sources of statistics often paraded by anti-sex worker figures. This reveals that some of the NGOs and charities,often championed by well meaning but clueless celebrities, have links to distinctly dubious organisations that have their own agendas. Despite raking in vast amounts of money for ‘research’ and their causes this money rarely, if ever, actually goes towards helping actual victims of the ‘sex trafficking’ that always comes up when there’s any discussion about sex workers. This revelation was so explosive that Magnanti was threatened with legal action from one of the anti-sex work figures mentioned.

Another thing that becomes clear is how when it comes to sex work ‘feminism’ is utterly splintered. ‘Feminists’ approach to sex work falls into several groups. There are those that support women who choose to be sex workers and fight for sex worker rights because of the improved safety they will provide. There are those that think that all sex work should be outright banned altogether if not heavily penalised because sex work is ‘predicated on violence towards and exploitation of women’ and there are those that believe that no woman would ever willingly choose to be  a sex worker in any circumstance and therefore they must be ‘brainwashed’ into thinking they’re acting independently by  ‘choosing to be sex slaves’.

As comedian Avery Edison put it on Twitter ‘You will never end demand for sex work, the same way anti-abortion activists will never end demand for abortion. All you will do is push it underground, where more people will be hurt. Not only do the facts bear this out, it also makes obvious logical sense!’

Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken

‘Walk into any court in the land, speak to any lawyer, ask any judge and you will be treated to uniform complaints of court deadlines being repeatedly missed, cases arriving underprepared, evidence lost, disclosures of evidence not being made, victims made to feel marginalised and millions of pounds of public money wasted.’ – The Secret Barrister.

The above quote from The Secret Barrister’s first book really sums up the myriad problems plaguing the criminal justice system.

Starting off with a historical context for how the English and Welsh criminal justice system evolved slowly over history into the form it now takes, The Secret Barrister methodically explores the various facets, the myriad problems, their apparent causes and most alarmingly why it is that the vast majority of the public don’t seem to care about any of it.

For the uninitiated The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law. They have amassed a not insubstantial following on Twitter, follow them @BarristerSecret, write a blog on various cases that appear in the media amongst other things (like the reasons for opting for anonymity). They also contribute to various media websites on matters of the law in high profile cases, like this explainer on the rather complicated hot potato case of John Worboys.

One of the really interesting things here is despite how fundamentally important the criminal justice system is to a democratic state, and how it can potentially impact on anyone in that state, it’s really rather surprising how little people really know about it. How many people not working within the system can honestly say they know the difference between a Magistrate, a Barrister, a QC and a Solicitor? How many people think that judges in English courts use gavels? How many think that a Barrister spends his days shouting “OBJECTION!” as a judge with a large ornately curled wig oversees things?

One of the first things that sets off an alarm is the revelation that magistrates that sit on Magistrates Courts, where they have the power to sentence people to a maximum of twelve months in prison, need no actual qualifications. If someone told me that six months ago I would’ve assumed they were making it up. To make matters worse there’s more and more pressure to push more and more cases through Magistrates Courts to save money. Saving money is a recurring theme throughout this expose of how the criminal justice system is, at best, running on fumes.

Whilst the revelations about magistrates courts, a ‘replica of an inner-city A&E department on Saturday night’ which deals with an eye watering 94% of criminal cases might cause alarm or surprise that’s just the starter on the menu here.

Other choice highlights being, lawyers dealing with cases they learn about upon arriving at court relying upon often incomplete files, evidence that goes missing somewhere between the CPS and the police if it was ever found to begin with, complainants that give up rather than waiting for their trial that’s been adjourned several times over several years to be rescheduled, shiny new court rooms (built with tax payer money) that remain locked and unused despite the backlog of cases due to cost cutting, predatory private legal firms that poach clients but then abandon them, private firms that fail to provide interpreters, or worse provide interpreters that aren’t fit for purpose,  and possibly the most surprising of all that on some cases a legal aid barrister will in fact be paying to work so low is their hourly rate.

That’s just the tip of the sorry iceberg though and just some of the inevitable consequences when Justice is at the mercy of the state being fixated on doing things on the cheap.

There’s three things I’ve heard people talk about in a disgusted manner as they peruse the newspaper seeing an article related to the latest  case that’s made the news, one is disbelief and outrage at some rapist, for example, ‘getting thousands of pounds in legal aid’, another is ‘soft touch’ judges ‘letting people get away with anything’ and the third is prisons ‘being glorified holiday resorts’.

