Martina Cole is Britain’s top selling adult fiction hardcover author — with 13 blockbuster novels in print — but she is making her U.S. debut with the publication of “Close” on July 1.
The Hachette Book Group subsidiary, Grand Central Publishing, sent me an Advance Reading Copy of the novel recently. So, last week I was able to spend several days happily immersed in Cole’s tough, sexy world of London gangsters and the women in their lives.
It is hard to imagine Cole finding any less favor on this side of the Atlantic than she has on her own turf. “Close” reads like an amalgam of Jackie Collins and Mario Puzo, but with a depth of emotion that you won’t find in either of those writers’ best-sellers.
Why haven’t we been able to read Cole in U.S. editions before?
“Close” opens and ends at the death-bed of Lil Brodie — matriarch of a criminal clan that dominates the London underworld from the 1960s to the present-day. In between those inexorable book-ends are 500 pages of terrific entertainment.
Although “Close” is a shockingly violent and profane story, Cole roots the novel in the Brodie family life, dividing her focus between Patrick Brodie’s rise to the top and Lil’s life raising seven children, two of whom are destined to work within Patrick’s empire.
Lil is as savvy about the gambling and drinking and prostitution businesses as any crime-lord and Patrick puts her to work running the lucrative Soho bar and strip club division of his empire.
Cole writes men as well as she writes women and has an acute understanding of some of the most important ways men and women differ when it comes to sex and romance.
Here is Lil thinking about her beloved but sometimes wayward husband:
“Even Pat took a flier occasionally, a bit of sex on the side was on most men’s agenda and he was no different, he just had more access to it than the average guy. But that was as far as it went with him, the odd flier. Never the same bird and always without any kind of wooing. No drink bought, no meal provided, and definitely no offer of a lift home. He did not want a repeat performance, and he did not want to get involved in their lives in any way, shape or form…It was nothing more than an urge. It had nothing to do with his life, or his family.”
Throughout “Close” Cole keeps shifting her perspective from Patrick to Lil to their children (as they become adults) and the whole story rings true. The personal narrative makes the thrills in the gangland scenes all the more exciting — and harrowing — because the writer allows us to care about her dangerous (and frighteningly vulnerable) characters.
Archive for March, 2008
Martina Cole is Britain’s top selling adult fiction hardcover author — with 13 blockbuster novels in print — but she is making her U.S. debut with the publication of “Close” on July 1.
The new thriller “Flawless” is a dud, but I had a good laugh during the opening scene when the character played by leading lady Demi Moore meets with a contemporary journalist to tell the story behind a 1960 London jewel robbery.
The Moore character was a young American businesswoman at the time of the heist, so I guess we are to assume she is now somwhere in her 70s.
But the actress is buried under piles of ghastly make-up that give her the appearance of a recently exhumed mummy.
It’s the worst aging make-up job since Bette Midler in the old lady scenes that bracketed her 1991 flop “For the Boys.”
Aging is of paramount importance to movie stars, since Hollywood tends to lose interest in performers around the time they hit 40, but middle-aged actresses often go to wild extremes when they are called upon to trick themselves up as senior citizens.
Does Moore look the way she does in the opening of “Flawless” because the actress thinks that’s the way an “ordinary woman” looks in her 70s? Or, was the Mrs. Bates mask foisted on her by director Michael Radford?
For whatever reason, this gruesome opening scene gambit makes “Flawless” seem ludicrous right from the start.
“For the Boys” never really recovered from Midler’s old lady intro (“I thought she was supposed to be a burn victim!,” a startled friend told me after a screening) and that expensive flop more or less finished off the actress-singer’s movie career.
(By the way, I haven’t a clue as to the identity of the actress pictured above. I couldn’t locate a shot of Moore or Midler in their dotage scenes, but I did find this old dear floating in cyberspace.)
In Greek mythology, Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, a woman so stunning to behold that everyone loved her.
She was so dishy that Hades wanted her all to himself. So, one day — while Persephone was out picking flowers on the plain of Enna — the old devil opened up the earth and took her down.
This ancient story of love and hell is coming back to life in a new play, “Estrella Cruz (The Junkyard Queen),” that begins a three night run at the Yale Cabaret tonight.
The student-run venue has been serving up some particularly interesting new theatre this season; the modern-day version of the Persephone myth is the work of two first year Drama School students — playwright Reese Smith and director Jesse Jou.
I got both artists on the phone the other day and Smith said the project started as something she could work on herself as a performer.
