England's Lane; Cogan's Trade; Ash
Forty years after his death, two of Bruce Lee's siblings reminisce about their famous brother's life and a legacy that is inspiring a whole new generation of fighters. Jo Baker reports.
by Joseph Connolly
Joseph Connolly writes vivid slices of English life that are heavy on character, mainly funny but tinged with a bitter-sweet sadness. Set in 1959,
England's Lane is all these things and more. The loose, winding plot is told from the point of view of several characters. There is Milly, step-mother to young Paul and wife to Jim, a gruff type who runs the local hardware store. Indeed, all the main male characters are shopkeepers: nervous, but kindly Stan, who owns the sweet shop; and Jonty Barton, the refined, but formidable butcher. Set on a single street in north London, the drama slowly emerges from the gap between who these people seem to be and who they actually are. So, Milly acts the part of capable housewife and parent, while longing for love, romance and sex with Jonty. Stan raises his only son, who suffers from polio, and tries to ignore the fact that his wife is clearly mentally ill. Jonty, meanwhile is a man with a dark past. Connolly's characters twist and turn like real people, only with better dialogue. Wonderful, funny and moving.
by George V. Higgins
(read by Jeff Woodman)
Cogan's Trade is the novel that inspired the new Brad Pitt vehicle,
Killing Me Softly. Published in 1974, it was George Higgins' third novel, after the success of the excellent
The Friends of Eddie Coyle. His dialogue-heavy work is perfectly suited to the cinema, but poses a particular challenge for audiobook readers: how do you differentiate one character from another? Jeff Woodman does an excellent job, narrating the action scenes and stage directions with non-committal clarity. The plot is pretty basic. A high-stakes card game gets robbed. The bad news for heisters Frankie and Russell is it was run by the mob, who send recently released ex-con Jackie Cogan to ensure the money is returned and the burglars brought to book. The conversational story follows Cogan's meticulous but chatty modus operandi: setting the baddies up and wisecracking as he goes. Woodman handles the Boston-Massachusetts voices ably, whipping through the slangy chats about sex, money, violence and stealing dogs. A fine crime caper, years ahead of its time.
by James Herbert
(read by Steven Pacey)
When I was a teenager, James Herbert scared me stupid with novels such as
Rats (about rats) and
Domain (more rats, and nuclear war). It's been years since I read him, and new novel
Ash seems as good a time as any. The good news is that there aren't many rats, unless I dozed off while listening to Steven Pacey's narration. An unlikely event because Pacey reads Herbert's fevered prose like an enraged aristocrat complaining loudly in an expensive restaurant. The titular
Ash has appeared in previous Herbert novels. A detective of the supernatural, he is sent to a remote part of Scotland to investigate a nasty spot of crucifixion. What makes this murder even more mysterious is that it takes place in a castle filled with wealthy people who want to disappear from view, often after committing dreadful crimes. The plot is a bit silly. There is much conspiracy theorising about real-life murders, including Diana, Princess of Wales, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and British biological weapons expert David Kelly.