Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dear Dick Francis

Today is the birthday of Dick Francis, one my all time favorite authors. Francis (who passed away earlier this year at the age of 89), was a late-in-my-literary-life discovery, since I only came to his books several years ago. But once I was hooked, I was hooked for keeps. I promptly read every book I could get my hands on in one fell swoop of Dick Francis frenzy.

Here's a link to a bit of bio and a list of all his books. And if you think all his books are strictly about horses, you'd be wrong. Even if you, for whatever reason on God's green earth dislike horses, you can still read Francis and not be overcome with equine revulsion. As I like to say: Dick Francis's books are about horses, the way Hamlet is about Denmark.

Years ago, when the mystery website was active, I reviewed books and once wrote a tribute to Dick Francis which you can still find at the site, here.

Here's what wowed me: Dick Francis sent me the loveliest letter thanking me for my tribute. Here's a man who rarely interacted with the 'press' but he wrote to me. I can't even being to express how thrilled I was.

Off the top of my head, here's a list of some of my favorite Dick Francis books:
  • To The Hilt (My introduction to Francis.)
  • Longshot
  • Hot Money
  • Come To Grief
  • Driving Force
  • Whip Hand
  • Odds Against
  • Decider
  • Smokescreen
  • In the Frame
  • Flying Finish
  • Forfeit
  • Slayride
  • Break In
  • Dead Cert
  • Risk
This link to Fantastic Fiction will give you more information about the individual books.


My previous little post notwithstanding, I do wish you all a Happy Halloween. Honest and truly, I do. Yes, indeedy. Now if only the tricky treaters can hold off until after lunch, I'll be thrilled to little bits and pieces. I sound like a curmudgeon, I know. But you see, that's exactly what I am. A crusty old, book-hugging, book-hoarding, book-loving curmudgeon with a steely eye and a chihuahua. HA! (The kids, unfortunately, see right through me, and mine is one of the first houses they hit up for candy.)

Note: The fabulous painting of the giant rabbit run amok is by the wonderful Michael Sowa.

Every year without fail...

"Halloween has come upon us, " cried the Lady of Shalott.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Thin Man Remake??

Johnny Depp in The Thin Man? What do you think? I read about this a few days ago and tonight I noticed a link to further developments over at the Rap Sheet. Nick at Squeezegut Alley gives us a bit more news.

While I love the original, classic Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, the idea of a new take on the characters doesn't chill my blood. There's very little Depp can't do in my book. If anyone can do it, it would be Captain Jack Sparrow.

My main concern is who would play Nora. Myrna Loy was an original. She radiated beauty, intelligence and common sense. It's hard to know who among today's young look-alike actresses could fill that bill. Any ideas? My first thought is Rachel Weisz.

Halloween for kids?

Here is a terrific opinion piece from the NY Times by author R.L. Stine - Scariest Sight on Halloween? Grown-ups. He talks about how Halloween now seems geared more towards adults than children. I agree with him. I don't know about you, but I get unsettled when adults dressed like mass murderers show up on my doorstep asking for candy. I don't like all the emphasis on blood and gore and horror movie villains, either. I liked the holiday so much better when kids were still the center of attention.

Though every year I complain about the constant doorbell ringing and Rocky having an apoplexy every time someone shows up, the truth is I still like seeing the little kids dressed in their costumes. It's the adults with axes sticking out of their heads that give me pause.
Pretty soon they'll be elbowing the kids aside and going out trick-or-treating on their own. Not sure they're not doing that already. What's up with that?

Talk Like Jane Austen Day

It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone and everyone would rather be speaking and writing like Miss Jane Austen today. I dare say I would much enjoy it myself. But do not fret unnecessarily. Although temptation does toy with me, I will not be led astray. Vexing though it may be.

You can do some listening here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Good Old Days

Aren't these covers a scream? Ah, the good old days of garish excess. These made me smile, so I thought I'd share them. I remember many, MANY years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a young teen, I developed a temporary liking for crime comics (my brother was reading them - that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it), ripe with damsels in distress and warped criminality. The phase lasted about a year and then I switched over to romance.

I don't know which phase dismayed my mother more.

Scariest Scene EVER in a Movie?

I don't watch horror films, never did, even to this day. Never got used to watching really creepy, scary stuff. Still don't like it. But when I was a kid, The Leopard Man, a second rate, black and white B movie about a killer stalking a small town on the Mexican border, truly outraged and frightened me. (Anger is part of the fright experience - don't you think?) Of course I was sitting in a dark theater at the time. But for months afterwards, I had nightmares.
Just the thought of the film still, to this day, gives me the serious creeps.

