Thursday, 22 September 2022

Look Around You

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.
When people talk about the golden age of British television comedy you can be fairly sure they're about to rehash tired old cliches about everything from 'Hancock's Half Hour' and 'Steptoe and Son' to 'Fawlty Towers' or 'Only Fools and Horses' but personally these shows and their ilk left me cold.  I was entirely the wrong generation and of a very different inclination to find any of them at all funny.  For me comedy first properly grabbed my attention with 'The Young Ones' but my golden age includes shows such as 'The Day Today', 'Brass Eye', 'Jam', 'Spaced', 'Black Books' and the hauntological fever dream that was 'Look Around You'

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.
Created by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz 'Look Around You' was, in it's first series, a note perfect and fabulously daft pastiche of the types of daytime educational shows that you half watched when the TV was wheeled into the class in school or which you stared at uncomprehendingly over a snotty tissue when home ill. The second series featured longer episodes in the pop-science style of 'Tomorrow's World' that introduced the country to amongst other things The Petticoat 5 "the computer made by women for women", synthesizers and rap music.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.

As fun as the second series is, it's that first series of 10 minute shorts (plus the double length pilot you can watch below) that's the gem.  The pair perfectly captured the cheap and cheerless nature of these shows and each episode is filled with incomprehensible experiements, lingering shots of beakers, wires and oscillators, absurdly named equipment, grimy 1980s landscapes, bearded scientists and pencils, pointing.  It's an obvious labour of love that no matter how often I watch it never fails to evoke disquietingly flu-like feelings of nostalgia.

"Please ensure you have your copy book at hand as you'll be asked to take down notes from the screen at various points throughout the programme."


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Sunday, 18 September 2022

The Earth Wire and Other Stories

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Earth Wire and Other Stories' by Joel Lane published by Influx Press.
Joel Lane
Influx Press

Joel Lane (1963–2013) was one of the UK's foremost writers of dark, unsettling fiction, a frank explorer of sexuality and the transgressive aspects of human nature. With a tight focus on the post-industrial Black Country and his home city of Birmingham, he created a distinct form of British urban weird fiction.
His debut collection, The Earth Wire was first published in 1994 by Egerton Press and is reissued in paperback by Influx Press for the first time in over twenty-five years.
Love and death. Sex and despair. The Earth Wire is a thrilling, disturbing examination of the means and the cost of survival.

Unfortunately I never got to read Lane's stories when he was alive but I know he was held in high regard by a number of folks I know and admire so when I heard that some of his work was being reprinted by Influx Press I grabbed two of the collections that intrigued me the most.  

This first collection was originally published in 1994 a time most assuredly reflected in the pessimism at the heart of many of the stories.  These are stories formed out of the stifling confines of - at that point - 15 years of Tory government. When to be poor or to be different was to be less and when for many people - myself included - to be anything other was to be as impossible as it was unthinkable.  Lane's characters exist in the dark and claustrophobic confines of a post Thatcher Britain that has fallen even further into dismal fascistic hell than it thankfully did. Confronting Lane's characters isn't the mask of gurning buffoonary we are currently subjected to but the shaven headed, booted thuggery we came to know in the 70s and 80s returned.  

These stories though aren't solely social and political fiction this is weird fiction of the highest order.  Taking his cues from the likes of Robert Aickman and M. John Harrison Lane's characters exist in worlds of confusion, delusion, transformation and hallucination.  His stories are succinct and beautifully strange often dropping us into a broken reality tantalisingly familiar yet deliriously other.

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Thursday, 15 September 2022

Who is David Tibet?

Who is David Tibet? - Wyrd Britain
Today I'd like to share with you this lovely little film made in the run up to the opening of musician, poet, publisher and painter David Tibet's first US art exhibition at the California State University, Fullerton, Begovich Gallery titled 'Invocation of Almost'.

The film, made by Reypak Creative and commissioned by the university to, I assume introduce Tibet to a wider audience likely unfamiliar with him and his work in all it's many forms, features contributions from Tibet himself along with exhibition curators Jacqueline Bunge and Shaun Richards along with various fans of Tibet's work and provides a tantalising glimpse of what looked to have been a fantastic and lovingly assembled exhibition of his work.


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Tuesday, 13 September 2022

The Last Days of New Paris

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Last Days of New Paris' by China Mieville from Picador.
China Mieville
Picador

It's 1941. In the chaos of wartime Marseille, American engineer - and occult disciple - Jack Parsons stumbles onto a clandestine anti-Nazi group, including surrealist theorist André Breton. In the strange games of the dissident diplomats, exiled revolutionaries, and avant-garde artists, Parsons finds and channels hope. But what he unwittingly unleashes is the power of dreams and nightmares, changing the war and the world forever.

