Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Meeting a Master of Mystery: An Interview with Paul Halter

There are many people I would like to thank for making this post possible. First and foremost, it is thanks to John Pugmire that I was able to get in touch with M. Paul Halter, and without him, this interview would have been impossible. Words cannot express my gratitude. I would also like to thank M. Paul Halter, who bravely tolerated a barrage of questions from my direction and graciously answered them all. I conducted this interview via e-mail in French— French-speaking readers may want to read the original version of this interview, which I posted here — and Xavier Lechard kindly helped me to translate some of the more tricky passages, also taking the time to read the entire thing after I finished. Thank you very much for your continued support, Xavier. Finally, my thanks go out to Barry Ergang, who took a look at my translation and gave detailed suggestions for improvements.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Brand-New Podcast!

It’s rather fitting that, after my recent batch of Sherlock reviews, I participated in a podcast where the topic was Sherlock Holmes. Bill Lengeman over at Traditional Mysteries had a great idea, gathering up mystery bloggers from far and wide to participate in a round-table discussion. The participants in this podcast are:


Bill Lengeman – The head honcho at his blog, Traditional Mysteries, Bill specializes in brief reviews of mystery novels of a more “traditional” flavour, ranging from the heavy weights like Rex Stout to little-heard of books such as the recently-reviewed Murder in Pastiche.

John Norris – If you like your crime fiction with plenty of “weirdness” to it, look no further than John’s blog, Pretty Sinister Books! John’s blog is very informative and makes for great reading. As a fan of John Dickson Carr, I particularly enjoy reading John’s reviews of crime fiction with supernatural tinges to it.

Les Blatt – Les has had some experience in the realm of podcasts, regularly producing one at Classic Mysteries. Every week Les takes a look at a different classic mystery “worth reading and re-reading”, and he usually manages to find books that are either currently in print or easily found.

Patrick Ohl – I have no idea why they invited this derivative hack, currently blogging At the Scene of the Crime. When he isn’t reviewing books, he finds clever ways of being lazy, such as reviewing the three newest Sherlock episodes back-to-back and digging out old, half-finished, unpublished reviews. He didn’t even bother to mention his affiliation with the site!

Sergio Angelini – One of the most literate bloggers around, Sergio manages to write fascinating, enticing reviews at Tipping My Fedora, where he looks not only at books, but also at movies and audio productions. He’s also the current record-holder for most frequent guest blogger on my blog, appearing a grand total of two times and each time getting me to expand my mystery horizons.

Steve Barge – Steve, a.k.a. Puzzledoctor, is In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel and his blog is one I frequently visit. He’s the fellow responsible for starting a craze over Paul Doherty novels, and he’s come to convert half the mystery blogosphere to believing the Gospel According to Doherty.


These brave souls gathered together to answer the age-old question: have we seen too much of Sherlock Holmes? Will we ever reach a saturation point?

You can listen to/download the podcast by visiting this page of Bill’s blog. I hope you will enjoy this discussion! I had plenty of fun and will definitely join into the fun on future episodes.

A few points I wanted to make:
  •  Yes, I am the mysterious “Patrick”, despite failing to mention my blog’s name.
  • The quality of the recording gets better at around the nine minute mark—we had some technical issues.
  • My point on the Guy Ritchie films may be seen as contradictory. But what I meant to say in my muddle-headed way was that although the films themselves may not convert many to Holmes, they proved that he can still be a profitable name and that’s what’s led to this recent resurgence in Holmes, which has brought several converts over to the stories.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall

As previous reviews by other bloggers have noted, it’s extremely difficult to review The Reichenbach Fall without giving too much away. This is such a delicious, delightful episode that I really want to keep as many of the surprises in it as possible. With as many twists as we see in this episode, you’d think that wouldn’t be a problem… but I’m getting ahead of myself already.

It all starts out when Professor Moriarty simultaneously breaks into the Tower of London, the Bank of England, and Pentonville Prison. How is he doing this? No idea, but he allows himself to be captured and arrested, and is carted off to trial, where he refuses to give any defense. And that’s all I will say about the plot.

If you’ve read my previous reviews of the recent Sherlock episodes, you know that I am not a fan of the series’ incarnation of Jim Moriarty. He’s just so over-the-top, doing some sort of Looney Tunes impression and trying to outdo all the Bond villains. I didn’t take him seriously in his first appearance (apart from a handful of genuinely creepy moments in his first appearance, particularly the line “That’s what people DO!!!”). So now we get The Reichenbach Fall (a very clever reference there to The Final Problem), where Holmes and Moriarty square off in a duel to the death. Just how well can this episode hold up with such a cheesy villain?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

As The Hounds of Baskerville opens, Sherlock Holmes is bored. He is pining for a proper case, when a man named Henry Knight drops in for a visit. As a young boy, he claims, he witnessed his father getting ripped apart by a monstrous hound on Dartmoor. He ran away in terror, although no corpse was ever found. After years of therapy, he has returned to the crime scene… but this does nothing to quell his terrors. Although Sherlock is initially sceptical, he becomes very interested after his visitor tells him, “Mr. Holmes, they were the footsteps of a gigantic hound!”