I know that compared to today's movies my choice may seem a bit tame, but let me tell you, the scene I'll describe, impressed the bejeezus out of me. I think the stuff that scares us as kids is more forceful and remains imprinted forever. Memory makes everything scarier, I think.

What the movie's about: Strange doings in a small desert town. Someone has begun killing women and the wary populace assumes it's a monster of some kind because the wounds on the bodies are jagged and claw-like. Well, the local night club just happens to have recently introduced a live leopard into one of the acts.(Don't ask, I don't know who though this one up.) So people are naturally suspicious. Though the leopard is kept in a supposedly safe place.

Anyway, long story short: the leopard, of course, escapes one night (you kind of knew that was coming), and begins roaming the countryside.

Switch to interior of small village house: A young girl about 12 or so is being sent to the store to pick up something or other that the mother and the rest of the family need for the evening meal. The store is only a few blocks away but by the time she returns it will be dark on the streets. She doesn't want to go because, very rightly, she is afraid. Stories of the killer hacking up women are getting around. But nobody knows yet that the actual leopard is on the loose.

The family makes fun of the girl and think she's overreacting. The mother insists she go to the store so they can finish making supper. They are annoyed with the girl for causing a fuss and accuse her of being lazy.

The girl is bullied into going to the store and, of course, on the way back in the dark she realizes she's being stalked so she runs home. When she reaches her front door she begins pounding on it.

Switch to the interior of the house again. The family hears the loud knocking and the girl's frantic efforts to open the door and think she's joking, trying to teach them a lesson - obviously, these are very stupid people. Well, when the girl begins screaming at the top of her lungs they finally realize something is really wrong and they run to the door which, of course, jams when they try to open it. They can hear loud thuds, growls and screams from the other side.

We SEE NOTHING of the horror outside, we're inside with the now finally frantic family, but we can HEAR a dreadful racket. Before the door can be opened, the camera pans down to the floor and we see blood seeping from under the front door onto the living room floor. The screams have stopped.

Nightmare city for me. Never could watch the film again until one day I saw the video in Blockbuster and decided to take my psychological life in my hands and try and watch it.

The scene I'd remembered is actually worse in memory than in actuality. But it still gave me the creeps.

So, what's your scariest movie scene memory?

(Thanks to author J.D. Rhoades for giving me the idea to pose this question.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writing I Like

Thursday. A good day to talk about good writing. (When is it not?) Or, at least, what I consider to be good writing. As we all know I am a very opinionated old codger, so the samples I put forth can be viewed askance if you so wish. I don't ask that you agree, but if you disagree, give me good reasons why. I probably won't change my mind, but it will make for lively discussion.

Of course, it's difficult to judge writing out of context, but I think the following excerpts give us the flavor of style of three very different authors - Martha Grimes, Robert B. Parker and Jasper Fforde - writing three very different sorts of books.
In the first sample from Martha Grimes, I love how she lingers and gives us specific word pictures of the slightly peculiar little storybook English country town which shows up in most of her books. You might almost think you were reading a cozy from this example, but let me assure you, you are not. It's just Grimes being quirky. I love it when she goes off on one of her rambles and lulls you into thinking the world of her books is not as dark as it really is. This is also her way of draping one of her protagonists, Melrose Plant, in the raiment of surroundings which seem so out of time, so different from Richard Jury's, the Scotland Yard cop who lives in a flat in London.


They were enjoying the sublimity of a fine spring morning, drenched in the scent of hundreds of roses - tea, musk, perpetual; bedding, climbing, hedging; claret, crimson, lavender, coral, yellow; climbers cascading down brick walls and climbing up them; floribunda hedging the walk...

The dogs and cats they had passed were all sprawled in various states of drunken delight, the effect of roses, the sun, the glittering air, as if Melrose's old dog Mindy were back there at Ardry End beaming out signals to sleep, sleep, sleep.

Miss Crisp's Jack Russell, which usually took its naps on a weathered chair outside her second hand shop, had struck out on its own from the High Street, looking for action round the duck pond. But it was now collapsed by the small stone pillar atop which sat Miss Broadstairs' oafish gray cat, itself too lazy to do anything other than lie with its face against the warm stone, its paws dropped down the pillar. All dreaming of roses...

JERUSALEM INN by Martha Grimes

The dining room had mullioned windows of rose and amethyst glass, was oak-paneled and candlelit and in its mingling of tones, seemed to throw over the diners a fine patina of burnished copper. Thus the voice of Susan Assington was like a scratch upon this lovely surface. "I think," said Lady Assington, "we should have a murder."

