Category Archives: mysteries

Just one more thing

I’ve rediscovered Columbo. Yeah, it’s formulaic to a fault, but I find it oddly engrossing. Also, in general, I’ve found that watching these things as an adult and knowing who all the guest stars are adds something to the equation.

HBO had on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last night. I’m sorry to say I turned it off about a half hour in. Part of the problem is the three leads. They were barely passable as child actors in the first couple of films. Now that they’re in their late adolescent years, well, their performances haven’t matured as well as their bodies. It’s too bad really. I liked the third film a lot and thought that the director had gotten some good things out of them.

Haven’t been watching all that much else except Lost. Since there’s this hiatus until February, I took out my DVDs and have been doing a little marathon of my own. The series really holds up to this kind of viewing. If anything it becomes more enjoyable. I can’t say I’ve come to any earth-shattering conclusions. Although I wonder if the glass eye they found at the Arrow station possibly belongs to this guy.

All My Children continues its inexorable downward slide. Every time I think the writing can’t get any worse, it does. They’ve lost Julia Barr, Vincent Irizarry, and if the rumors are true, Walt Willey. I keep taking longer and longer breaks away from the show. It’s painful, because I’ve been watching the darn thing for 20 years now. Scary, no?

Sopranos, Big Love, and more

Finished Belle Ruin. I loved Hotel Paradise which was the first Emma Graham novel in this series. It had an otherworldly quality to it. It was hard to pinpoint the time period. The descriptions of the small, faded town were so well written I could picture the place. Really, it was a lovely, haunting little book. The sequel left me cold. This is the third, and it’s an improvement. Still…it’s not a particularly good mystery. I’m all for atmosphere, but not at the expense of a strong structure.

I was bored the other night and ended up watching Pretty in Pink. I’m not sure how I missed seeing this in 1986, but I did. Too bad because I think I might have enjoyed it more. As it was, I kept going, “Oh, my god, That hair! Those clothes! Is that James Spader? It is! Ye gods. Ohhh, Harry Dean Stanton!” But other than that, the movie wasn’t exactly memorable. It’s hard to get into teenage angst when you’re on the wrong side of thirty and bitter.

Speaking of Harry Dean Stanton, I’ve been enjoying the new HBO series, Big Love. The cast is great: Bill Paxton, ChloĆ« Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Grace Zabriskie, the aforementioned Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place, and Amanda Seyfried (who I first saw on All My Children. The subject matter is tricky though. There’s a big ol’ ick factor that will be hard to overcome. Still I’m hooked.

The Sopranos meanwhile, is everything I could have hoped it would be and more. It’s been very metaphysical. I mean the season started off with William S. Burroughs’ Seven Souls. You gotta love that. Edie Falco has been rocking the past couple of episodes. She’s not afraid to take risks in her acting and I’m not talking about going without makeup.

Unsung authors

Awhile back, I wrote a review for Postscript to Poison by Dorothy Bowers, an author of whom I had never heard. She was one of those writers who wrote several critically acclaimed, popular mysteries back in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction who then slipped into obscurity. I’m never clear on why that happens. I suppose it’s because mysteries fall into an ephemeral genre. Even comparatively recent authors, for example, Emma Lathen, seem to totally forgotten today.

Anyhow, I just obtained another of Dorothy Bowers’ books. Shadows Before was as good as the first. They’re not overly long, but she makes every character very vivid and the premise is solid. I like the attention to detail. Moreover, I like how well written they are. If only some of today’s authors could produce books like these.

Why I’m leery of the Cozy

Warning signs you have a badly written cozy in front of you:

  1. There are recipes
  2. It’s written in the first person
  3. It’s a series novel and you’re still lost by the first ten pages
  4. Pets play an all-too prominent role in the story
  5. There’s so much going on with the cover art, you feel claustrophobic just looking at it
  6. The person’s reaction on finding the dead body is so casual that it might be the same as discovering they’ve misplaced a pen
  7. The author clearly thinks the book is funny when it’s not
  8. There’s less originality in the formula than in a Harlequin romance
  9. The title is overly cutesy
  10. The author breaks most of the 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction

Sunday Morning Decadence

Took my own sweet time getting up on Sunday. Made myself some coffee and a bagel and spent the morning in bed devouring two gothic novels I’ve been meaning to read for ages.

There’s this writer, Francis Swann, who wrote some of my favorite episodes of Dark Shadows and a couple of years ago, I did a little research on him. He had an interesting if predictable career. Started out with a hit Broadway play, ended up in Hollywood writing screenplays that gradually went from A-pictures to B-pictures. Then he wrote a number of soft gothics and eventually wound up his career by writing for Dark Shadows.

Anyhow, I started out with a number called The Brass Key. Sweet young thing [SYT] goes to her father’s hometown of Seco, Maine with the mission of connecting up with her newfound relatives and also of clearing her father’s name. Unfortunately for her, her grandfather, who runs the town claims that she’s a gold digger and that her father never existed. Whole town seems to be against her. Weird things happen. Some local color. Things go bump in the night. Eventually all is resolved.

Second one was decidely inferior. The cover proclaims that You’ll Hang My Love is soon to be a major motion picture, but I can’t find any trace of that. It’s co-written to boot. Premise isn’t too bad, but the execution is . . . well, let’s just say this is pretty awful. Set in a small village in England, but there’s absolutely no attempt at establishing an English voice for any of the characters or for that matter there’s no attempt at authenticity whatsoever. Anyhow, the SYT in this one is waffling about getting married and is spending time with her grandfather. Turns out that when she was a kid, she possibly witnessed an awful tragedy involving a drowning. Things start getting weird with the mother of the drowning victim real fast.

Still, there are worse ways to spend a morning…

10 Commandments of Detective Fiction

My bookclub just tackled The Dante Club, which has enjoyed a lot of really positive reviews. The concept is fantastic. The Dante Club, whose members include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, J.T. Fields, and others, has been working on a translation of the Divine Comedy, specifically the Inferno. A grisly series of murders occurs and gradually the club comes to realize that the killer is using punishments from the Inferno as inspiration. Already under pressure to stop their translation, the members of the Dante Club decide that they must solve the murder.

Hell of a concept. Poor execution. The author doesn’t really know how to set it up properly and he breaks every one of the 10 Commandments for Detective Fiction. Also it’s suggested that a good writer shows rather than tells.

Still, a promising first effort.

Discovering authors

So a couple of months ago, the editor of Mystery*File sent me a list of books to select to review and at random, I picked Eleven Came Back by an author I’d never heard of. Mabel Seeley. If you want to read the review, you’ll have to contact Steve Lewis and subscribe, but let’s just put it this way:

Mabel, where have you been all my life?

Apparently, Mabel Seeley was once a pretty popular author and penned a decent number of books (several of which are now being reprinted). A couple of sites place her in the Mary Roberts Rinehart “Had I But Known school, but her protagonists seem a lot smarter than your typical HIBK gal to me.

I’m on my third Mabel Seeley novel and while I can’t say that this is the best of the three I’ve read, it’s still really good.