Thus, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on the case, going to Dartmoor. There, they get onto the scent of top-secret military experiments at a place called Baskerville. And I won’t say any more about the plot. The writer is Mark Gatiss, who previously penned the somewhat-disastrous The Great Game. (One of these days I’ll watch it again and give it a proper review to voice all my issues with that episode.) However, this time Mark Gatiss outdoes himself. The Hounds of Baskerville, inspired by the infamous The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a pure delight from start to finish.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

For those who are not on board, as episode three of Sherlock (The Great Game) concluded, Holmes and Watson found themselves facing off against the dastardly Jim Moriarty, a character who seemed to be trying to out-do all the Bond villains in terms of being over-the-top and silly. Moriarty threatened to have them killed, only for Holmes to threaten to blow them all up. Just as the confrontation is about to climax, the credits rolled, leaving viewers to wonder how Holmes would get out of this scrape in one piece.

Oh no, you didn't!
Now comes A Scandal in Belgravia, which resumes from the point at which The Great Game left off… and thank your lucky stars, because Steven Moffat takes over the screenwriting! The series having written itself into a corner with a terrible Moriarty, Moffat takes the character off screen as soon as possible. And he does this with a sort of confidence— at this point, I still didn’t like Moriarty one bit. He was still every bit as unthreatening and laughable. But the show seemed to know where it wanted to go with this character. It seemed to have some sort of a purpose in mind. Moriarty only makes a handful of appearances in this episode and although it doesn’t really make him threatening, it does lead to something special in the third episode. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Sherlock: The Game's Afoot!

I was very interested by Season One of the BBC’s Sherlock. The concept was simple: transpose the Sherlock Holmes tales to modern day. Sherlock Holmes now uses not only his remarkable deductive prowess, but he also fall back on the Internet, texting, GPS technology, webcams, etc. Played with admirable gusto by Benedict Cumberbatch, the character of Sherlock felt authentic— if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had written the tales in modern day, this is the kind of character he’d come up with. He is a socially awkward genius who cannot understand why people around him see the same things but do not observe.

Martin Freeman played Dr. Watson, and in my opinion, he’s the best of them all. He blows Nigel Bruce out of the water. David Burke and Edward Hardwicke have nothing on him. He captures everything that made Watson great, and he manages never to look like an idiot. Holmes’ deductions are truly astounding, and Watson’s admiration feels very genuine without these moments feeling contrived. There is never a situation where Watson exclaims in surprise: “But Holmes, how on earth did you know that the only sinister-looking character with a collection of machetes was the one who decapitated Lord Bathtub?” Watson is an intelligent man—after all, he’s a doctor—but his intellect doesn’t come close to Holmes’. His life with Sherlock gives him stimulation in many ways and he develops a true friendship with the man.

That being said, Series One had a lot of problems with it. The first episode, A Study in Pink, was a very clever one written by Steven Moffat, with a lot of witty in-jokes for the Sherlockians. The plot was nicely retooled to make it fit into a modern-day setting. Moriarty was suitably hinted at. The episode was exciting. The only thing really wrong with it was the all-too easy ending, where Watson apparently learns (albeit briefly) how to read people’s minds.

It was all downhill from there. Episode Two, The Blind Banker, was penned by Steve Thompson, and was laughably silly. It took several pages from the Edgar Wallace playbook, most notably in the inclusion of Sinister Chinamen, as every Chinese character except one is part of an evil gang. It’s understandable, if not acceptable, to see such stereotypes in Edgar Wallace, but it felt shockingly out of place in modern day. But the episode was just barely fun enough, particularly in its finale with the unnecessarily-slow-moving-dipping-device-of-death.

Episode Three, penned by Mark Gatiss, was the worst of the lot. Entitled The Great Game, it saw Sherlock confronted with multiple puzzles, but the episode was frankly laughable. The plot never held water, and it is completely contrived from start to finish. You’re always aware of the plot’s flimsy artificiality, you’re never drawn into the story. I could go into detail about the plot's loopholes, but I will save that for a possible future review. But in the final scenes, we finally meet Moriarty, and it’s bad. Gatiss takes a very bad joke and streeeeeeeeeetches it out into what feels like infinity. The series basically wrote itself into a corner—it has the silliest, most laughable, and most unthreatening incarnation of Moriarty I’d ever seen. Its stories no longer held water. The only thing left in its favour was a fascinating premise and excellent acting from Cumberbatch and Freeman.