She looked up and down the dinner table, crowded with polished plate and polished crystal and tarnished conversation. "I mean," said Lady Assington, tapping a silvery nail against her wine glass, "it's just too perfect."

Having captured the the entire table for the first time - and they were already on dessert - she was breathless for a response. Melrose, seated to her right asked politely, (when no one else took her up), "Why is that?"

"Why, here we are, snowed in! Just the sort of thing to bring one's nerves to the boiling point - "

Lady Assington was not one to worry over her metaphors, thought Melrose.

The following sample by the late Robert B. Parker is from an early Spenser book. The scene is one in which Spenser faces down the dangerous Boston crime boss Joe Broz.


Broz sipped a little of his drink, put it down on the bar, and swung fully around towards me, both elbows resting on the bar.

"I have been told," he said in a deep voice that had the phony quality you hear in an announcer's voice when he's not on the air, "that you are a wise-ass punk. Apparently my information was correct. So let's get some ground rules. You are here because I sent for you. You will leave when I tell you to. You are of no consequence. You have no class. If you annoy me I will have someone sprinkle roach powder on you. Do you understand that?"

"Yeah," I said. "I think so, but you better give me a drink I feel faint."

This last sample is from the second book in Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime Unit series. It is the opening paragraph.

THE FOURTH BEAR - Jack Spratt Investigates by Jasper Fforde

The little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. Passed over for inclusion into almost every publication from The Domesday Book to Thirty Places Not Worth Visiting in Berkshire, the hamlet is also a cartographic omission, an honor it shares with the neighboring villages of Hiding and Cognito. Indeed, the status of Obscurity was once thought so tenuous that some of the more philosophically inclined residents considered the possibility that since their village didn't exist, they might not exist either, and hurriedly placed "existential question of being" on the parish council agenda, where it still resides, after much unresolved discussion, between "church roof fund" and "any other business."

Opinons? Or how about some examples of your own favorites?

Halloween Bunny

The Halloween Bunny will get you if you don't watch out. Ha! Isn't this precious? Well, in a seriously creepy way of course. I found him on etsy last year and the image is indelibly inked in my memory. Love it to pieces.

Haunting Images from one of my favorite places, the Paris Hotel Boutique blog. These ought to get you in the Halloween spirit if the bunny didn't do the trick.

I think that mask would look very fetching on Rocky.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mrs. Scarface - Halloween Pumpkin Contest

Want a cup of tea, dearie?

This is my submission for this year's Pumpkin Junkin' Contest. What do you think - leopard print or not? She looks a little dubious without. Her name is Mrs. Scarface. First time out for me working on a 'sculpture' of any sort except for a class back in high school, a million years ago. Didn't really get the hang of it until I was almost finished. I expect that next year's pumpkin will be much better. But anyway, for now this is my 'contestant'. The whole experience has been a lot of fun - can't wait to do it again next year.

Fantasy Films - 20 Favorites

Fantasy is not Science Fiction, and shouldn't be confused as, far as I'm concerned. It's a separate category - don't you think? They shouldn't just be jumbled together. Although Fantasy can and often does have elements of science run amok, the following list of films are not what I think of when I think Sci-Fi. So here's my separate categorization.

Something else: Fantasy is not always fairies and elves and flying naked women, although one wouldn't know that from checking google.

  • The Wizard of Oz - well, of course. What else would you call Emerald City, horses that change color and those flying, uniformed monkeys? Not to mention the wicked witch of the West. Great music score too.

  • King Kong - Hate the ending, always did, even as a kid. Otherwise a great film. I much preferred Mighty Joe Young - the original version. Though this film starred the worst actress ever in the history of film: Terry Moore. (Though Paulette Goddard gave her a good run for her money.)

  • Harry and the Hendersons - I can't help it. I LOVED the Big Foot creature's oh-so-touchingly sad and bewildered face. David Suchet is strangely miscast as the bad-guy hunter who wants to kill him.

  • Amelie - Because of the travelling gnomes, the little pig lamp, and the attitude of the film in general. Delightful doesn't quite cover it.

  • Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete (Beauty and the Beast) - This also goes on my list of Favorite Romantic films, Favorite Love Stories, Favorite Films in general. Not many films can be described as 'splendid' - this one can. Filmed in b/w, remembered in color.

  • Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - Tilda Swinton as the evil ice queen is so hate-able in this. But it's the Lion figure that steals the show - so beautifully created. The kids are pretty good too. But then, as I've always said, I'm fond of precocious British children. Loved too, the beginning set in wartime London.