The average person’s seething contempt for legal aid is seemingly built on a heady mix of misinformation from the media reporting things shorn of context to serve a political stance and the idea that they, or their loved ones, will never find themselves in court having to defend themselves because that only happens to other people. This is compounded by governments also playing their part in misinformation to curry favour with an electorate that increasingly thinks Something Must Be Done.

The seemingly abstract nature of the criminal justice system is why it’s not treated in the same way in the media as say the NHS, or Education, or any of a dozen other things that impact people’s lives.

Then there’s the absurdity of the ‘innocence tax’, whereby somebody can be accused of a crime, be aquitted, then find themselves having to sell their home to pay legal fees. How can that be right? You might ask, it’s because thanks to government mandated policy changes the state not only doesn’t have to refund all their costs but increasingly people will not qualify for legal aid as a direct result of policy changes. This means an exponential increase in the number of people representing themselves, which unsurprisingly means longer more drawn out trials because they don’t know what they’re doing, which cost the tax payer more, and also unsurprisingly doesn’t tend to go well for the self representing party.

But it get worse.

Legislation for sentencing for crimes is such a complex and labyrinthine affair that even judges sometimes struggle to understand things. With Mr Justice Mitting, on commenting on a High Court case in 2010, stating, ‘It is simply unacceptable in a society governed by the rule of law for it to be well-nigh impossible to discern from statutory provisions what a sentence means in practice’.

So it’s not really that surprising that crime reporting tends to cut away what’s considered the extraneous details around a sentencing. This speaks to a fundamental problem in the way crime is reported though. Shorn of context, detail, and importantly explanation, the public is lead to believe that criminals are indeed ‘getting away with it’.

As for prisons The Secret Barrister has this to say,

‘Stepping inside a prison will immediately quell any agreement you may have with red-top caricatures of holiday camps. Prisoners are locked up for up to twenty-three hours a day in filthy, dilapidated cells, in which they eat all their meals and use an unscreened lavatory in front of their cellmate. Cockroaches crunch underfoot, surrounded by broken glass, peeling ceilings, broken fittings, graffiti and damaged floors. Giant rats’ nests add infestation to the population. Drugs have flooded in as prison staff struggle to maintain order’.

After mentioning that HMP Leeds aka Armley Jail, The North’s own Colditz if you will, had been reported as being severely overcrowded and rife with drugs, violence and mental health issues, a friend commented “Good. They deserve it”. Which speaks to the seemingly commonly held belief that the only punishment for a crime must be incarceration and that empathy or compassion for the incarcerated is a rarity.  The letters page of the Metro  after a particularly awful high profile case, for example, will be full of lamentations about how much of a ‘soft touch’ the country is for not having the death penalty anymore.

But there’s more still as The Secret Barrister relates in horrifying detail how upon finding yourself wrongly incarcerated for several years if you’re lucky enough to actually be released via the Court of Appeal, which in itself is a rarity, you won’t get so much as a ‘sorry about that old bean’ from the state, nevermind any kind of financial compensation so you can attempt to piece the shattered remnants of your life back together.

The understanding and representation of the law and crime isn’t just a problem in the media, especially in newspapers given that local news reporting has all but gone the way of the Dodo, but this distorted perception is amplified even more when elected representatives demonstrate how they too clearly don’t understand matters of law, Harriet Harmon MP’s proclamations on the hot potato case of Ched Evans being a pertinent example.

The Secret Barrister has no love for MP’s who care not for the nuances of the law,

”Sometimes, our elected representatives will not even bother to lay the groundwork; they will simply run straight to the Commons with a private members bill drafted on a crisp packet seeking to vanquish whatever chimera excites them today’.

Given how genuinely dire things are it’s no surprise that 90% of the The Criminal Bar’s members agreed to effectively go on strike over the myriad cuts to legal aid amongst other things.

The other aspect bubbling away in the background of this sorry state of affairs is none of this makes being a criminal barrister, or any other role, in anyway appealing for people entering the maddening world of the criminal justice system after landing themselves in massive debt for the privelege .

Know Your Place

It’s a strange thing when you actually become aware of how class works in Britain. A dawning realisation that can shift your perception of everything, like your eyes focussing after you’ve just woken up.

Whether it’s realising that your friend’s idea of going on holiday doesn’t mean going to a caravan park somewhere near the coast for a week ( that’s if you even go on holiday), or the way that girl at school gleefully tells anyone who’ll listen that your Mum cleans her house as though it makes you and your family somehow intrinsically lesser people.