So I was sceptical for Series 2… Would the series continue its downwards spiral, or would it snap to attention and break the vicious cycle? Only time would tell… and that’s what I intend to do in the upcoming days by reviewing all three of the episodes from series 2. I hope you will all join me for this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ten Little Indians: Anthony Marston

Ten little Indians went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Marston in a 1987 Russian adaptation
Patrick: When Anthony Marston first appears on the dock at Sticklehaven, Christie tells us he “looked, not a man, but a young god, a Hero God out of some Northern Saga … something more than mortal.” And ironically, Marston is the first character to kick the bucket.

But the brief glimpses we get of Marston’s character make me feel fortunate we didn’t get to see much more of him. I’ve always hated this character. I vividly recall a sharp feeling of distaste surrounding his character when I first read this book.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Demon in My View

I have quickly become very fond of Margaret Millar, which is why I decided to make her books an integral part of my 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge. Only Gladys Mitchell and Ellery Queen appear more frequently on my list of books to read. I decided to get the challenge underway by starting with Millar, and soon settled on The Devil Loves Me (1942). It is the third and last of Millar’s books starring Paul Prye. This is my first book read under the theme Devil Take the Hindmost.

Paul is about to get married to Miss Nora Kathleen Shane, and the ceremony is taking place in the ever-so-exotic locale of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. However, the wedding is delayed when one of the guests, Jane Stevens, drops from atropine poisoning. Paul then discovers an anonymous letter addressed to him. Part of it goes thus: I have always been intrigued by the funereal aspect of weddings and the hymeneal aspect of funerals. It is high time someone combined the two.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Blast from the Past

What on earth was I thinking when I wrote an all-too-brief overview of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career and then proceeded to a review of Timecop (1994)? All will be explained today, and the idea behind this (very atypical) review can be summed up in two words: Hot Fuzz.

I remember seeing commercials for Hot Fuzz (2007) when it first came out, but I never went to see it in theatres. I eventually did see it and loved every moment of it. It is an unusual film in that it manages to successfully mesh two genres and parody them both. One genre is the mindless action romp, such as Bad Boys II or Point Break. (In this regard, Timecop may not have been the best movie to review. However, it fit the theme of the blog far better than, say, Hard Target.) What is the other genre, you may ask? Why, none other than the traditional country-village mystery!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meaningless, silly, senseless... in a word, priceless!

I have a confession to make. I love action movies, especially all those movies from the 80s and 90s starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, or any one of their rivals with the general exception of Steven Seagal. Dumber and derivative they may be, but I have plenty of fun watching some creative action, well-choreographed fights, and terrible acting. But above all, my guiltiest pleasures are watching Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Crime Scene Update

As you may have noticed, production at the crime scene has slowed down recently. This is due to several reasons. One of them is that I’m gearing up for my one-year anniversary, to be celebrated in under two months in March. I’ve gotten in touch with several people and hope to again bring you all a special series of cross-blog reviews and articles. (I am also preparing a very special article that will most likely be published prior to the anniversary extravaganza.)

But I’d like to share some excellent news with you all. In the latest issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, I was delighted to find out that At the Scene of the Crime was mentioned! In the “Blog Bytes” article, author Bill Crider mentioned the blog in very positive terms and singled out a period where I reviewed Farewell, My Lovely; I, The Jury, The Zebra-Striped Hearse and The False Inspector Hound. I’m very grateful to Mr. Crider for the mention. And thanks to the Puzzle Doctor for letting me know about the article. When I fired up the blog, I never suspected that anything I’d do would get a mention in the esteemed pages of EQMM. It is a true honour for me to be mentioned there, and if any readers are on this site thanks to that column, I hope you like what you see! You can find all my reviews and articles under my "Criminal Record" tab.

There are a few changes that will be coming to the blog in the upcoming weeks, which I would like to take the time to address. First off, expect more author pages to appear. I am working on a page devoted to Margaret Millar, and other possibilities include Stanislas-André Steeman, Henry Wade, and René Reouven. I’ll be drawing biographical information about Millar from Jeffrey Marks’ book Atomic Renaissance.

However, the overall design of the blog will remain intact. I hope you all enjoy these spoiler-free reviews, and I hope to continue them for a long time to come! There is so much left out there to discover!

Also, I now have a Facebook fan page devoted to the blog. If you like what you see, I'd be deeply obliged if you'd "like" my page!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In memory of Reginald Hill (1936-2012)

Crime author Reginald Hill has passed away. Many obituaries and tributes have been written, and one of the most touching tributes to Hill that I’ve read can be found on Martin Edwards’ Do You Write Under Your Own Name? I unfortunately never got the chance to meet him or correspond with him, so I cannot mark his passing away with anecdotes about him as many have done. But there is one thing I can do to honour his memory, and so I picked up a book of his to read and review. After all, if I was an author I think the most I could ask for would be to have my books read and discussed (and maybe even enjoyed) after I died.