  • Deja Vu - My favorite Denzel Washington film. Strong violence but I just covered my eyes, and moved on. Terrific film about, I think, a kind of rupture in time more than time travel itself. Though I question the conclusion, I still was willing to suspend disbelief.

  • House of Flying Daggers - Because of the unbelievably beautiful and stylistic aspects of the dazzling special effects in a story that is, supposedly, based in some sort of nonsensical historic reality. The setting seems to be a kind of alternate China. The incredible camera work is mind boggling. A gorgeous film by director Yimou Zhang.

  • Toy Story 2 - Better than the first one which was quite good enough. I was completely caught up in it. The scenes at the airport are nerve wracking and just as suspenseful as those in a non-computerized animated movie might be. Terrific film.

  • Shrek - The first one. Brilliant vocalizations. Great 'fractured fairy tale' story with a very satisfying outcome.

  • Babe - Just a lovely, lovely movie with all the proper sentiments in place. So beautifully done, too. Every animal's personality right on the money. The humans are wonderful too.

  • Babe - Pig in the City - An overlooked classic sequel. Siskel and Ebert picked this as one of their top ten in the year of its release AND either Siskel or Ebert (can't remember which) chose it as their favorite film of the year. There is such a touching sadness about this second Babe film. The loss of dignity of the orangutan character - a creature pretending to be something he isn't - makes me cry every time.

  • Lost in Austen - Originally, I think, done as a tv series (not sure) but works quite well as a film about a modern young woman's fall into the world of Pride and Prejudice. This was a wonderful surprise for me as I'd never heard of it before I chanced on it on Netflix. Elliot Cowan as Mr. Darcy gives Colin Firth a run for his money.

  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir - Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in the original film version. He plays the ghost, she is the Mrs. Muir who falls in love with him. A bit strange and touching love story with a FABULOUS ending - sad and happy all at the same time.

  • Hellboy II - The Golden Army - I am crazy about this film by Guillermo Del Toro. Ron Perlman is superb as usual, as the heart-wounded, world-weary, wisecracking Hellboy. The monsters in this film are much better conceptualized than in the first. I say: Skip the first film, see this one.

  • Superman - Christopher Reeve episomizes the Superman of our dreams. The casting down at the Daily Planet is wonderful. And of course, Phyllis Calvert as the mother and Glenn Ford as the father were superb. Gene Hackman, Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty are hilarious. Even Marlon Brando is strangely compelling. Though the special effects seem very creaky, looking backwards from today. (Except for the flying.) I loved the first half of the film more than the second, actually. The scenes on the farm are memorable. As is the rousing soundtrack by John Williams.

  • Fantasia - Walt Disney's experiment in music and animation still works for me. Stokowski and the mouse in silhouette - what a hoot. The 'Night on Bald Mountain' sequence is my favorite. Love the Mussorgsky music and brilliant animation.

  • Groundhog Day - I am SO NOT a Bill Murray fan. But this film is genius. I never get tired of seeing it. The 'gimmick' just keeps working.

  • Big - Tom Hanks is wonderful in this. Great film. Also love Robert Loggia as the toy company boss. This film feels like a Christmas movie even though it isn't.

  • Topper - Roland Young as Cosmo Topper. Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as the two meddling ghosts who don't, for whatever reason, seem to be too upset that they're dead. Very funny film.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sci-Fi Films - My Favorites

  • 20 Favorite Sci-Fi Movies - a woman's choice.

    Okay, let me explain. In general, I believe most sci-fi lists are made by men. Because the myth exists that only men like and or/know and/or appreciate and/or even understand good sci-fi movies. To that I say: bah!!
    Okay, but now I've got to back up that bah!

    I've just been reading several male-oriented sci-fi lists here at the Guardian newspaper, and also, here, on Adrian McKinty's blog, so I thought hey, I love sci-fi films of a certain sort (not crazy about exploding stomachs), why not make my own list? I'm a woman - I've loved sci-fi films since I was a kid, so I thought I'd take a whack at it.

    Even though the lists appear to me to be male-oriented, I do wonder about the inclusion of The Wizard of Oz. Not the first film that springs to mind when you think sci-fi, even for a woman.
    If it were a fantasy list, then of course it's included, but sci-fi? Here I agree with Adrian.
    (Hmmm, I think I'll do a 10 Best Fantasy Films later.)

    Halloween Week is a good time to watch sci-fi films anyway, since most of them have the scary and wary Halloween vibe.

    This is not a written in stone list, just some favorite sci-fi films I've loved over the years. Unlike some list-makers I'm not inclined to fight to the death over my choices.

