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Book Review: The Eyewitness

by Lang Reid

The latest book from Stephen Leather, that prolific British author, is now on the bookshelves. The Eyewitness (ISBN 0-340-73409-4) is his 14th novel and follows his penchant for penning thrillers.

The story commences in the former Yugoslavia where principal character Jack Solomon is working for a UN-backed agency that is attempting to put names to the bodies found in mass graves following the waves of ethnic cleansing, to use a euphemism for attempted genocide.

Solomon has no axe to grind, believing that both sides of the conflict were just displaying the more base sides of human nature, and for an atheist such as himself this was understandable, even if not acceptable.

The novel moves to the finding of a truck in a lake, with twenty-six bodies in the refrigerated van, all from one family. This somewhat different method of disposal, rather than the mass grave approach, catches Solomon’s interest and he attempts to find the reasons ‘why’ and the next of kin.

The search for the one family member who must have been an eyewitness takes Solomon to the UK and then dredging through the underworld of vice and prostitution, meeting the people who run the vice rings and the women caught up in the world’s oldest ‘profession’.

On the way, Solomon attracts more than a trifling of unwanted attention to himself, resulting in a couple of bullets and a broken leg. However, these are but grazes and scratches compared to the treatment meted out to some of the other players on Stephen Leather’s stage. While it is easy to deny that these types of people exist, a brief but critical scan of the tabloids will prove that they do. And the existence of their empires.

It is a spellbinding yarn. Stephen Leather manages to show many apparent contradictions, such as the fact that good cops are not always exemplary and bad cops are really not all bad. Likewise, hardened criminals can have compassion and enslaved prostitutes can even be content with their lot in life. Especially if they have come from Eastern Europe.

It is his ability to describe ‘real’ characters that makes his novels compelling. You can believe in his book’s performers, not just the hero of the show, who is presented with all his human frailties, as is Jack Solomon in this one. The ‘wisdom of Solomon’ does not apply here. Attention to detail and a good understanding of human nature is required by an author to describe ‘real’ people, and Stephen Leather is obviously an expert witness of the human psyche.

The pace of the book is maintained all the way through, picking up as you get to the final pages, whereupon it begins to gallop. The ending will have you gasping as it turns 90 degrees, just when you are sure you have it all sussed out. Brilliant finish.

This is not just a book for the Stephen Leather fans, but one for anyone who enjoys a well crafted thriller that will keep you reading right till the last page. Get it! The review copy was supplied by Bookazine (RRP B. 395).


Music CD Reviews: Metallica - Garage Inc

by Mott the Dog
re-mastered by Ella Crew

2 Stars **

Oh, how the mighty sometimes come crashing down to the ground with a great big thump. Metallica started off the nineties right on top of the tree, probably the #1 working Rock ‘n’ Roll band in the world. Don’t get me wrong, they were never going to challenge the likes of the true greats of ‘The Beatles’, ‘Led Zeppelin’, etc., but they had just released their magnum opus simply called ‘Metallica’ (1991) with its famous black cover, and had toured all over the world to sell out arenas. I will say something for Metallica, at least they turned up in Bangkok and were on stage for nearly four hours, unlike our dear friends ‘The Rolling Stones’. They toured with ‘Guns N’ Roses’, headlined Donnington, played at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert ... You name it, they had done it, got the T-shirt, and gone home with the match ball.

This had all begun from very humble beginnings in 1981 by a Danish born aspiring tennis player called Lars Ulrich. He had been blown away by the resurgent heavy metal scene in the United Kingdom. As a result adverts were put in Southern Californian newspapers seeking like-minded souls to form an American based, head banging outfit to play some of the music of their heroes on the other side of the Atlantic. To reach the stage that they were at by 1991 is a long convoluted story involving several superb thrash metal albums on different small labels, each album selling more than the last, and of course constant gigging all over the planet. Along the way were several changes of personnel, including the tragic death of bass player Cliff Burton, who was killed when their van crashed on the way back from a late night gig, or the firing of Dave Mustaine for trying to take over the band. Mustaine went on to form the reasonably successful ‘Megadeath’, which he ruled as a musical dictator for over fifteen years. However, by 1991 the lineup was settled with Lars Ulrich on drums, James Hetfield on guitar and lead vocals, Kirk Hammet on guitars, and new boy Jason Newsted on bass.