The writer is studying acting at the Drama School, but believes actors have to be pro-active about employment opportunities these days — she began writing the play more than a year ago when she was living in Brooklyn.
“It all started with a dream I had on New Year’s Eve,” she said, of the nightmare variation on the Persephone myth.
“The dream was a departure from the myth…I was choosing my own destiny and Persephone doesn’t have that choice. I thought, ‘What if she had a choice?,’” Smith recalled.
Not long after starting her studies at Yale last fall, Smith met directing student Jou and told him “I have a play for you.”
The duo proposed the piece as a Yale Cabaret project and soon found themselves on a fast track to this weekend’s world premiere production.
Jou said he was delighted to be staging a show at the Cabaret during his first year in the Drama School.
“I’m sure it happens,” he said of first year students being tapped by the Cabaret. “But, I’m not sure how often a first year (writer) and director have been chosen. I think the work spoke for itself — it’s a great play.”
“I don’t think this happens in the larger (theatre) world so quickly,” Smith said of the swift acceptance of “Estrella Cruz.”
The writer has had her early impressions of Jou’s skills as a director completely reinforced during the past few weeks: “He’s great at using whatever people happen to be in the room. He can bring out the best and most creative ideas and then shape them in a really collaborative way.”
Jou said it was the “physically beautiful use of language” that immediately attracted him to Smith’s script.
“A professor said he thought I was a little bit of a sentimentalist who likes happy endings. Reese’s play is bittersweet but it’s filled with beautiful images and language…it’s very mature.”
When I asked Smith if she will be delivering a happy ending to the audiences who see her play this weekend, she laughed: “It does have plenty of hope.”
Speaking of hope, the writer said in this speeded-up, media-saturated world, “the theatre is one of the last things that does give me hope. It seems like we’re always in the middle of frenzy and detachment, so to walk into a theater and commune with live actors is one of the most beautiful things you can do.”
She disagrees with the doomsayers who believe live performance is becoming a thing of the past: “People gathering together to watch a story being told is a universal impulse and I don’t think that will ever go away. It’s a primal urge.”
(“Estrella Cruz (The Junkyard Queen)” will be presented tonight at 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 with a $2 discount for seniors and a $5 discount for students. Food and drink service is available before each performance. To make reservations, call 432-1566.)
Newsday’s theatre reviewer Linda Winer had a good column the other day called “Comedies without content clutter Broadway.”
Winer wrote that she has been “cranky” lately about a run of plays offering little more than “hard-sell, punch-line humor with nothing on (their) fluff-ball mind(s) beyond trying to be funny.”
In this category, Winer lumped the recently closed Mark Twain rediscovery “Is He Dead,?” David Mamet’s new political comedy, “November” and one of the major hits of the current season, “The 39 Steps.”
The stage adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie has been a smash in London for the past two seasons and was imported to Broadway in January.
The production of Patrick Barlow’s script has been equally successful on this side of the Atlantic. Two weeks ago, it was announced that “The 39 Steps” would move from its limited non-profit Roundabout Theatre Company run at the American Airlines Theatre (ending this Saturday) to the Cort Theatre for open-ended commercial Broadway engagement, starting April 29.
Friends who saw the comedy in London brought back wildly enthusiastic reports, and the New York reviews were almost unanimously positive, but after last Sunday’s matinee I was left thinking, “Is that all there is?”
The 90-minute condensed version of the movie is clever — dozens of roles are played by the cast of four and the show races from scene to scene with very imaginative set and lighting design.
But, this sort of homage/parody has been done with much greater skill and with more of a satirical point by American actor/playwright Charles Busch in wild Hollywood anti-nostalgia pieces like “Die Mommie Die!”
And, the stunt of having a small group of actors quickly changing their way into multiple roles was the engine that drove Charles Ludlam’s wacky off-Broadway hit, “The Mystery of Irma Vep.”
The manner in which “The 39 Steps” milks laughs from the mere mention of other Hitchcock titles such as “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest” seemed rather lame to me — second-rate movie buff self-congratulation.
I agree with Winer’s assertion that the actors are “physical virtuosos and the staging, ingenious,” but for me the show is never funny enough or smart enough to justify Broadway prices.
If you haven’t seen the new Conor McPherson play, “The Seafarer,” make haste. The show closes Sunday at the Booth Theatre after a four-month run.
I didn’t catch up with the play until last weekend — when I scored half-price tickets at the TKTS booth — and I was blown away by the quality of McPherson’s comedy-drama and the stunning five-actor cast.
McPherson got good reviews a few seasons back for “The Weir,” which I enjoyed, but “The Seafarer” is a much more satisfying play, both in terms of structure and entertainment value.