    In no particular order, just as the titles occurred to me:

    War of the Worlds - strictly the 'original' with Gene Barry. Despite Ann Robinsons 'lost little screechy girl - 1950's version', I still love the film and its garish use of color.

  • When Worlds Collide - I remember this being on a double-bill with WOTW at my local theater. 25 cents for two movies and ten cartoons. And I also remember thinking, even as a very young kid, that it was funny that there were no black or brown or yellow people among the 'saved'. I still loved the film. I forgave the film-makers their social sins.

  • Star Wars - When I first saw this in theater, I remember being dazzled. Can't ask for too much more than that. The first film in the trilogy is still my favorite. Though I love the first third of the third film a helluva lot.

  • Dark City - an unheralded film with Rufus Sewell and, oddly, William Hurt. A very noir and very creepy sci-fi experience.

  • E.T. - Adrian is simply wrong about this film. When that kid's bicycle suddenly soars up into the air, your heart goes with him. Again, I ask: how much more do you want from a film?

  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Only because of the last half of the film and the amazing way music is used throughout and that beautifully odd little boy.

  • This Island Earth - Because of Jeff Morrow and the whole intriguing script. This is one film that could, I believe, be remade successfully. I'm surprised no one's tried it.

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still - the original, of course, with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. Michael Rennie, to me, was always the ideal man from space - he had 'the look'.

  • Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home - A wonderful, intelligent film that stands on its own though it is very much part of the Star Trek franchise. Captain, there be whales here. Love it.

  • Star Trek - the new one with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Quinto, especially, is amazing as Spock.

  • Planet of the Apes - The original. The scene in the cornfield is still a nightmarish vision.

  • Starman - with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. It's all in Jeff Bridges' expressive face.

  • Independence Day - Will Smith, need I say more? The special effects are quite good, too.

  • The Day After Tomorrow - Climate run amok. Great special effects and Jake Gyllenhaal.

  • 2001 - A Space Odyssey - How many times have I seen this film and I still can't make any sense out of it. But that doesnt' stop me appreciating it. Plus I love Hal's oh-so-soothing voice.

  • The Thing - The original in b/w, with its not-so-hidden, anti-communist message. Love it. I must say too that I always thought the direction by a guy named Christian Nyby was very quirky and a bit ahead of its time.

  • Jurassic Park - This film still amazes, still has a kind of odd grandeur.

  • The Fifth Element - Love all the orange, the flying taxis, Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Gary Oldman almost succeeds in ruining the film, but I overlook his scenes. I still ask: what is that plastic thing on his head?

  • Back to the Future - Christopher Lloyd is the iconic mad scientist. Michael J. Fox is pretty good too.

  • Galaxy Quest - I'm not a Tim Allen fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved this film anyway. Alan Rickman, as always, is wonderful. Enrico Colantoni as a gentle, yet tightly wound alien is superb.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, 21st Century Version

Just watched the updated Sherlock Holmes online. (Thank you, PBS.) A Study in Pink is the title of the first episode (the actual Holmes tale was A Study in Scarlet - get it?) in this intelligent new series. A series which does what I thought to be impossible: it moves Holmes into the 21st century and doesn't botch the job. Well, it has perfect casting for one excellent thing. Benedict Cumberbatch (love the name) is perfect as Holmes and Martin Freeman is nearly as perfect as a newly macho Watson, not only an Army doctor just back from Afghanistan, but a remarkably crack shot.

As Inspector Lestrade, Rupert Graves is adorable. Don't know if Lestrade is supposed to be so, but what the heck, he is. The guy playing Mycroft, less so. Mycroft as we all know, is big and hefty, the physical opposite of Holmes - since he hardly stirs from office and club. They're casting against type, I suppose.

In comparison to the frenetic, smarmy and almost unwatchable (for me) Robert Downey/Jude Law movie which was foisted on us last year, this new Holmes seems sprung from a different universe. The best thing about it: they've kept to the original personal eccentricities and details (well, most of them) of the Conan Doyle tales but added a hefty dose of modernization to keep things fresh and to the moment.

Some minor quibbles:
  • The music was mediocre.
  • The Baker Street flat was so dark it was hard to see what was what. It was NOT atmospheric, just overly dark as if most of the light bulbs had blown.
  • The woman in pink. Do women ACTUALLY still dress this way? With matching luggage? I wouldn't have thought so. It seemed something out of the 1960's. Maybe she worked for Mary Kay cosmetics.
  • The camera work was of the 'dizzyingly quick, fast-forward' variety which seems to be the way they're going these days. I'll get used to it.
Can't wait to see the next episode.

Read more, in detail, about the episodes at Squeezegut Alley.

