My original idea for this column was to work around books that were part of British TV. But, as things happen, things change. So instead, it’s two-thirds British and one-third good ol’ American crime. We start things off with a book I’ve read many many many years ago — the early ’80s, to be precise. Cue the TARDIS noises, ’cause off we go to Loch Ness!
DOCTOR WHO AND THE LOCH NESS MONSTER by Terrance Dicks — Early in 2012, BBC Books reissued some of the old DOCTOR WHO Target adaptations with new introductions. The Target books, back in the day, were sometimes the only way a DOCTOR WHO fan could ever read one of the stories that either were lost in the great wipe the BBC did of old shows, or just episodes my local PBS would probably never air.
Now, of course, the episode on which this 1976 book is based, I’ve seen countless times. It’s still not out on DVD yet, which supposedly is being rectified this summer. Now, why this book? It’s because of who wrote the introduction: Michael Moorcock, a name most science-fiction readers know, and his intro explains he is a big fan of the series, but never cared for two of its biggest enemies. He loved the Zygons, an alien enemy only used once, but still is a fan favorite.
The story deals with the Doctor and his companions investigating some trouble in Loch Ness: that of oil rigs in the area being destroyed by mysterious forces. Those forces become quite evident rather quickly and, yes, it ties into Nessie. Dicks, a longtime writer of the classic series, handles the adaptation rather well. He did write the bulk of these books and totally captures the episode this is based on. Sadly, readers can only imagine the creepy voices of the Zygons or their even creepier ship.
This story is a classic through and through. It has the trademark cliffhanger endings you expect in the show, with it never talking down to its audience. Now let’s just wait for the DVD.
HOUSE OF CARDS by Michael Dobbs — Francis Urquhart is a loathsome man, even for a politician. 1989′s HOUSE OF CARDS was supposed to be a standalone book. But then, things change. Not to spoil anything for people who have recently watched the American version on Netflix or the original British series, but things do not end that way in the book.
This is the story of a politician who is sick of being passed over and puts his mind to change things, no matter the cost or whose lives it will ruin. This is a fantastic political thriller through and through. Having watched the original series years ago, I was in for quite a surprise with the differences — mainly, that it’s all told through the third person. Unlike both versions of the series, FU (as he calls himself) never talks directly to the audience.
The story not only deals with Francis’ systematic takedown of opponents, but that of a reporter who gets the ball rolling in the first place. In the book, they only meet a few times and their relationship never becomes anything else. What the readers might be surprised at is the ending itself.
Since this book was written, technology has grown and used to great effect in the remake, so some points come off as very antiquated. Keep that in mind if you are interested in the source material. Dobbs really has a knack for this type of political drama. It’s engrossing from page one until the end.
Even for people who know little of British politics, you just can’t turn away from a character like Francis, no matter how truly evil he is. In the book, he is not as self- assured. He actually backs away at points. What I really found interesting is how the U.S. remake changed certain characters to benefit the series, so when you read the book, it will be easy to figure out what the changes were.
This book ends completely different than both series. But I won’t ruin that surprise for anyone. I’ll just say the introduction to the follow-up book is priceless.
ALL SHOT UP by Chester Himes — Being more familiar with the two film adaptations of Himes’ detective pair, I did not expect the sheer disdain he has for all the characters in this 1960 book, including his crime-solving duo.
This book is a trip to very dark times. This is actually the fifth book in the Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed series, about a pair of black detectives who are great at their job, but are faced with problems at every step, with a lot dealing with the color of their skin. Jones comes off as brutal and just sick of the treatment he has had to endure through his career, while Ed has faced the same obstacles but is just a tad nicer, which is not saying much.
These two detectives are called upon a case of shoot-out and some dead bodies that were found in front of a gay bar. The reasons for the shoot-out are the central focus of the story itself, but the readers have a reason why. The book opens with a car accident of an old lady being hit, but then takes a turn of three cops who turn up and not only steal money, but kill one of the culprits.
Himes never lets on the real score of what’s going on to the readers until very late in the game. But by that point, readers will have watched Jones and Ed in full action, of which taking no shit from nobody is their call to arms. Some people will get easily offended by some of Himes’ portrayals of certain characters, but he treats all his characters the same way, no matter the race, creed or sexual preference. They all seem to be dirt to him.
The story flies by at an easy clip. Once the all the dots are connected, it’s crystal-clear as to who were the guilty parties involved. And with this one, Himes really has some joy pulling the wool over the readers’ eyes until that point. —Bruce Grossman