Another five years was to slip past before the next Metallica album was released to great fanfares of the champions to the ring. ‘Load’ (1996) was released with massive publicity, including playing the new album in theatres all over the world. The day before its official release people actually paid to be in a hall to head bang along to the new recordings. Unfortunately for the band it was not met with high approval by the critics or their massive fan base. After five years of waiting they expected more than this rather motley collection of re-hashed riffs and rather distracted playing. ‘Load’ was not an aspiring example of what the fans had come to expect. The backlash for the boys in the band was horrific. Concert attendances fell sharply and the band was ridiculed every which way they turned. It didn’t help either that they simultaneously changed their dress code with all of the band members in nice new short haircuts. That made them look more like bank clerks than the bank robbers of days of yore, and they further alienating themselves from their long haired, denim and leather clad hordes of fans.

To try and smooth the waters somewhat the band released a press statement, apologizing for the album. They admitted that it probably wasn’t up to snuff, and that everything would be put right the following year with a quickly recorded new album, which would be back to previous standards. Unfortunately the following year’s ‘Re-Load’ (1997) was even worse. Basically because all the band had left was song ideas that were rejected for ‘Load’. The band found themselves in a situation, which involved canoes, creeks, a long way up, paddles, and the lack of them.

In desperation the following year Metallica put out a covers’ album ‘Garage Inc’, which just smacked of milking what was left of the market. ‘Guns N’ Roses’ had just done the same thing with ‘The Spaghetti Incident’, when they were riding the crest of their particular wave and didn’t have any products to release. They whizzed in the studio and blasted out a whole batch of covers of your favorite songs. Of course, David Bowie and Brian Ferry had done similar albums of covers in the seventies, but they managed at least to do it with dignity.

What you get with ‘Garage Inc’ is a collection of songs recorded over a 14-year period (1984-1998). Twenty-seven tracks spread over two CDs. On disc two the first seven tracks are with Cliff Burton on bass, which do have a naive enthusiasm about them, whereas most of disc one’s eleven songs were cut at the Plant Studios with producer Bob Rock in 1998 (who should have known better), and lack any kind of urgency.

The song selection throughout is quite intriguing, and about the only thing that is imaginative about this collection. They range from obscure British heavy metal bands like ‘Mercyful Fate’ to less obvious tracks from more well known acts such as Sabbra Cadabra by ‘Black Sabbath’, two from Welsh Rocker’s ‘Budgie’, three from little known British new wave of heavy metal leaders ‘Diamond Head’, and to close disc two four from ‘Motorhead’. The trouble is that every single one of these songs were done better by the original artists. So really, what is the point? If you want to hear these songs done in their proper context, please get the songs by the original artist.

Five years later, with all members of the band having had to come to terms with relative failure (some of them having to resort to re-hab after too much excess), Jason Newsted moved his bass guitar onto pastures new, being replaced by ex-suicidal-tendencies bassist Robert Trujillo. The band is about to come out with an all new album ‘St. Anger’, which is due the middle of June (2003). The world will have to wait and see whether Metallica can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Don’t hold your breath.

Songs

Free Speech For The Dumb

It’s Electric. Sabbra Cadabra,

Turn The Page, Die, Die My Darling, Loverman, Mercyful Fate, Astronomy, Whisky In The Jar ,Tuesday’s Gone , The More I See ,Helpless , The Small Hours ,The Wait

Crash Course In Brain Surgery ,Last/Green Hell, Am I Evil ,Blitzkrieg ,Breadfan ,The Prince ,Stone Cold Crazy ,o What ,Killing Time ,Overkill, Damage Case ,Stone Dead Forever ,Too Late Too Late

Musicians on this album

James Hetfield - Lead Vocals and Guitar

Lars Ulrich - Drums

Kirk Hammatt - Guitars

Cliff Burton - Bass

Jason Newsted - Bass

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]