Monday Review: BRYANT AND MAY OFF THE RAILS by Christopher Fowler

I've been meaning to write about Bryant and May but wanted to wait until I'd read Fowler's latest, the 8th in a very odd series of books - odd in a good way. From the first I have been under the spell of the eccentric Mr. Bryant and Mr. May, two old codgers basically in charge of the British Home Office's Peculiar Crimes Unit. (The hapless Raymond Land is only technically/temporarily in charge and has been for years - official limbo.) Only in England, could they come up with such a peculiarly named police unit (well, kind of police, that's never really been defined in any common sense way since The Met never seems to come into any of it) that is supposed to solve the sorts of crimes that are not only peculiar, but crimes that might affect public morale in some vague, unspecified way. Maybe crimes that might drive the British public into some sort of emotional frenzy? The very idea is funny in and of itself.

For the first two or three books in the series, I thought I was reading fantasy realism, and truth be told, I still think it. Mr. Bryant's rambling rambles on ancient British history and the evil archaeological hot spots lurking throughout London do cast a spell and make one wonder. Not to mention the extreme ages of both protagonists, I mean, Mr. Bryant is in his eighties and still on active duty. Mr. May is only a few years younger. Are we talking realism here? Nope. Though the fantasy aspect of the books turn out to be explainable in the end - well, maybe we should call the books explainable fantasy. That might do it.

There's even a sort of steam punky element to these books which is harder to define. All I can say is that Bryant and May seem to belong back in the age of steam engines and gas light, yet somehow Christopher Fowler has resurrected them in a modern day London that hardly seems modern at all. Two fractious old men to do battle with the evil and the bizarre.

I can't reveal much about Full Dark House, the first book in the series without giving away a helluva surprise that comes about midway in the book. So just take it from me: read it and you will be glad.

Okay, now to the 8th book, Bryant and May Off the Rails, which is kind of a sequel to the last book, Bryant and May on the Loose, in that Mr. Fox, the serial killer, attacked and killed a cop, escaped from a locked room, and is now roaming the London underground. To make matters worse for the Unit, another series of murders seems to have begun with the death of a make-up sales girl flung down a flight of underground steps. Add to this, a giant bat (or beetle) seen lurking in the unused tunnels, urban legends run amok, a group of London students with deep, dark secrets and a possible anarchist organization and you have a nicely flammable mix.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is not loved by anyone except those that work in it and they only love it now and then. Basically the Home Office has spent the last few books attempting to rid itself of the pesky Bryant and May and their hardscrabble minions. But, through a bit of good fortune and some political connections, the unit has been given a reprieve - yet again. The members are even back on salary - always a good thing. Though their new offices in an abandoned old building leave very much to be desired.

But, here's the catch, there's ALWAYS a catch: in order to maintain their new status, the Unit must solve the underground murders and capture Mr. Fox before a certain deadline a week away. Same old/same old. Life NEVER runs smoothly for the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

The emotional strength of this series rests solely on the frail shoulders of Mr. Bryant and Mr. May, two older (well, one old and one older) men as different from each other as night and day.

Friends and colleagues for years - Bryant with his false teeth, disreputable clothes often held together with safety pins and the elegant May with his impeccable fashion sense and eye for the ladies - they understand and like each other because, basically, each supplies what the other is missing. especially when it comes to how they view the world and investigate crime.

My third favorite character in the series is the aforementioned Raymond Land, a poor, befuddled soul who has been stripped of any power and placed nominally in charge - temporarily. But since the 'temporarily' part has been going on for years, the guy can't be blamed for being a bit frustrated with his situation AND the bizarre working conditions, not to mention the various eccentrics on his 'staff'.

The only quibble or two I have is this: Why aren't these people armed when they're running all over London and its environs looking for killers? And why doesn't the Met back them up when it's obvious they're onto something important: like protecting the public from a serial killer?

The machinations of the British police have never been more vague than they are in these books, but maybe they have to be to make the thing work.

If you buy into this from the first, you will be hooked as I was/am.

One Other Thing:
I've read on Christopher Fowler's blog that a graphic novelization of the Bryant and May adventures is now in the sketching and writing stage. I say: hooray! AND possibly a tv show.
Another hooray!

Read more here.

Halloween is right around the corner.

While I work on my Monday review I thought you might like to see these wonderful vintage Halloween images I found online one night when I had nothing better to do and couldn't sleep. There's a sweetness about these designs that's missing from a lot of today's Halloween artwork.
I know I'm in the minority, but I'm not crazy about all the frightening images that modern Halloween celebrations have spawned. Reality is often scary enough. Fun seems to have a different connotation now. I know, I know, I'm sounding like an old fogie.