The contemporary story is set on Christmas Eve in the ramshackle suburban Dublin home shared by two single, middle-aged brothers, Richard Harkin (Jim Norton, above left) and his younger sibling, James (David Morse).
In the course of the morning, afternoon and evening, the Harkins are visited by their pal, Ivan (Conleth Hill) and then Nicky (Sean Mahon, above right), the considerably younger man who is now living with James’s ex.
Nicky brings along a man he met in a pub — the rather sinister Mr. Lockhart (Ciaran Hinds).
The stranger turns out to be Satan in the flesh, who has returned to reclaim James in a card game (years earlier during a long drunken evening, James made a pact with Mr. Lockhart that they would eventually gamble for his eternal soul).
The way that McPherson moves so smoothly from O’Neill-style naturalism into the realm of the supernatural is downright awesome — a tribute to McPherson’s deepening gifts as both a writer and director and to the extraordinary ensemble of actors.
Hinds and Morse are already well known for their impressive film and TV resumes — both have scored on the New York stage as well — but they are matched by the lesser known Hill, Mahon and Norton.
The play’s fluid (and rather eccentric) movement from drama to comedy and then back again would not be possible without the superb teamwork of the five actors. Every moment — big and little — counts in “The Seafarer” and the actors are simply a joy to watch.
Sorry for this late report on one of the best plays of the season.
(The Booth Theatre is at 222 West 45th St. If you don’t want to risk half-price seats not being available at TKTS when you go to New York, full-price tickets are available from Telecharge.com. The final week schedule is tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.)
What a shock to learn last Tuesday that writer and director Anthony Minghella had died in London’s Charing Cross Hospital of a hemorrhage following surgery for a growth on his neck.
Only 54, Minghella enjoyed a rapid rise to the top of the filmmaking world, with excellent film versions of the novels “The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (right) and “Cold Mountain,” but who knows what he might have done over the next decade or so?
Minghella was the rare major league director who wrote all of his own scripts and who had a special knack for adapting tricky novels to the screen.
When I heard they were making a movie out of Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” in the mid-1990s I thought whoever was behind the project must be mad.
A novel set during World War II, mostly within the mind of a man dying from terrible burns, Ondaatje seemed unadaptable, but Mingella did a fine job of picking and choosing plot threads to bring to life, assembled a superb cast and technical crew, and came up with an Oscar-winning box office hit.
Minghella won an Oscar for directing and suddenly found himself in that rare position of being able to do any project he wanted. Instead of going in an obviously commercial direction, however, he decided to bring Patricia Highsmith’s early 1950s thriller, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” to the screen.
Rene Clement made a French version of the story in 1960 (“Purple Noon”) but gave the amoral book a fairly straight forward Hollywood-style treatment, with a pat ending that was contrary to Highsmith’s enigmatic original.
Minghella came up with a script that honored its source but contained dramatic embellishments that many people believe improved on Highsmith’s book.
Four years later, Minghella undertook his largest production with the very expensive “Cold Mountain,” a three-hour adaptation of Charles Frazier’s acclaimed Civil War drama. Again, Minghella took someone else’s good story and brought it vividly to life (Renee Zellweger earned an Oscar for her performance).
Minghella didn’t think of his three movies as replacements for the novels but as his own personal interpretation of writing he loved — the films stood on their own for non-readers, but were even more impressive to those who knew and loved the books.
Just before he died, the writer-director finished work on a film version of Alexander McCall Smith’s best-selling crime novel, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” which was shown by the BBC in Great Britain last weekend and will debut in this country on HBO in the fall.
I didn’t know about Carolyn Hart’s long-running series of “Death on Demand” mysteries until last year when I was trying to come up with a wide variety of material for a special beach books round-up we ran in the features section of the paper.
My taste leans more toward urban hard-boiled mysteries than what the book trade calls “cozies,” but after reading only a few pages of Hart’s “Dead Days of Summer” I was hooked.
The gore quotient in the novel was low but there was nothing cozy about Hart’s approach to character, setting and, yes, murder. The Oklahoma City-based writer follows in the footsteps of Agatha Christie who knew how to build a great mystery plot around her acute studies of psychology, romance and the relationships in small communities.
Hart’s “Death on Demand” series is set on a seemingly idyllic island off the coast of South Carolina — Broward’s Rock — where the author’s amateur sleuth heroine, Annie Darling, runs the Death on Demand mystery bookstore (“the best mystery book store north of Miami”).
