Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bruce Lee Lives? by Max Caulfield (1975) Star Books

Okay I'm sucker for some Bruce-spoitation., I previously reviewed Legend of The Fist here on this blog.  I've also enjoyed The Last Dragon and No Retreat, No Surrender (Student trained by the ghost of Bruce Lee vs Jean-Claude Van Damme)

So when I spotted this little gem I had to grab it.  Max Caulfield had previously worked with Linda Lee on her book Bruce Lee: The Man only I knew (which was the basis for the Jason Scott Lee movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story).

If you go in expecting to read what could be another Bruce Lee movie, be very disappointed.  The story opens with Caulfield getting a call from a friend George Bitters offering him the chance to write up the notes of an investigative journalist Ivor Wishart.  Wishart had gone to Hong Kong to investigate corruption in the Hong Kong Police.  During the investigation, he begins to hear about Bruce Lee rumours like he was murdered by the CAS (Chinese Asian Syndicate) through a number of obscure martial arts moves like the Death Touch.

Wishart continues his investigation and after an assassination attempt meets up with a lovely Chinese girl Nu San.  Wishart moves in with Nu San and begins a relationship with her. This plot is complicated when Wishart discovers that she is junkie.

As part of the investigation, Wishart meets Jo Foi who is a BNDD (Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) agent.  Foi suggests that perhaps Lee wasn't dead but sick when they flew the coffin to America.  This hint suggests that Lee is working undercover to smash the CAS drug rings in Thailand. 

So it's off to Thailand in the Golden Triangle to see the opium fields, where he meets a Captain in the Thai army who has a familiar voice and bears a passing resemblance to Bruce Lee (as did most of the Brucesploitation actors).  The investigation leads the BNDD to a major drug processing plant and the mystery Captain is in the raid.  There is a brief scene where Wishart watches the Captain in action fighting and Wishart is convinced it's Bruce Lee.  And by brief I mean less than half a page.  (page 135 of 142 page book if you're interested) . 

Wishart is convinced but is unable to confront the Captain.  The book ends with Wishart vowing to return to find out the answer.

As I said there are two scenes in the book with our potential Bruce Lee with lots of rumours and speculations.  There is nothing concrete in this story.  The brief fight scene is so vague as to be useless to convincing anyone this was really Bruce Lee. 

Also the idea of the frame didn't work for me.  Wishart is a journalist but he uses a ghost writer (at one point he even mentions that a ghost writer will be writing up his notes) to write up this story. 
Caulfield writes everything up in third person which is confusing initially as the story is supposedly based on Wishart's recorded notes. 

If you are Bruce Lee fan and find this for a reasonable price grab it -  I love the picture on the cover of the British edition. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) by Fergus Hume

Before Sherlock Holmes, there was The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.  From what I can gather it was very successful at the time and in the introduction to the revised 1898 edition Hume tells stories of his arrival in London and finding out that people were impersonating him.  It was like a prototype of The Da Vinci Code.  (want to see what was popular and has gone out of favour go to a charity book sale - I've seen entire tables of The Da Vinci Code, Twilight and 50 Shades.)

After Conan Doyle read this story, he was inspired to write the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Doyle was less than impressed with the novel, calling it 'a slight tale." But the sales of Hansom Cab were greater than A Study In Scarlet.

It's one of the first Australian works to be successfully sold internationally.

The story opens with a murder - a dead body is found in a hansom cab.  Victorian State Detective Gorby is assigned to the case.  He successfully identifies the body as Oliver Whyte and discovers that Whyte was chasing Madge Frettlby who is in love with Brian Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald, oddly enough, took exception to Whyte chasing his girlfriend. and had been reported to have made threats against his rival. 

Gorby finds out that Fitzgerald saw Whyte on the night in question but has no alibi for the time of the murder and Whyte's missing glove is found when he is arrested.  The trial is a sensation and is the talk of the colony.  It is revealed that Fitzgerald does have an alibi and the witness arrives on the last day of trial. 

I feel poor Gorby gets the short end of the stick in this story -  his arrest is perfectly reasonable.  Fitzgerald is seen with victim, and the cab driver says Fitzgerald got in the cab with the victim. His arrival home fits with the timeline. 

It's only for that Fitzgerald's barrister Carlton hiring Gorby's rival police Detective Kilslip to continue the investigation that we ultimately discover who the killer was and his motive.

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab is not just a murder mystery but a family drama as the investigation of Oscar Whyte's death brings to light many secrets of the Frettlby family as we discover secrets from when Madge's father was a young man and just what connection he had to Oliver Whyte and why he was so keen to marry Madge off this man he hardly knew.

I won't spoil it but one of the themes of the novel is that the suns of the father are visited on the children and that destiny can be changed.

Fergus Hume wrote a lot of other novels and I may dip into his other works.  I wonder if he revisited Gorby or Kilslip in any of them.

There was once scene that had me intrigued - Carlton is trying to get Fitzgerald to reveal his alibi and mention that he telegraphed "I telegraphed home to a friend of mine, who is a bit of an amateur detective, ‘Find out the name and all about the woman who left England in the John Elder on the 21st day of August, 18 — as wife of Oliver Whyte.’ Mirabile dictu, he found out all about her, and knowing, as you do, what a maelstrom of humanity London is, you must admit my friend was clever."

I wonder who this clever amateur detective could be? 