I am awfully fond of those strings of skeleton and pumpkin lights, though.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

TONIGHT: The NEW Sherlock Holmes on PBS

The best part is we can watch the new series, free online beginning tomorrow, October 25 until December 7th - in case I forget to mention it. I've been waiting all month to see this. Woo-Hoo!
See this great review at The Rap Sheet.
Turns out you can only watch the first episode A STUDY IN PINK, online. But hey, it's better than nothing.

Sunday Salon: Five MORE Favorite Heroines

1) Stephanie Plum in the hilarious series by Janet Evanovich. Now I admit that Stephanie is the original Jersey Ditz, but I still like her a helluva lot. She is not stupid, she is just hapless. The hap-liest bounty hunter that ever walked the streets looking for lunatic felons. (Does Trenton have any other kind?) First book in the series (though not to my mind, the best): One for the Money.

What I most especially like about Stephanie is this: even though she complains constantly about her family, in truth she loves and needs them in her life, even if they are, shall we say, a bit on the eccentric side. Especially Grandma Mazur, an ancient given to wearing spandex and rhinestone studded sneakers. I like that Stephanie cares for her long-lived hamster, Rex, making sure first thing, when disaster strikes, that he is okay. (How this little furry creature has survived all the explosions, fire bombs and attempts on Stephanie's life defies logic and belief, but in a very good way.)

I like that Stephanie is tempted by not one, but two men, Joe and Ranger. I also like that both men, in turn, are tempted by Stephanie. (We should all have that problem.) I like that her car gets blown up in almost every book. I like Lula and the gang down at Vinnie's Bail Bonds. I like the whole mythical Trenton ambiance invented by Evanovich, helping make Stephanie, very much the Joisey Alice in Wonderland. If you have a sense of fun and appreciate the ridiculous absurdities of life, you will love this series.

2) Flavia de Luce in the absolutely top-notch new series (two books old so far) by Alan Bradley. The first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, won just about every award at the Bouchercon By the Bay Mystery Convention last week. The second book: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag is even better, if you can believe it. Flavia joins the elite ranks of ubiquitous British child eccentrics - she is 11 years old at the beginning of this series and already skilled in chemistry. Luckily for her, there's a handy-dandy laboratory on the top floor of her ramshackle house. I love precocious British children, most especially those on the eve of discovering wisdom.

Ignored by her family, Flavia lives a lonely life in the English countryside of the 1950's. But she is indefatigable in her attempt to construct some sort of life for herself excluding her two awful sisters (in a fairy tale they'd be the wicked stepsisters) and an indifferent father who prefers collecting stamps to caring for his family. There's a wistful sadness that lingers over just about everything in these books, but there's also a great deal of humor. Flavia is an astute observer - not to mention, a genius at concocting poisonous chemical experiments.

3) Lady Frances Derwent in Agatha Christie's often overlooked classic, Why Didn't They Ask Evans? Frankie, as she is known to her friends, never appears in another book and I've often wondered why. She is the epitome of the bright young thing with a title and a brain, a character very popular in the mysteries of the 1930's and 40's. But even though her appearance is limited to this one book, it is an indelible one. She is delightful - a slightly snotty, imperiously well-bred, beautiful young woman with a sense of adventure and fun. She is also, in love with the hapless (there's that word again - maybe I have a thing for hapless. ) son of the local vicar. That much-put-upon vicar is played delightfully (another word I'm over fond of) in the PBS Mystery version, by Sir John Gielgud. No one, and I mean NO ONE IN THE WORLD can wince quite so hilariously as Gielgud and in this version of the Christie tale, he is called on to wince quite regularly - his son is a very trying individual.

Once they save each other's lives, Frankie will very likely marry the vicar's son and spend the rest of their lives living on her estate, happily bossing him around (and he, happily, putting up with it) and solving any mysteries that come their way.

4) Hester Latterly in the William Monk books, by Anne Perry. Hester is a Crimean War veteran, a nurse who's served on the horrific front lines and lived to tell about it. Author Perry writes several historical series, but Hester to me is the stand-out character in one of the two series I'm most familiar with. Even if she is not the main character, she is certainly second lead. If not for her, I believe that William Monk, a character who spends most of the books suffering from amnesia, would probably not have managed as well as he as.