The lived experience of being working class in 21st century Britain isn’t a universal one but Know Your Place from Dead Ink, edited by Nathan Connolly, does a good job of conveying life experiences on a variety of subjects filtered through the prism of growing up working class in 21st century Britain.

Simply put Know Your Place is The Good Immigrant for the working class, being inspired by a tweet from the editor of that book, Nikesh Shukla.

As Connolly points out,

‘There is a vision of the working class we like to cling to: a romanticised, fetishised idea that is still rooted somewhere around the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937, an account of working class life written by a man educated at Eton.’

The essays collected here cover a broad spectrum of life experiences and observations about being working class in Britain in 2017. Rural poverty and the myriad obstacles writers from working class backgrounds face, how class and race intersect, how ‘working class’ accents and backgrounds can still cause major problems for people (a good example of this being MP Laura Pidcock’s comments on her experience of Parliament) and many more.

This book is important and timely given the way that the ‘working class’ have become a convenient scapegoat for a lot of things in recent political developments. Now it’s hard to think of the working class without thinking of Jeremy Kyle’s eponymous TV show, in the space of a little over a decade it’s become firmly rooted in the media landscape presenting a parade of troubled families for the nation’s entertainment.

Know Your Place shatters misconceptions and stereotypes embedded within the barrage of press and media coverage by presenting real stories and perspectives from real working class people.

Buy Know Your Place here.

Forgotten Film Club


Forgotten Film Club is the latest book from Jon Spira, the writer of Videosyncratic which is one of my top books published recently, I explain at length why here.

The idea behind this new book is definitely an interesting one, a look at a film that has it seems been completely and utterly forgotten by, well, pretty much everyone. A film that barely even gets a mention on the internet outside of IMDB and Wikipedia. I expect this book may possibly change that.

The film in question? Morons From Outer Space which starred amongst others Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones.

Smith and Jones, as they were generally referred to, became one of the biggest comedy duos in Britain at the time. I can definitely remember seeing them on TV but I think I was a little too young, or just not interested, in why or how two men sat opposite each other talking about things was supposed to be funny.

An early point that really stands out is that every film, regardless of whether it’s the latest record breaking box office smash hit or something loitering in the lower regions of Tesco’s DVD chart, is the result of the hard work, blood, sweat and most likely tears of dozens if not hundreds of people.

This is something that’s often overlooked, the outrage over Suicide Squad winning an Oscar for Best Makeup comes to mind.

Whilst this is a relatively brief affair at just over 130 pages, it definitely proves one thing, Spira can evidently write an interesting and engaging book about film, any film it seems, because it’s not just about an obscure British film featuring a comedy duo best known for their work on TV, Forgotten Film Club takes a look at how society engages with film and looks at elements of this film, from the science, or lack of it, to the writing, direction, casting and why it failed so spectacularly despite featuring well known stars.

One of the most interesting aspects of Forgotten Film Club though is how Spira crowdfunded the book via Kickstarter without actually telling anyone what film the book is about, that in itself is pretty impressive.

You can get Forgotten Film Club: Book One from Amazon or maybe ask your local book shop to order it for you.



Videosyncratic by Jon Spira is several things in one, an autobiography of sorts, a brief history of film and the historical impact of home video, an interesting look into the inner workings of, and the rise and fall of, the video rental industry and an ode to the importance of independent businesses.

Depending on how old you are the idea of video shops will either bring about confused indifference or nostalgic memories of looking at rows and rows of video cases and trying to decide what to watch on a Friday night. Whilst it might seem strange now in the age of Netflix and streaming on demand but for a considerable amount of years video shops were a staple fixture on many high streets and this would be something that most families would be doing.

There were several video shops in my home town, although curiously never a Blockbuster, the nearest one was the next town over. On the one occasion I ventured there with a friend I was really rather taken by how awful it was, the stench of corporate homogeneity was overpowering both literally and metaphorically.

Spira, now a film maker himself, is an engaging and witty story teller as he tells the tale of how a film obsessed kid spent years working in various video shops, including a considerable amount of time in a variety of Blockbuster branches, before realising his dream of opening his own independent video shop.

Anybody who has ever spent any time working for a retail behemoth will find the frustrations of dealing with managerial stupidity and illogical corporately mandated policy in Blockbuster familiar, along with the selection of miscreants and psychopaths that make up both the staff and the customer base.

