Thursday, 31 December 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Stories From the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime

Fictional detectives don't came more famous than Sherlock Holmes.

The deerstalker be-hatted creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the seminal star of sleuthing.

And that is kind of the point of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Stories From the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime, no-one, least of all the book's compiler Nick Rennison (pictured), is trying to claim otherwise.

But what this book does is highlight that Holmes was not the only or indeed the first of his kind.

As revealed in the anthology The Strand magazine was at the forefront of a newly-insatiable thirst for detective and mystery fiction, thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's denizen of 221B Baker Street.

But Conan Doyle's inability or unwillingness to to write a Holmes story for every issue of the magazine in the 1890s opened the door for others.

There were copycat Holmes' as well as more eclectic sleuths, including those who battled supernatural enemies, 'New Women' crimebusters and even Catholic Priests-turned PIs.

There was lawyer-turned detective Martin Hewitt, by Arthur Morrison – a character that smacked of Holmes thanks to illustrations by Sydney Paget, who also drew the deducing consulting detective.

Female crime solvers were aplenty, including another Strand regular – Lois Cayley – a creation of Grant Allen.

While none of the rivals matched Sherlock's stratospheric success they all contributed to the burgeoning crime and mystery genre and many other magazines embraced detective fiction.

And it was not just London or UK sleuths.

The anthology features tales from three US writers and a story featuring Eugene Valmont, a French detective exiled in London, who was created by Robert Barr.

The Gallic gendarme appeared in The Windsor Magazine and Pearson's Magazine in the 1890-1914 period, which was something of a golden age for the genre.

William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki is also in the book, battling paranormal foes.

But, despite the fantastical and often far-fetched plots, these detective stories give a very real insight into the era in which they were set and vividly illustrate how the ability to read had mushroomed to a wider population in the late nineteenth century.

  • The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Stories From the Golden Age of Gaslight Crime is published by No Exit Press (@noexitpress) and priced at £9.99.
    For more information click here

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Rivals of Dracula - Stories from The Golden Age of Gothic Horror

Think of vampires, you think of Dracula – at least you would have done before TV shows like True Blood brought the genre hurtling into the modern era.

But it is because of the success of Dracula that an obscure, mainly Slavic, piece of folklore has endured so long.

But Bram Stoker's bloodsucking blueblood was not the first exsanguinating fiend to stalk the fictional landscape.

Nick Rennison, pictured below, illuminates a dank corner of vampire lore before and contemporary to Stoker's opus, with fangtastic fables from so-called 'penny dreadfuls' and short stories consumed by a voracious, newly-literate 18th century audience.

Rennison's ability to contextualise and then let the obscure writers do the talking in this terrific anthology is a real triumph.

It blends fact, fiction, history and legend in a darkly spellbinding 287 pages, which touches on themes such as sexuality, hysteria and primal fear.
The book features virtually unheard of delights like MR James' Count Magus, Richard Marsh's The Mask and Frank Norris' Grettir at Thornhall-stead.

The many faces of the vampires in the anthology show archetypal fanged eastern European noble is not the only embodiment of a supernatural idea, which goes back to ancient history.

Count Magus explores the dangers of meddling with and prying into history, a theme which Dracula also used with the conflation of Dracula with Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler as he is infamously known.

Vampire legend is shown in the context of Norse mythology in Grettir at Thornhall-stead as an undead Icelander fights with Viking heroes in the days of the sagas.

The calm and calculating Count Dracula is also a million miles from the homicidal maniac portrayed in The Mask.

This book is a must for anyone with a penchant for the supernatural and a thirst for Gothic horror.
  • The Rivals of Dracula – Stories from the Golden Age of Gothic Horror is published by No Exit Press (@noexitpress) and priced at £9.99 (also available as an ebook). For more information click here

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

We Are WHSE presents: Cream Ibiza - Vandit Records, with Paul van Dyk, John '00' Fleming, Giuseppe Ottaviani and others

A bill featuring the likes of Paul van Dyk, John '00' Fleming, Guiseppe Ottaviani and Solarstone is difficult to avoid for trance fan like me, writes TopReviews4U editor Paul Christian.

  • Scroll down for videos and more pictures
I'd never seen J00F play before and really love the driving progressive and psytrance sound he has made his own for many years at the forefront of cutting edge electronic music.
But, leaving aside his fantastic set, I must turn to the rather odd venue.

Southwark's Great Suffolk Street Warehouse, or We Are WHSE as it calls itself by virtue of repeated lighting effects, was bizarre.
I have been to clubs in disused or repurposed Victorian railway arches before, but they had always had a door and were actually inside.

This venue was essentially like The Arches in EastEnders and I expected at any moment to see Phil Mitchell sliding out from under a car, brandishing a monkey wrench.
I still haven't decided whether this was a fantastic or truly terrible place to host events.

What was fantastic was the atmosphere generated by John '00' Fleming, who provided the highlight, as well as a certain Mr van Dyk's pulsating peak-time performance, which began with his own seminal trance banger For An Angel.

Fleming ended his early set with the incredible RITMO remix of The Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up, to a stunning light show.

It was clear that the main 'room' or Arch One as it is literally and aptly known had been lavished with the greater care.

The second arch suffered from a lack of lighting and low volume, and the basic mixing desk looked sparse and unprofessional, rather than stripped back and retro.

Other bugbears were the queueing and toilets.

We waited 30 minutes for a cloakroom berth for one coat, which meant a large slab of the action was missed entirely.

And the toilets were basically portable cabins and open stand-up festival urinals.
In fact the entire operation was like a cheap (almost) indoor festival, complete with infuriating drinks token system – which meant waiting in line again.

But I can't grumble too much as the music was spectacular and more than made up for the terrible/awesome/not really sure venue.