Hester is home from the war in the first book in the series, home to a dark and indifferent London, careless of its wounded veterans. A nurse at a time when nurses were seen as low-life drudges capable of nothing but emptying bed pans and mopping floors. She is expected now to put aside her front line medical knowledge and kowtow to close-minded doctors who know less than she does. Finally admitting there's little she can do to change things, Hester leaves hospital nursing and goes into private practise, doing what she can to make a difference. She then meets and becomes friends with the amnesiac William Monk, a moody, troubled detective working some of the more fearful crimes that Victorian London has to offer.

A series best read in order of publication, the first book is titled: The Face Of A Stranger.

5) Clare Fergusson, retired Army chopper pilot and newly appointed Episcopalian minister, in the series set in a fictional town in upstate New York (where it always seems to be winter), by Award winning author, Julia Spencer-Fleming. The first book in this moody, evocative series is the perfectly titled, In the Bleak Midwinter. This is definitely the sort of series about which it is often said, you must begin at the beginning. No jumping into the books mid-way. Well, I mean, you could, but to my mind, you'd be missing the full impact of the growing (and heartbreaking) relationship between Clare and the very married town sheriff, Russ van Alstyne. How this all works out (if it works out) will keep you guessing from book to book, that's why I say you must begin at the beginning.

Clare is the sort of person most would admire, she is intelligent, stalwart, opinionated, driven to duty, wise in some ways and not-so-wise in others and she has a good sense of humor - not always the best thing for a priest. Last but not least, she knows how to pilot a helicopter - I don't know about you, but that impressed the hell out of me. Clare tries always to do what's right, especially within her new calling. I like the unique dichotomy of Clare as conflicted woman and priest. But as everyone knows, always doing right can be the pits.

Lots of murderous acts and intentions in these cold, lonely, snow covered towns lying in the moody hills of upstate New York. Who knew?

Jane Whitefield books possible TV series!!

Great News! CBS is working on a possible series based on Thomas Perry's oh-so-terrific Jane Whitefield books. You might have noticed that the character of Jane Whitefield is on my list of Five Favorite Heroines. Great minds think alike. Ha! See more info here.
Thanks to Jeff over at The Rap Sheet for the tip.
IF they're faithful to the Thomas Perry books (a big IF I know), it should be a superb series. The casting is the important thing. If they choose to ignore the fact that Jane is Native American and cast some blonde bimbo, then forget about it. I've always seen Claudia Black in the role. I hope they consider her.

What do you think?
Are any of you familiar with these books?
If not, well then, make yourselves familiar.
The sooner the better.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Salon: A Few More Halloween Reads

Okay, only 8 more days until Halloween and if you're still looking around for a book to read that doesn't include heavy-handed horror or excess blood-splatter, look no further. As I've often said, I do not read horror so any books I recommend for Ghosts and Ghoulies day will be mysterious, entertaining, maybe creepy and cryptic with a dead body or two or three, but I would never classify them as horror. So fear not. Oh, and here's a link to my previous list of
recommended reads in case you missed those.

THE PALE HORSE by Agatha Christie
A favorite book for this time of year, it features not one, not two but THREE witches! Not to mention one of the more ingenious murder devices I've ever read and a very likable hero and heroine.

PERSUADER by Lee Child
A ghoulish amount of violence it is true, but most of it done so entertainingly that even I didn't mind. Knight in shining armor Jack Reacher is, after all, a world unto himself. Because it is so over the top, I've always maintained that this book reads sort of like an opera libretto. You'll see what I mean if you read it. I love the setting, a spooky house with various strange types hanging about including a murderous 'giant'. It also has one of the best and most finely written episodes of underwater bedlam that I've ever read. Lee Child is a helluva writer.

BROTHER ODD by Dean Koontz
After his classic, ODD THOMAS (read that first), I recommend reading this and ignoring the second Odd Thomas book which is nowhere near as good as Brother Odd which takes place in a dark and lonely and, needless to say, creepy old monastery in the middle of nowhere. Perfect for this time of year.

LOVER IN THE SHADOWS by Lindsay Longford
For you romance lovers, this is a pip of a book. Full of dark shadows and things that go bump in the night - but in a good way. It also has an element of fantasy: the hero turns into....well, you'll read and find out for yourself. No, not a vampire. I can say no more. My lips are sealed.

I reviewed this charming book a while back, but it now occurs to me that it makes for perfect Halloween reading since ghosts are definitely involved. Two ghosts to be exact: a private eye and his client. When a young divorcee buys a house at the Jersey shore with plans to renovate, she and her daughter stumble across murder most foul. Terrific debut of a new series.

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
A wonderfully illustrated (in pencil and watercolor) story to read aloud with your younger children. An 8 year old boy kidnapped by brigands in the Italian countryside must make up stories to entertain his captors. A very funny read.