TV Review – Fearless Season 1 – everything Paranoid wasn’t

This six-part 2017 British TV series is everything a good conspiracy thriller should be. And it’s everything 2016’s Paranoid was not.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR FEARLESS SEASON 1

Paranoid felt like it was written by a five-year-old with a big book of conspiracy clichés close at hand. Risible characters, panto performances, juvenile—sometimes nonsensical—dialogue, and a plot that was as original as a bar of soap, and as subtle as a hammer to the face.

Fearless is light years ahead in every respect. Brilliantly written by Patrick Harbinson of 24 and Homeland fame, it’s the epitome of what I look for in a conspiracy thriller. A gripping mystery, full of shady characters with hazy motives colluding to bury the truth while our protagonist seeks desperately to uncover it. In this case, our protagonist is a lawyer, Emma Banville, defending a guy, Kevin Russell, who went down for murder 14 years ago but has always maintained that he didn’t do it. Helen McCrory, playing her, is wonderful. Her performance is nuanced, convincing and profoundly affecting in a way Indira Varma as lead character Nina Suresh in Paranoid painfully wasn’t.

The premise is hardly new to the conspiracy genre—lawyer discovers that her client accused of murder is being set up by powerful forces seeking to hide something bigger—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s what you do with it that matters. The plot you build out of it. And Fearless’s plot is relentlessly compelling. Conspiracy thrillers are typically a lot more complicated that your basic whodunit. They have to be. Because lots-of-people-dunit. Their mysteries have to be multi-layered, each layer thicker than the one before. Fearless’s mystery is just that. At multiple points during the six episodes I found myself shouting at the TV, “What the hell is going on?!” Paranoid, on the other hand, wanted to be complicated, but was a baby pretending to be a grown-up. Every plot development was so obvious that it made Nina Suresh and her buddies look like the stupidest cops on the planet.

The first episode of Fearless spends its time building the characters and making us wonder about the guilt of Kevin Russell, accused of murdering a teenager called Linda Simms in 2003. As to whether Russell is guilty, involved somehow with Simms’ death but not guilty of murder, or wholly innocent of it, the show doesn’t tell us right away. However, by the end of the first episode, we know that there are some unseen cogs in this machine. There’s a telephone call between a mysterious old man played by Michael Gambon and an equally mysterious American woman played by Robin Weigert, strongly hinting at a cover-up to do with the Russell case.

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The Princes in the Tower: Britain’s most famous missing persons case

The unexplained disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, aka 12-year-old Edward V of England and his nine-year-old brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, is one of Britain’s coldest cases. Five and a half centuries on, it remains the subject of debate and conspiracy theory. But are we any closer to the truth?

When King Edward IV of England died on April 9th 1483, his son, also Edward, succeeded him as Edward V. Because he was only 12, his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was supposed to act as Lord Protector of the Realm till he came of age. This didn’t quite go to plan. Richard sent both Edward and his younger brother to the Tower of London, supposedly in preparation for Edward’s coronation. But the coronation never happened. Instead, Richard took the throne for himself and the little princes disappeared.

A game of thrones

On his deathbed, Edward IV named his brother, Richard of Gloucester, Lord Protector of the Realm until his son reached maturity. However, Elizabeth Woodville—Edward IV’s wife and queen consort and Edward V’s mother—wasn’t too thrilled about this. She and her family either didn’t trust Richard or wanted to seize power for themselves in the wake of the king’s death (or both).

In any case, Elizabeth ordered her own brother, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who was looking after Edward V at Ludlow Castle, to bring the boy king to London immediately to be crowned. And she told him to bring an armed escort of 2000 men. Whatever her motive, it certainly looked like Elizabeth was preparing to do battle with her brother-in-law.

But Richard, aware of what was going on, intercepted Edward V and Anthony on their way to London. Also present was Richard Grey, Edward V’s half-brother (the product of Elizabeth Woodville’s first marriage), and Thomas Vaughn, Edward’s chamberlain. Richard met them at Stony Stafford and dined with them, lulling them into a false sense of security before arresting all three men for treason the following morning. (They were later beheaded at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire.) When the boy king protested the arrests, Richard told his nephew of a plot to deny him his role as Lord Protector, and that his guardians had been a part of it. He then escorted Edward V to London himself.

On hearing of her brother and second-eldest son’s arrests, Elizabeth Woodville fled into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her daughters and nine-year-old son, Richard of Shrewsbury.