I've read and tried to read a few of Mieville's books over the years and have struggled and failed with most but made it through 'Kraken' which was interesting but I must admit I found it really slow going.  I spotted this one a little while ago and it kind of jumped out at me on the shelf so I thought as it's essentially a novella - and I really do love a novella - I'd give it a go.

Jumping between two points in time it tells the story of a Jack Parsons initiated occult event in Paris in the early days of the Nazi occupation that results in the manifestation of various surrealist artworks and of the effects of that event and the arrival of these 'Manifs' and the Nazi's own demons on the city some 10 years later.

It's nicely written and whilst all the moving parts are in place the story never really gets up a head (made of) steam but at it's heart this is a pure pulp romp very much in the spirit of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and lets be honest here Jack Parsons, a pioneering rocket scientist and an Aleister Crowley devotee occultist, is a fantastic Indiana Jones substitute but this is a Mieville pulp romp with higher aspirations formed from the always intriguing intellectual premise of art as a weapon because, as it says on Woody Guthrie's guitar, "This machine kills fascists".

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Sunday, 11 September 2022

The Restless Ghost

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Restless Ghost' from Dramarama, Spooky.
Based on the story of the same name by Leon Garfield, a staple of many a ghostly anthology, 'The Restless Ghost' is the story of two young lads, Bostock (Stephen Rooney) & Harris (Jonathan Jackson), who decide to play a trick on the old sexton (Wilfrid Brambell) who stops them scrumping apples by dressing up as the ghostly drummer boy (Matthew Peters) who reputedly haunts the graveyard.

Unlike a number of the other 'Spooky' episodes that launched the long running Dramarama series this one isn't actually all that spooky with it's studio sets and it's very old fashioned storyline but it holds together well and has some solid performances from the cast (even the kids) which is rounded out by Colin Jeavons, an actor with strong wyrd credentials having appeared in the likes of Doomwatch, Doctor Who, Kinvig and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy but who will probably be most widely remembered alongside Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes as Inspector Lestrade in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


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Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Mischief Acts

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Mischief Acts' by Zoe Gilbert.
Zoe Gilbert
Bloomsbury Circus

Herne the hunter, mischief-maker, spirit of the forest, leader of the wild hunt, hurtles through the centuries pursued by his creator.
A shapeshifter, Herne dons many guises as he slips and ripples through time – at candlelit Twelfth Night revels, at the spectacular burning of the Crystal Palace, at an acid-laced Sixties party. Wherever he goes, transgression, debauch and enchantment always follow in his wake.
But as the forest is increasingly encroached upon by urban sprawl and gentrification, and the world slides into crisis, Herne must find a way to survive – or exact his revenge.

Zoe Gilbert is the author of 'Folk' a book I've had in my hands a bunch of times but never actually got around to buying and reading.  This, her second novel, however was waving at me from the new release pile in the shop and insisted on being taken home and read.

The book takes the form of a series of vignettes all relating to the ever shrinking wood that's home to Herne the Hunter and various associated spirits.  Her stories tell of Herne's genesis, his capricious nature and his waning influence through the ages on those who interact with the wood.  Some tales work better than others, some are more developed, some feel more instinctive and some a little clumsy.

In the end though what we have is a love letter to the woods and to the myths, the legends and the histories that reside within them in much the same way as Robert Holdstock's sublime 'Mythago Wood' cycle did.  It tells the story of our relationship with our history and with the natural world and finds us very much wanting before injecting just a hint of optimism into it's green and growing wooden heart.

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Sunday, 4 September 2022

Virgin Witch

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Virgin Witch' from Tigon British Film Productions.

Starring Anne and Vicki Michelle 'Virgin Witch' is the story of two sisters who have run away from home to become models but instead find themselves embroiled in a coven of witches run by Patricia Haines and Neil Hallet

One of the final films produced by the venerable Tigon British Film Productions - home of 'Witchfinder General' and 'The Blood on Satan's Claw' - it really is a load of sexploitation tosh and if there's an award for the director most successful at getting their actresses out of their clothes then Ray Austin must have been in the running in 1972 with the first 8 shots of the movie all being of topless women - although Pete Walker would perhaps have given him a run for the title with 'The Flesh and Blood Show' which opens with Luan Peters answering the door and running around her flat completely naked for several minutes. 

