I spent most of the past week in Oslo with work, but before that I watched a few things on television worth mentioning here and I have the Kindle app on my phone so decided to download a new book to read. This was Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. True crime books are not my usual genre, but I’ve heard a lot recently about Sharon Tate and Charles Manson, not least because Tarantino’s next film is going to be based on the Tate murders, and I am hoping that the villain in my new book will in some ways be based on Manson’s supposed almost hypnotic control over his Family. I guess also the Marilyn Manson book I just read led me to want to know more about his namesake.

Bugliosi was the chief prosecutor in the 1970 Manson murders trial. The book is therefore a firsthand account of the cases of Manson and the Manson Family. Apparently, it is the world’s best-selling true-crime book and it’s easy to see why – the case itself was the biggest criminal case ever at the time and has embedded itself into modern culture like no other and the book is actually very well put together. I’m still in the 1969 investigations stage of the murders but I am hooked. Regardless of whether it inspires me to create a villain with the supernatural ability to push people to commit acts they otherwise wouldn’t do (and yes I will be taking it literally since this is in the same supernatural universe as Broken, Lucky and Bad Blood) I am finding it very interesting, if a little scary at times.

Also research for my writing was the film Red Sparrow which is currently in various rental lists online. In the film, directed by Francis Lawrence who worked with his namesake on Catching Fire and the Mockingjay films, injured ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is recruited to a school run by the Russian intelligence service. She is taught all the espionage skills you’d expect in such a tale (although sadly there’s no scene featuring a SMERSH shoe with a deadly spike) and most importantly how to sexually coax people into revealing secrets etc.

She quickly gets mixed up with the CIA who is trying protect a mole within the ranks of their Russian counterparts, and in particular with the powerfully named agent Nate Nash played by, poor man’s Jeremy Renner, Joel Edgerton. Grrr… I’m Nash, Nate Nash. The plots twists and turns nicely with some good action set pieces giving a more realistic less-stylised vibe than the similar(ish) Atomic Blonde. The final act keeps you guessing and there’s a pretty good conclusion to the film. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Another film, this one available on Amazon Prime Video, was The Take starring everyone’s favourite black viking Idris Elba as maverick police detective Luther erm sorry I mean maverick and powerfully named CIA agent Sean Briar. Grrr… I’m Briar, Sean Briar! Originally called Bastille Day when it was in cinemas, it had to have its name changed following the terrorist attack in Paris.

I remember seeing the trailer on TV and thinking it looked pretty good. And it was. It felt a bit like a Bourne film and although Elba wasn’t as great in the main role as I was hoping the overall story and actions sequences were really good. I also liked the plot although it felt a little like a corrupted facsimile of Die Hard 3, but without the gags. Elba’s buddy in The Take was, in the wrong place at the wrong time pickpocket, Michael Mason played by Game of Thrones Starkling, Richard Madden.

On a quirkier note I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore on Netflix was a bit of a laugh. It is an award winning dark comedy written and directed by Macon Blair (who I enjoyed immensely in Blue Ruin). It stars Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood (Frodo) as trodden-down Ruth who has her house burglarized (if you’re American) or burgled (if you speak proper like what we do over ‘ere) and religious heavy metal and martial arts fanatic Tony, who helps her on her mission for justice. It’s a good laugh with some dark moments and two very good performances from the aforementioned actors.

Sticking with Netflix, Siggy and I also enjoyed watching the first seasons of the comedy travels shows Romesh Ranganathan’s Asian Provocateur and Jack Whitehall’s Travels with my Father. I’ve been enjoying Ranganathan’s hip hop podcast and found his show about a trip around Sri Lanka meeting his relatives to be very funny. I’ve been told that the second season in which he goes to America with his mother is even funnier.

Whitehall’s show looks amazing in 4K-HD and is rather more scripted than Asian Provocateur, but no less funny. His father plays the thoroughly straight man to Whitehall’s posh-boy tomfoolery. Underneath all the japery there’s quite a touching story of a boy’s need for the love of his rather distant father and it ends on a rather emotional note which left us saying ‘ahh… bless…’