There’s a distinctly admirable element of David and Goliath as Spira goes about setting up his own video shop, whilst still working for Blockbuster, and actually being quite gleeful at the prospect of stealing their customer base. Not only that but he even steals many of the people he meets whilst working there for his own shop, a mix of film geeks and slackers, reminiscent of Jeff Anderson’s Randal Graves in Kevin Smith’s classic indie film Clerks.

One of the more surprising aspects though is the emotional punch as Spira talks about the reality of realising the industry he has spent years working in, and has now established a business in, is collapsing due to a combination of the advancement of technology and the actions of film studios.

Videosyncratic is rather funny but also sad, most of all though it’s a great read.  Reading it brought back memories of fiddling with the tracking on videos, watching the trailers, and the conversations you would have in the video shop about what you’ve seen.  A good video shop was a gift.

To quote Spira,

“Independent businesses, set up and operated because of the passion of the people who establish them, are beautiful, precious, and increasingly rare things and should be cherished. Every single purchase makes a difference.”





Dark Days


Generally when you pick up a memoir by someone in a rock or metal band you kind of know what to expect, a little something about the band starting out as complete unknowns, something about them getting signed and releasing their first album and probably a lot of stuff about drink, drugs, groupies and hedonism that’s become an associated cliché with being in a popular (for its genre) rock/metal band.

Dark Days by Lamb of God singer D. Randall Blythe ,more commonly known as Randy Blythe, is completely and utterly unlike any of those books.

Whilst in Prague on the last days of the bands latest tour to the surprise of himself, his band, his road crew and later his family, Blythe found himself arrested and charged with Manslaughter and implicated in the death of a fan at a gig. Blythe was soon in a Czech prison potentially facing five to ten years imprisonment for a crime he had no recollection of.

Dark Days is engrossing, informative, surprisingly comical and occasionally emotionally wrenching as Blythe finds himself in a decrepit crumbling prison where hardly anyone speaks English, dealing with the bewildering Czech legal system and a Mongolian cellmate with a habit for whistling endlessly and a fondness for vodka.

Blythe is an eloquent writer and makes a point of stating that the book is his own work and not the product of some ghost writer. Whilst broken down into 4 parts Prague, Pankrac, The Trial and Epilogue, some of the chapters break from the story of his incarceration as he shares brutally honest stories of being an alcoholic for years and the struggle of being an addict, especially in a touring metal band where people are always offering you drinks and various other substances. This contrasts massively with the often more romanticised approach to alcohol and drugs in other books, Blythe openly admits he’s done profoundly stupid things whilst wasted and is also somewhat amazed that his friends and family haven’t disowned him previous to him getting sober for good.

One thing that radiates from the pages of Dark Days is the fact that Blythe is a man of honour and steadfast resolve in an age when many are more than happy to throw people under the bus at a moments notice, or blame someone or something for all their problems. Despite having no recollection of the events he is charged with he quickly accepts that he will face the consequences if he is indeed responsible.

How a bad girl fell in love


How a bad girl fell in love is the sort of memoir of sex blogger and writer Girl on the Net.

One of the memorable things about this, the second book by Girl on the Net, is it reads a bit like the story to the best comedy drama you’re never going to see. There’s interesting all too human characters, it’s very funny, profoundly filthy in places but occasionally serious too. Chronicling the story of how the aforementioned writer goes from a life of fuck buddies, random encounters and various sexual adventures resulting in early morning conundrums like “the awkward moment where I would try and remember if I’d developed a skin condition or that really is dried spunk on my forearm.” to being in a solid relationship and all the highs and lows that come with it.

The first thing you need to know about Girl on the Net is her blog is great, featuring as it does the same things that make this book so good (good writing, pure filth, humour and a bit of insight. You can find her blog located here Girl on the Net).

Whilst her relationship with the endearingly affable Mark makes up the bulk of the proceedings, it also features interesting diversions. One of them being the difficulty of actually maintaining an anonymous hopefully lucrative online presence whilst working a day job and living a regular life. Superman apparently has it easy (it takes far more than just wearing a pair of glasses) and the paranoia of being “found out” never really goes away no matter how much you try and cover your tracks like someone in a witness protection programme.

I think it’s rare for something to be written so well that it gives you a sense of who the people are, as though you’ve just spent the last several hours in a pub talking to them at a table now covered in empty glasses before heading out into the night to get a taxi home. There’s a brilliant talent for self deprecating humour evident throughout, the kind that will probably make you snort laugh on the train/bus during your commute because that’s exactly what happened to me. I think there should be a warning on the front of the book frankly. Maybe that’s something Blink Publishing can look into if they print a second edition.