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Virgin Witch' from Tigon British Film Productions.
The story, such as it is, is entirely secondary to the nudity as Austin shoehorns in as much nubile flesh as possible.  His direction is turgid and neither of the Michelle sisters have either the chops or presence to front the movie but I suspect their acting skills weren't top of the director's mind when they were hired and both have subsequently disowned the film.  Anne would, a year later, go on to appear as a member of 'The Living Dead' biker gang in the wonderful 'Psychomania' while her sister would appear in the gloriously trashy 'Spectre' and find fame in the dire 'Allo, 'Allo!' which she really should disown.  The movie, after a slow start, does eventually pick up the pace and makes an attempt at forging an ending that while intending to evoke the hallucinatory, bacchanalian, orgiastic excess of a 1970s idea of a witches sabbath instead just looks utterly daft and the whole thing just fizzles out. 

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Wednesday, 31 August 2022

The Modern Antiquarian

Wyrd Britain reviews Julian Cope's 'The Modern Antiquarian'.Made in 2000 two years after he published his book of the same name this film finds Julian Cope back on the road again visiting some of his favourite prehistoric sites.

His journey takes him to Cornwall, the Isle of Lewis, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, Silbury Hill and Avebury as Cope enthuses about his love of the stones and the circles and his beliefs surrounding their use and their construction.  He's an engaging host and makes some intriguing observations and assumptions which makes for an interesting watch.

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Monday, 29 August 2022

The Fall of Koli: Rampart Trilogy 3

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Fall of Koli' by M.R. Carey
M.R. Carey
Orbit Books

The Fall of Koli is the third and final novel in the breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy - set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.
The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .
Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he'd be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.
Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they've been following - the mysterious "Sword of Albion" - there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.
Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

And so we come to the conclusion of Koli's tale as our charmingly naive and endlessly good hearted hero attempts to make good on his dreams.

Having been cast out of his village into the almost certain death of an Ingland covered in murderous flora and fauna and having journeyed with his three companions to the lake where London had been before Koli finds himself at the 'walls' of The Sword of Albion, source of the message the travellers had been following.

Now, I'm going to be very careful here not to give away any spoilers as this is, of course, a pivotal moment in Koli's story and what we have is a book very much of two halves. For me much of the first half was a bit of a jarring change of pace but one proved necessary by the second where Koli is finally presented with the opportunity he's been searching for in an ending that is as bittersweet as it is triumphant.

Finally, I've definitely said this before in my reviews of Carey's books - and it seems likely I'll say it again - but for me he's the true successor to those writers of the end times and beyond - the two John's in particular - that we revere here at Wyrd Britain.  His work, whilst very much his own, is rooted in tales of Triffids, Tripods, Chrysalids and Cuckoos and personally I adore them for it.

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Thursday, 25 August 2022

Randalls Round: Nine Nightmares

Wyrd Britain reviews Eleanor Scott's 'Randall's Round: Nine Nightmares' published by British Library Tales of the Weird.
Eleanor Scott
British Library Tales of the Weird

'These stories have all had their origins in dreams... These dreams were terrifying enough to the dreamer... I hope that some readers will experience an agreeable shudder or two in the reading of them.'An enigmatic and shadowy presence answers the call of an ancient curse on the coast of Brittany; a traveller's curiosity leads him to witness a hellish sacrifice by night; a treasure-hunt in a haunted mansion takes a turn for the tentacular.

Eleanor Scott was a pseudonym used by an Oxford based teacher named Helen Magdalen Leys under which she produced the nine stories that make up the Randall's Round collection.  Taking her inspiration from various writers of the supernatural - most of them her contemporaries - Scott wrote a series of tales that draw from stories such as 'Seaton's Aunt' and 'Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad' as well as finding much inspiration in both archaeological and folkloric sources that have given her work a new vitality in an age of renewed interest in rural or 'folk' horror.

Where Scott's stories fall down however lies in her seeming unwillingness to allow her stories to end on a dark note as again and again she insists on allowing her protagonists a last minute escape which becomes more than a little wearisome.

Closing the book are two stories by 'N. Dennett' who Richard Dalby (anthologist and ghost story expert extraordinaire) identified as potentially being another of Ley's pseudonyms.  These two tales continue the rural theme both in terms of location - a witch's house alone on a desolate moorland in 'Unburied Bane' and the tainted pagan idol that looms over the entrance to the churchyard that's held in superstitious awe by the parishoners in 'The Menhir'.  It takes a better eye than mine to make such a claim as to Dennett's identity but beyond the obvious similarities these two tales proved to be my favourites of the set and rounded off a mostly fairly light but enjoyable collection very nicely with their distinctly darker hue.