Edward V and Richard of Gloucester arrived in London together. At the time, Richard still promised his nephew he would be crowned, but postponed the date from 4th May to 22nd June. On 19th May, Richard sent Edward to the Tower of London because, at the time, the Tower was the traditional residence of monarchs prior to their coronation.

In early June, Richard wrote to a number of important lords asking for their support against “the Queen, her blood adherents and affinity” because he suspected Elizabeth Woodville and her cohorts of plotting his murder. At a Privy Council meeting on 13th June at the Tower of London, Richard accused Lord Hastings of conspiring with the Woodvilles against him. It is said that Hastings was dragged out of the Council chambers and immediately beheaded in the courtyard.

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There be changes round these ’ere parts

A new year gets all of us thinking about new things. Resolutions, goals, plans—stuff like that.

I’ve just moved house. That’s the biggest new thing I have to share. For the last four years I’ve lived in a town called Aldershot. Famous as the home of the British Army and birthplace of The Hobbit star Martin Freeman, it’s a town that’s been called “the vast wart on the backside of humanity” and which even people living there refer to as “Aldershite”.

My bedroom/office overlooked an ugly, narrow side street frequented by intoxicated undesirables screaming obscenities and having punch-ups, and sewage treatment vehicles fixing the ageing drains that were constantly going wrong, kicking up eye-watering smells that would lovingly seep through my window while I was working. On a good day, I might just see an old bloke walk past, honk up his guts and decorate the road with phlegm, or whip out his pecker and piss up the side of a house.

Oh, how I miss it.

I’m now in Haslemere, a charming country town where the view out my window is of trees, grass, sky, and a pretty little church. A far better place for a writer to be. It’s been a hectic move for me and my girlfriend, but we’re getting there. And it’s our first place together too, so, you know… romance and mushy stuff.

Anyway, I’ve made some decisions about my priorities, writing-wise. I’ve been writing these blogs solidly for three and a half years and the stories I’ve covered have given me tons of inspiration for my conspiracy fiction, which is great. Now I need to take a step back and focus on just the fiction, particularly as I started a new conspiracy thriller novel in the closing months of last year. So, I have plans for some new articles in the coming weeks, and after that, I’m going to give the blog an extended break. This is so I can focus my efforts on the new novel, submitting Million Eyes to agents, writing and publishing more Million Eyes short stories, and reading more too. Takes me ages to read a book but I’ve just got a load for Christmas that I want to get through. Plus, I’m now a contributor for the Time Travel Nexus, so my articles about time travel conspiracy theories (and other things time travel-related) will continue to appear on there.

I’ll use the blog to keep my readers and followers updated on all writing developments, and I’ll be back to write the odd article about any mysteries and conspiracy theories that particularly pique my interest.

The next few articles I’m planning will focus on the mysteries and conspiracy theories that are at the heart of Million Eyes, starting with…

Next week: what really happened to the Princes in the Tower?

“Rachel Can Still See” has been published in Phantaxis Issue 7

My new short story, Rachel Can Still See, has been published in Issue 7 of science fiction and fantasy magazine Phantaxis.

Rachel Can Still See is the sixth of the Million Eyes Short Stories to be published, after Rachel Can See, Paul, The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller, The Home Secretary is Safe and Who is Rudolph Fentz? 

All these stories are set in the same world as my forthcoming sci-fi thriller Million Eyes and feature the same mysterious conspirators who take centre stage in the novel.

Rachel Can Still See is a direct sequel to Rachel Can See, which was published last year in Metamorphose Volume 2. It continues the story of Rachel Evans, a girl who experiences troubling alternate memories about world events and her own life. Both stories can stand by themselves, so you don’t have to read the first one to understand the second. However, I’d advise doing so in order to get a full picture of Rachel Evans’ journey.

The first story was longlisted by Inktears in 2015 and won an honourable mention in MetamorphoseThe sequel — prior to being accepted for publication by Phantaxis — won the Rushmoor Writers Hyde Cup Competition in 2016 and was later highly commended by Writers’ Forum.

Click on the cover image to buy the magazine from Amazon, or click here.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

Santa Claus crucified by a Japanese department store

Some years back, a Japanese department store — keen to adopt the Western tradition of Christmas — mounted an extravagant display in its window: a smiling Santa nailed to a crucifix. I think somebody got a bit confused…

The store’s booboo made Christians rather cross. Cross—get it? Sorry, bad joke.

The cultural faux pas is said to have happened shortly after World War II. The Japanese already had a thriving retail industry and penchant for seasonal and etiquette-driven gift-giving. They also had a fascination with the West and the early 20th century saw them gradually adopt—and adapt—a number of traditional Western holiday celebrations.