As much as this book is about the up and downs of a relationship and the sex that comes with it, it’s also about how utterly stomach churning, infuriating and anxiety ridden life gets and how sometimes you really can’t see the wood for the trees. Above all though, especially for something in which the names have been changed, it’s refreshingly honest, even brutally so in places, and it’s all the more endearing for it.

Asa Akira – Insatiable: Porn – A Love Story.


Biographies can be a distinctly hit and miss affair due to a lot of different factors, one of them being that just because someone is well known for being a film star/musician/something else doesn’t mean they can write in an engaging or coherent manner. This is why many biographies are co-written with an established author. That Asa Akira has written this book on her own might give cause for concern to the wary reader.

The other important factor is, has this person had an interesting life? The underlying appeal of any biography or memoir is reading about the life of someone who has lead a life less ordinary than the average guy or girl on the street. Asa Akira multi award winning porn star has definitely had an interesting life and it soon becomes apparent that Akira definitely doesn’t need any help on the writing front.

One of the interesting things about “Insatiable: Porn – A Love Story” is unlike a lot of biographies and memoirs it isn’t written in a chronological or linear manner. This book doesn’t start with a “I was born in………..” chapter detailing the author’s childhood home and upbringing but rather one that describes in explicit detail the shooting of “The Perfect Scene”, this approach is actually one of the books best assets as the reader follows Akira down the rabbit hole of her never less than engrossing recollections.

Akira’s book reads like a collection of anecdotes and observations on various events in her life, they are distinctly random in nature and whilst the book is broken down into chapters they are generally unrelated to each other. These entries range wildly from childhood experiences, early sexual encounters, wry observations gleaned from working in porn, working as a dominatrix in an S&M dungeon, a horrifically bad acid trip, being a prolific teenage shoplifter and many, many other things but what they all have in common is they are unflinchingly honest and generally self deprecatingly funny.

Despite porn being more mainstream than ever it’s still viewed by many with a mix of moral condemnation and puritanical hypocrisy. Being a porn star can complicate your future employment prospects just as much as a criminal record it seems. As an indicator of just how bad this is just look at recent X-Factor hopeful Becky Constantinou being booted off the show for being in porn films. Exactly how this impacts her ability to be a singer I’m not really sure.

Porn is still saddled with an association with hackneyed stereotypes of “damaged” vulnerable girls falling victim to a predatory industry which exploits them before leaving them on the scrapheap even more damaged than they were at the beginning. There’s something distinctly odd going on when the idea of porn stars actually, you know, enjoying their jobs seems inconceivable, this is something I commented on before after seeing Public Sex, Private Lives . Another important factor is women embracing and expressing their sexuality openly seems to scare the hell out of some people for some reason. That Asa Akira actually loves her job, “Almost every time I shoot a sex scene, I fall a little bit in love. It’s the only way I can describe it”, contradicts the “damaged” girl stereotype massively.

There’s an admirable quality to someone who despite being of notable fame in their industry can still write self deprecating observations like “I know how to gracefully handle eleven dicks at once, but I don’t know how to send out mail.” after an awkward experience . For more of her amusing observations and self deprecating wit I recommend following her on Twitter.

Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels


The Scarlet Gospels is Clive Barker’s long awaited return to horror fiction. The Cenobite Hell Priest known as Pinhead has been killing off Earth’s magicians in a relentless quest for power to help conquer Hell. Meanwhile Private Investigator Harry D’Amour has been helping out the dead with the assistance of his business associate blind medium Norma Paine. When a case brings D’Amour face to face with Pinhead the Hell Priest makes him an offer when this offer is rebuked the Hell Priest drags Norma to Hell with him leaving D’Amour to go through Hell – literally – to save her

The odd thing that some may not know is despite being Clive Barker’s most well known creation the Cenobite known as Pinhead has only featured in one short story ‘The Hellbound Heart’. This short story provided the basis for the film ‘Hellraiser’, which would not only make for a notable directorial film debut from Barker due to its nightmarish visuals but also be the start of the character’s association with British actor Doug Bradley who would become an icon of horror cinema thanks to his intimidating presence and memorable performance going on to feature as the character in several inferior sequels.

Harry D’Amour is a P.I who deals with the weird and supernatural and unlike Pinhead has featured in several of Barker’s stories first appearing in short story ‘The Last Illusion’. This story provided the blueprint for the film ‘Lord Of Illusions’ Barker’s third film as director which featured Scott Bakula as D’Amour. Short version The Scarlet Gospels is good, very good and one of the best things about it is readers don’t have to be familiar with Barker’s other books to enjoy this story, which is a great selling point for anyone that might be familiar with Barker through his films rather than his books.