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Monday, 22 August 2022

Psychic TV / Current 93 / Coil - Christian Documentary Expose

Psychic  TV, Coil, Current 93, Wyrd Britain
This is a small clip from a US Christian documentary from 1989 that took issue with the prevalence of 'rock' music in US culture called 'Hell's Bells - The Dangers Of Rock & Roll' if you're interested you can watch it here but be warned at three and half hours it's very long and often both very dull and very dumb.  

This small 6 minute extract focuses primarily on Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and at this point Psychic TV taking about his belief in music as a transcendent medium but also gives passing mention to Coil and Current 93 too but the longer doc features all the usual suspects that were enraging the so-called moral majority of the time along with the likes of Diamanda Galas, Patti Smith, Crass, Lydia Lunch and The Birthday Party and apparently it did manage to unintentionally introduce many kids in Christian households, youth groups and schools across the US to musicians they'd otherwise have missed so we'll call it a success although not in the same way the makers would probably claim it to be.

 

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Friday, 19 August 2022

The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection' edited by Mike Ashley from the British Library Tales of the Weird.
Mike Ashley (ed)
British Library Tales of the Weird

Occult or psychic detective tales have been chilling readers for almost as long as there have been ghost stories. This beguiling subgenre follows specialists in occult lore – often with years of arcane training – investigating strange supernatural occurrences and pitting their wits against the bizarre and inexplicable.

I absolutely love an occult detective story.  It was my gateway drug into all the wyrd wonderfulness that I feature on the Wyrd Britain blog.  I get that for some people they make for both an unsatisfying detective story and an ineffective supernatural one and I occasionally agree but equally I just adore the central idea of a crusading occultist vanquishing malign forces preferably while dressed in a frock coat and weilding a swordstick.  This newest release in the British Library's Tales of the Weird imprint celebrates that figure with stories from some of the key writers alongside several more obscure ones.

The book opens with one of Kate and Hesketh Prichard's 'Flaxman Low' stories, 'The Story of Moor Road' which features an attack of an earth elemental.  It's an entertainingly pulpy tale that keeps Low on the back foot as he attempts to thwart the creatures vampiric attacks.

The next two stories feature perhaps the two most recognisable names with Algernon Blackwood's 'Dr Silence' and William Hope Hodgson's 'Thomas Carnacki'.  The former is represented by perhaps one of his most hands on cases as he attempts to exorcise a haunted house in 'A Psychical Invasion' whilst Carnacki does something similar in 'The Searcher of the End House'.  Both are strong tales but neither are my favourites from their various casebooks with the Carnacki having a particularly muddled Scooby-Doo ending.

I read the various 'Aylmer Vance' stories by Claude & Alice Askew in the Wordsworth Edition a few years back and enjoyed them immensely yet I don't really remember this story, 'The Fear',  featuring yet another haunted house which surprises me as it's an enjoyably creepy tale with a nicely open ending.  Bertram Atkey on the other hand is a new name to me and his occultist detective, 'Mesmer Milan' is an intriguing prospect with his astral travelling and intense personality and the story plays an interesting contrast by placing Milan in some decidedly frivolous company in a winningly different love story.  The following 'Dr. Taverner' tale 'The Death Hound' is one of the more pulpy of occultist Dion Fortune's 'Taverner' stories and again probably wouldn't have been my choice but it works here especially in the company of the preceeding story.

Happily for me I'm on fresh ground for the rest of the book and Moray Dalton's fabulously named 'Cosmo Thor' is a vague sort of character in a story that too closely resembles the 'Aylmer Vance' to particularly satisfy but as a - yet another - haunted house story would perhaps have worked better if I'd not read the that other one earlier the same day.

For the last two stories we travel across the ocean and meet two American investigators both of whom conform - as do most here - to the well trodden path of detective and chronicler.  Gordon Hillman's 'Cranshawe' is all action, racing to investigate strange goings on at a lighthouse whereas Joseph Payne Brennan's 'Lucius Leffing' has a much more sedate and deductive manner.  The former is breathless and a touch inconsequential whereas the latter is thoughtful and more satisfying with a slightly jarring pulp moment in the middle.

With Ashley at the helm I was always fairly confident that this was going to be an rock solid collection coming on the back of his mammoth 'Fighters of Fear' collection of a couple of years ago which it absolutely is but I do have a slight quibble with the number of haunted houses but don't let that put you off. If you've an interest in the idea of the occult detective this should prove a worthwhile read for novice and devotee both.

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Monday, 15 August 2022

This World and That Other

Wyrd Britain reviews 'This World and That Other' by John Howard and Mark Valentine from Sarob Press.
John Howard
Mark Valentine
Sarob Press

This is the second of John and Mark's shared exploration of the concepts and ideas of 'Inkling' Charles Williams following on from 2020s 'Powers and Presences' from the same publisher.