Annie is not a sweet old spinster in the Miss Marple mold, but a vibrant and very smart thirtysomething woman madly in love (and in lust) with her handsome husband, Max, who runs a private investigation service.
In “Dead Days of Summer,” Max was falsely accused of murder and the shadow of that experience hangs over the new book “Death Walked In,” which William Morrow is publishing Tuesday.
The Darlings are in the process of restoring a wonderful old mansion in a rather remote part of Broward’s Rock when they are sucked into a terrible case involving stolen coins and the murder of Gwen Jamison — an African-American woman who worked in the mansion where the theft took place. Although it appears the woman had no direct involvement with the theft, it becomes clear that the coins came into her possession and she hid them somewhere in the Darlings’ partially restored home just before she was killed.
The mystery deepens as it becomes obvious to Annie and Max that someone related to the wealthy owner of the coins, Geoff Grant, stole them and then murdered Gwen. The narrative takes us into the complex relationships in the Grant house where a series of marriages by Geoff has created a tangle of dissolute and very jealous step-brothers and step-sisters.
Hart’s ability to introduce and fully develop such a wide array of characters — male and female, young and old — is quite remarkable. She is more sympathetic to some than she is to others, but manages to empathize with all of them on some level.
The book also shows us how the Darlings have come to have deep reservations about the island police force as a result of Max’s harrowing experience of being railroaded on a murder charge. That experience causes Max to back Gwen’s son Robert when the cops assume the young man with a record of pot smoking and petty crime killed his mother for drug money. Max saw Robert’s face when he first learned of his mother’s death and the investigator has no doubts that the young man is innocent of the crime.
“Death Walked In” makes Broward’s Rock and the widely varied people who live there seem as real as the city block that I live on.
Hart wrote a good piece for The Washington Post last fall in which she gracefully — but forcefully — dealt with the many misconceptions that surround authors who have chosen to work in crime fiction.
She said people who ask her “When will you write a real book?” or “Why do you want to write about murder?” probably haven’t read mysteries.
“Murder is never the point of the mystery,” Hart stressed. “Mysteries are about the messes people make of their lives and how they cope…Every day we see proof that evil can triumph. But there is a world, too, where goodness prevails, where justice is served, where decency is celebrated. I and so many readers find that world in the mystery.”
When I go on vacation this summer, I plan to take a pile of earlier Hart books so that I can completely catch up with the work of this modern master of the mystery. How lucky I am to have 16 unread “Death on Demand” novels yet to be savored.
My headline is swiped from a song called “Question of the Heart” by a wonderful German-born, New York-based singer-songwriter named Jann Klose who is playing tonight at 8 p.m. at Greenwich’s Thataway Café.
The tune is from Klose’s recently released CD, “Reverie,” which I have been listening to a lot lately.
The performer has been gaining admirers from New York metro area gigs and will be doing an extensive club tour in April and May.
I became a Klose fan by accident several months ago when he promoted a Stratford gig on David Smith’s WICC radio program the same day I was set to talk about movies and theatre. Smith had Klose perform a tune on the air and I was immediately struck by the quality of his voice and his writing.
A few weeks later, an early pressing of “Reverie” arrived in the mail and I’ve enjoyed it more each time I’ve listened to it.
Like the best singer-songwriters Klose defies easy categorization. Some reviewers hear echoes of Sting and Jeff Buckley in the artist and a recent article on Jazz.com took Klose into the jazz-singer fold.
I like what a reviewer wrote in the Fairfield Weekly: “Klose has the emotions of a sensitive folkie but catapults them with a voice and tone that evoke a libido-driven soul singer. On the single “Beautiful Dream”, he performs comfortably with rich orchestration.”
If I was forced to draw comparisons, jazz singer-writer Michael Franks comes to mind — Klose’s gift for placing his lyrics with such seeming ease on his tricky tunes reminds me of Franks.
The emotional power of the material — especially “Beautiful Dream” — sometimes seems to echo that striking song score that Aimee Mann performed in “Magnolia.”
I’m not much for putting musicians in boxes or restricting the scope of what I choose to listen to at home — I’ll jump from Beck to Sinatra to Renee Fleming to the Electric Light Orchestra without ever thinking they don’t go together — so it tickles me that Klose is set to play at the Bethlehem (Pa.) Musikfest in August on a bill that includes Jethro Tull, Rosanne Cash and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Check out Jann Klose in Greenwich tonight if you can.
Or, sample a tune or two from his Website (www.jannklose.com). I think you’ll be impressed.
(For information on tonight’s Thataway Café show, call 622-0947.)