The main one to take hold in Japan is the one that carries the most influence in the West as well: Christmas. In the early 20th century, exchanging gifts at Christmastime in Japan slowly started becoming more common. In the 1930s, Christmas sales started in Japanese stores. But it was when World War II ended and the Americans occupied Japan that Christmas really took off.

Around this time, one department store in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district got its symbols mixed up. The Japanese were far more interested in adapting all the secular aspects of the holiday, which were starting to overtake the religious connotations for many people. They had Christmas trees, twinkling lights in all over shopping centres and people’s houses, and Christmas music in every pedestrian walkway.

But the religious aspects of Christmas just didn’t catch on. There was no carol singing, no Nativity plays. So when the staff of the Ginza department store were instructed to decorate their window in a ‘Christian’ Christmas style, the workers hadn’t a clue what to do. Their conclusion was: “Hey, Christians love their crucifixes, don’t they? And since the holiday’s all about that fat man in red from the North Pole, let’s nail him to one.”

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“Million Eyes” makes it into the top 20% of the Grindstone Literary Novel Competition

As I continue my tireless search for a literary agent for Million Eyes, it’s great to get some good news from a competition I entered the book into some months back.

It was the 2017 Novel Opening Competition from Grindstone Literary Services, into which I entered the first 1,000 words of Million Eyes. While I didn’t make it into the top 5, I learned when I got my personalised feedback (which every entrant gets in this competition — a great bonus) that I’d made it into the top 20%.

I was super-happy with the feedback I got too. There was a little bit of constructive criticism, but I actually think the recent rewrite I did of the opening remedies most of these points. Some of the highlights from the judge’s feedback were:

One of the most original entries I’ve seen.
This is an intriguing idea, and from what I’ve read so far, seemingly well done. 
Overall, it’s very impressive.

All fantastic to hear. 😀

Next week: did a Japanese department store confuse Jesus with Santa?

A conspiracy proven true: Snowdon blows global surveillance wide open

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? It’s not paranoia. You are…

Edward Snowden, formerly a systems administrator for America’s National Security Agency (NSA), has been called hero, patriot, and traitor. In 2013, he leaked classified government information about multiple global surveillance programmes operated by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance. The documents revealed that the NSA and Five Eyes—which consisted of the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand—were spying on their own and each other’s citizens and sharing the information.

Big Brother is real

The novel 1984 by George Orwell introduced us to the character and concept of Big Brother. In the novel, Big Brother is the purported leader of a totalitarian state whose citizens are under constant surveillance by the authorities. The book gave us the phrase “Big Brother is watching you”, which has come to be associated with prying by authority figures, and in particular, illicit mass surveillance by government. The reality TV franchise Big Brother is based on the novel’s concept of being watched constantly, going about your day-to-day life.

Conspiracy theories about mass surveillance have been commonplace since the novel’s publication in 1949. But the idea that we’re being watched by the elusive ‘They’ has long been shrugged off as the fancy of the paranoid.

Not anymore. Mass surveillance really happens, and it’s worse than we think.

Shock state snooping

When Edward Snowden joined the NSA, he learned about their colossal surveillance capabilities, including their ability to map the movement of everyone in a city using a unique identifier in their electronic devices. They also logged nearly every telephone call made by Americans, and bugged European Union offices in Washington and Brussels.

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Ireland’s big mystery – the Vanishing Triangle

Just outside Dublin lies a place known to locals as the ‘Vanishing Triangle’. One of Ireland’s eeriest mysteries, it’s where eight women suddenly and inexplicably vanished in the 90s, never to be seen or heard from again…

Annie McCarrick. Eva Brennan. Imelda Keenan. Jo Jo Dollard. Ciara Breen. Fiona Pender. Fiona Sinnott. Deirdre Jacob. Most of these women were in their late teens or 20s; at 39, Eva Brennan was the oldest. Between 1993 and 1998, all of them disappeared leaving no clues or evidence as to their fates. Despite extensive media campaigns and large-scale searches by the Irish police, none have ever been found. One of the most curious elements is that all the disappearances occurred within an 80-mile radius of Dublin that forms a geographical triangle.

Annie McCarrick went missing on 26th March 1993. The last confirmed sightings of her had her running errands at her local bank and supermarket that morning. An unconfirmed sighting placed her in Johnny Fox’s pub in Glencullen in the evening with an unknown man. This man was never found.

 

Annie McCarrick

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