After I watched this I was able to watch the 2012 TV movie made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - It was excellently cast and I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Three Musketeers (1948) Gene Kelly, Lana Turner

When you say Gene Kelly most people think of him as a dancer - dancing with Jerry Mouse in Anchor's Away or singing and dancing in the rain from Singin' in the Rain - which is accurate but there is much more to him.  In Singin' in the Rain he plays Don Lockwood, a Hollywood star who started as a stuntman.  So I was surprised at how swashbuckling he was.

So I decided to rewatch The Three Musketeers.  I'd watched it many, many years ago as a young lad but didn't remember much.  I remembered enough to get my youngest to watch it with me.  His fight with Rochefort at the start of the movie was a joy to behold, Kelly displays a great athleticism as does everyone involved but Kelly is clearly having the time of his life.  He leaps around, whacks his opponent on the bum with his sword.  Both my daughter and I were laughing at this, and I said to the wife "this is how they should do fights. None of this jerky cam business we see today."

I felt the movie lost some momentum after D'Artagnan recovers the Queen's jewels, It may be that I felt that was the conclusion of the story (crisis averted) or it might have been that the daughter was getting restless.  (Looking at the summaries on IMDB that seems to be the dividing mark for 1974 The Three Musketeers/ The Four Musketeers ) 

At 38, Gene Kelly was probably too old to play D'Artagnan but that didn't worry me too much, I was constantly reminded of Mandy Potempkin in The Princess Bride (although the inspiration would be the other way around) watching him.

I really enjoyed this movie, seeing a very young Angela Landsbury as Queen Anne was a pleasant surprise.  I now have a hankering to rewatch the 1993 version (Don't judge me) and check out the 2011 version to compare the versions.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Soldier Legacy's Strange Tales: Night of the Warrior (2013) Chris Sequera and Paul Mason Black House

This story originally appeared as a back up feature in Sherlock Holmes; Dark Detective issue 7-9.

I've spoken before about The Soldier Legacy on this blog and how much I love that series.  This back up really opens up the universe of that series.

This story is set in 1887 before the events of the first Nikola book A Bid for Fortune.  in this story Nikola is hunting for a green opal set in a ring. It turns out that the man in possession of the ring, Jack Smeight, is responsible for the death of a friend of the current Soldier Legacy and we see Nikola and The Soldier Legacy battle over the ring's bearer.

It turns out that the ring has mystical properties - it is the Lifestone of Cantong and when Smeight kills a man it makes him stronger and he is able to overpower Nikola and Soldier Legacy.

In the end, Smeight is defeated and Nikola hands the ring over to Soldier Legacy for sale to benefit the family of Smeight's original victim. Nikola rejects the ring while it may prolong the life it steals the intellect.

Sequeria and Mason give us a Nikola who is an honourable man with hypnotic abilities, in a story that foreshadows many of the events in the Nikola books.  I read this before reading the Nikola books and I enjoyed it but rereading it after the Nikola books the story is that much richer as I picked up on the small hints that the pair dropped.

Mason's artwork is top notch and the 1887 Soldier Legacy is clearly similar to the designs seen in the WW2 and modern day Soldier Legacies seen in Mason's book yet is unique enough that this is a different man (unlike the various incarnations of Shi from that comic series)   I really like his Doctor Nikola drawings)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Doc Savage: The Doom Dynasty (1992) Story Terry Collins Art Mike Wieringo Covers Brian Stelfreese


The next appearance of Doctor Nikola was this two part miniseries pitting Doc Savage against Dr Nikola. 

Set in 1939, Doc is contacted by an old friend of his father's, Hikara.  He wants to warn Doc about something but before he can tell Doc anything he is bitten by a monkey and infected with a deadly plague.  His dying words lead Doc to another friend Dr Plympton, who runs a clinic in Africa.

Doc arrives too late.  The clinic has been ransacked and  Plympton is dying of the same plague but he tells Doc the location of Clark Savage Snr's Journal from 1897.  The journal records Doc's grandfather Richard Henry Savage meeting with Dr Nikola in that year. Richard Henry provides to Nikola (which would be just after Lust For Hate) with funding for a scientific project.

Doc's reading is interrupted by the arrival of his aides: Renny, Monk and Ham who captured by Nikola and his men.  Part 1 ends with the three men in danger.

Part 2 has Doc trying to rescue his men but getting captured.  Nikola tells Doc that he knew Richard Henry Savage and that the elder Savage had discovered that Nikola had been using his money to create a deadly plague.  With assistance from Nikola's female assistant Li, Richard Savage escapes and burns down the laboratory and steals the only copy of the formula.  Nikola is treated with a regenerative serum based on Siliphilium (That's the spelling from the comic - in the Doc Savage novel Fear Cay it was Silphilium) 

Now after forty years, Nikola has recreated his plague formula and is trying to remove Doc who would be the only one able to  stop him.  I won't reveal the ending but  it's no surprise that Nikola is thwarted.  Although I was surprised to discover that Nikola took Li as a lover and his current assistant Kao is his daughter.

I was a little disappointed that the back matter didn't include an article on Dr Nikola.  There is an article by Will Murray about the real Richard Henry Savage in part 1 and letter column in part 2.  (There was a letter giving more information in the next Doc Savage Miniseries - Devil's Thoughts)

I enjoyed this story when I first read it and I enjoyed the recent reread after reading the original Nikola stories.  I was nice to see Nikola against foes who might be considered his equals. 

It appears Doom Dynasty takes its cues from A Lust for Hate and is a portrayal I'm not adverse to but it makes Nikola far less likable than his appearances in the other four Nikola books.