Barker’s writing has a reputation for the imaginative and the grotesque and there is ample demonstration of both here. An atmospheric prologue that will undoubtedly serve as nightmare fuel for some sets things up in a particularly brutal manner before the narrative proper starts.

The narrative is initially split between the two principal characters D’Amour’s has a noirish feel in a world the Barker introduces matter of factly, the dead much like the living are everywhere but only the gifted can see them and it’s the dead that make up the bulk of his and Norma’s clients. D’Amour is haunted by nightmarish memories of his past with a flashback that is particularly disturbing in a way that only Barker could pull off. D’Amour finds himselftaking on a new case on behalf of one of the dead which goes rather awry. The other narrative is that of Pinhead who is in the midst of his own grand plan.

I found myself hearing Bradley’s recognisable voice in my head reading Pinhead’s dialogue such is the association between the actor and the character. There’s a potent charge to the inevitability of the two crossing paths. This is prime Clive Barker it’s visceral, terrifying, imaginative and fantastical in equal parts. The narrative is not only engrossing but compelling and incredibly atmospheric. One of the most impressive feats here is Barker’s Hell which comes with its own geography and hierarchical society far removed from what you might expect.

The Scarlet Gospels was undoubtedly at risk of collapsing under the expectations placed upon it by a fanbase that has grown exponentially but Barker is a much more accomplished and nuanced writer now than when he wrote Hellbound Heart originally published in the mid 80’s and it shows.

Koko Takes A Holiday


500 years in the future Koko Marstellar, a former corporate mercenary, is living the easy life after retiring early to run a brothel on The Sixty Islands, a man made tropical resort known for specialising in sex and simulated violence. Koko’s easy life becomes distinctly less easy when Portia Delacompte, an old comrade, sends a squad of security personnel to kill her.

Kieran Shea’s Cyberpunk inspired sucker punch of a story is precise and honed to a fine point, it doesn’t get bogged down in endless exposition setting up the world of the future but rather introduces elements slowly in a drip feed as the action unfolds with things like Tiger Fighting, Depressus and more being  introduced.

It’s always refreshing to discover a new great character regardless of the medium if that character is a feisty kickass woman it’s all the better. There’s plenty of talk about how there’s a distinct lack of “strong female characters” around, I hate that phrase it’s reductivist in the extreme, after all there’s no such thing as a “strong male character”. Koko is far more multi-layered than whatever “strong” implies, she’s a more than capable fighter but she’s also intelligent and witty and numerous other things besides and also looks utterly badass too, with artist Joey Hi-fi running with Shea’s description for the sublime cover .

Whilst Koko finds herself on the run from her former home and business the story also features the other perspective of the events, from Portia Delacompte’s end. Shea gains plenty of mileage from the ridiculous, callous and bureaucratic nature of corporations which is merely exaggerated to blackly comical effect here, with Delacompte having to deal with a board of directors who call her actions into account at every turn with Delacompte venting her fury on a well meaning but inept assistant who has hired the operatives that have been assigned to take out Koko. An interesting rather Phillip K Dick touch is she can’t remember why she has ordered the death of her former comrade after undergoing a selective memory treatment and this becomes a major part of the unfolding story.

Another key character is Jedediah Flynn a security officer aboard the Alaungpaya, one of a number of vast ships that are home to hundreds of people in low orbit above the Earth, akin to floating cities. Flynn gets entangled in Koko’s story after finding out he’s been diagnosed with an altitude derived mental affliction named Depressus which is widely considered to be terminal and often prompts sufferers to take their own lives, usually by leaping to their deaths, this has become such a problem on Alaungpaya that official ceremonies dubbed “Embrace” ceremonies enable mass group suicides.

These three characters stories coalesce in impressive style as Shea’s narrative unfolds with various character touches along the way, like Flynn going through his life on autopilot until he blunders into Koko’s life and Koko learning that even a badass former mercenary and hired gun occasionally needs help sometimes.

One of the most interesting aspects though is the gender balance which is completely flipped in comparison to the general norm, Flynn, Delacompte’s assistant and a nefarious arms dealer that Koko knows from back in the day are the only male characters here, the rest are female. There’s something refreshing and a little subversive about a story that pits a cadre of female mercenary’s against a former female mercenary who is now a madame for a brothel of boywhores.

Great characters, a frenetic pace, action and some twisted humour make this one to look out for and what is surprising is this is Shea’s first novel.

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