John opens the book with his 'All the Times of the City', a story of a cathedral and a poem and the influence that both exert over different times and different realities.  It's very typically John, delicate, poetic, poised on a razor's edge and deeply immersed in the lure of the city and in the shapes that buildings take on in our imaginations and the hold they have over us.

Mark's story has a more pulpy feel to it.  A cross country romp that reminded me of his Connosieur stories and in particular 'Descent of Fire' (co-written with John Howard). It's great, breathless fun that introduces a variety of eccentrics and their associated artifacts all of which resonate with mythic significance.  I must admit to being a little disappointed that we didn't get the return of Rachel Verulay, Thomas 'Marmoset' Mulberry and Lepus the straw hare from that previous volume but maybe another time and as replacements the cast of characters we have here did not disappoint.

I've never read any Charles Williams despite having three of his books on my shelves for a few years now - so many books so little free time - so my understanding of how these stories  resonate with his own writing is for other people to appreciate but for me this is another great read from two of our finest writers of supernatural fiction.

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Friday, 12 August 2022

When The Wind Blows - radio play

Wyrd Britain reviews 'When The Wind Blows' by Raymand Briggs.
In memory of Raymond Briggs who died earlier this week - 9th August 2022 - I thought we could take some time to listen to a radio adaptation of one of his seminal works, 'When the Wind Blows'.

I know for many people he'll be most fondly remembered for 'Fungus the Bogeyman' and for his contributions to Christmas with the books and films of 'The Snowman' and 'Father Christmas' but for me it's the delicately desolate beauty of 'When the Wind Blows' for which I'll remember him.

Published in 1982 'When the Wind Blows' tells the story of a nuclear war between the UK and the Soviet Union from the perspective of an elderly couple named Jim and Hilda Bloggs.  The story follows their futile attempts to survive the nuclear exchange through their home made shelter - doors leaning against a wall - and the advice given in the government's useless 'Protect and Survive' leaflet.  It's both warmly amusing as the pair reminisce about their experiences in WWII and devastatingly sad as the effects of the blast takes it's toll.

This radio adaptation, originally broadcast on 6th February 1983, stars Peter Sallis and Brenda Bruce and received the Broadcasting Press Guild award for the most outstanding radio programme of 1983.

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Thursday, 11 August 2022

Zenith: Phase Four

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Four' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellioon.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

With the Lloigor defeated nothing can stand in the way of the superhumans and universal domination! The remaining members of the original British super-team Cloud 9 with some additional powered affiliates (including Zenith's infant son) have destroyed America in retaliation for an attempt on their lives. Now they plan to incubate in the sun and evolve to the next level of existence, destroying the Earth as they do so.
Once again Zenith and St. John must make a stand for humanity and this time it's personal! Grant Morrison (WE3) and Steve Yeowell (Devlin Waugh) bring you the mind-blowing finale to one of the most celebrated series in British comics.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Four' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellioon.
The fourth and final volume of Morrison and Yeowell's Zenith relocates the story slightly into the future and brings back, unsurprisingly, 'The Lloigor' for one last attempt at dominating the universe.  The end of Book Three saw a number of the supes poised to put their long term plan that's been getting occasional cryptic mentions since the start into action and here we see the consequences.  I'm not entirely sure I thought this story could become more cosmic than 'Chimera' becoming his own universe in Phase Two and the dimension hopping romp that's gone before but Morrison manages it with the black sun that looms over London and the machinations of those superheroes not preoccupied with popstardom and political gain.  Their plan is suitably grandiose and transcendently egomaniacal on a universal scale and unfolds with the type of twisted gothic grandeur that Morrison would later occasionally return to during his run on 'Doom Patrol'.

It's a fitting end to the story and one that is very much in sync with how other, earlier, parts of the story resolved themselves and whilst it's missing the elaborately pulpy joie de vivre of Phase Three's transdimensional shenanigans it's more intimate nature is perfectly suited to bringing the story to it's conclusion and yes I'm aware that describing a universe spanning storyline as 'intimate' is a little odd but this is esentially a story of a family at war. Admittedly a family that can wipe out America in an afternoon but still just a family. 

In the final reckoning though this series proved itself to be big and bold and suitably epic in scope and it was refreshing to see the main character utterly fail to learn anything from his experiences and finish the series just as much of a dick as he started it and depressingly realistic to see the Tory politician at the heart of the story not only get away scott free but to profit from it.

A brilliant series and well deserving of these big, beautiful, deluxe reprints and of your time and attention.

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