And so I settled on Reginald Hill’s Killing the Lawyers as the book to read. Why? Well, look at the title: it’s just brilliant! (And ever so cultured, as it is inspired by Shakespeare’s infamous line “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” Ol' Bill really had a thing against lawyers, didn’t he?) And as it turns out, the contents of the book were just as good as its title. Published in 1997, it is the third book in the Joe Sixsmith series, starring a black machine-operator-turned-private-eye.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Death Invites You

The first edition of the book
I ever read, back in Grade 9
First there were ten. Ten people, strangers to one another, summoned to Indian Island by the elusive figure of Mr. U. N. Owen. That night, all are accused of murder, and one by one, they fall prey to a murderer’s ruthless hand, as “Mr. Owen” seems bent on killing everyone present. The motive? A mad sense of justice: Mr. Owen has decided that these people have all gotten away with a murder that the legal system cannot touch, and therefore it is up to him (or her) to play judge, jury, and executioner. And remember the madman’s alias: U. N. Owen… or, by a slight stretch of the imagination: unknown

Agatha Christie’s 1939 masterpiece And Then There Were None was originally entitled Ten Little Niggers. The infamous N-word is an inherently offensive one, and it wasn’t long before the term was replaced by “Indian”. Thus, all the references to “Indian” were originally the N-word. But in my mind, And Then There Were None is ever so much more evocative: it sets the book’s claustrophobic, dark tone right from the title page. I picture a solitary figure standing in a spotlight, with corpses all around, and giant hand reaching from the shadows to strike for one last time…

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Art of Murder

Back in June of last year, I enthusiastically reviewed Paul Halter’s novel Le Diable de Dartmoor (The Demon of Dartmoor), which I unequivocally called a masterpiece. And I stand by those words— Halter’s novel has excellent atmosphere, convincing enough characters, and one of the most fiendishly ingenious impossible crimes of all time.

At the end of that review, I noted that a comic book adaptation of the novel exists and that “I don’t own a copy, but I hope I will someday”. That day arrived a few weeks ago, and I sat down and read the bande dessinée adaptation. It did not disappoint in the least.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Having a Ball

A few weeks ago, the French-language Paul Halter forum exploded in excitement, as the modern-day Master of the Impossible Crime updated his French website with two new books: Spiral, a young adult novel, and La Balle de Nausicaa (Nausicaa’s Ball), a short story collection. I had recently reviewed La Nuit du loup (The Night of the Wolf) and was convinced Santa Claus had listened to my plea for another short story collection from Halter. When I went on vacation to end 2011, nothing more had been posted on the subject. Little did I know what was brewing…

I love this cover!!!
On December 27th, Paul Halter made the announcement that the book was available to order… from Amazon.com! This was an odd move— Halter, a flagship author of legendary publisher Le Masque, had chosen to go with Createspace, an American self-publishing service, to publish a French book! Fans in France were understandably upset, and when the book finally appeared on Amazon.fr, the item quickly became “temporarily out of stock”. When I got back on January 1st, I immediately ordered a copy for myself. After all, how couldn’t I? As a sincere, though not uncritical, admirer of Halter, I relished the opportunity to support his newest book by ordering a copy, and ironically, making it first available on Amazon.com made it far easier for me to do so!

So maybe I’m the first person in the world who has gotten to read his copy of Nausicaa’s Ball. Possibly not, but as I don’t see any reviews of it online, I’ll go ahead and give myself an award. Nausicaa’s Ball contains seven short stories by Halter, whose writing style is remarkably suited to the short-story form. Some of these stories are short, and others could be published as novellas. The title story had been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but this is the first time it’s appeared in French as far as I know. Meanwhile, two of the stories included here were actually translated and included in the English edition of The Night of the Wolf, but they weren’t collected in the original French book. I’ve adapted my original reviews of these tales and included them in this post.

Now that we’ve gotten the background information out of the way, it’s time to dig into Nausicaa’s Ball and discover what gems are to be found in this collection.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

One Hell of a Time

It is wintertime, and the bus struggles to stay on the road in the Québec countryside. The driver finally decides to stop the bus and walks out to fix the snow chains… never to return to the bus. The passengers become anxious and after half an hour decide to look for the driver. They follow footprints to an eerie house, where they are first greeted by gunfire and afterwards, have the door opened for them by Miss Rudd, a woman who is quite cheerfully insane.

Miss Rudd lives in the house with her nurse, Floraine, who is not at all happy to have the bus passengers in the house. She denies seeing the bus driver and claims that nobody has come to the house. She seems quite anxious to get everyone out of the house… but she promptly changes her mind when they all offer to pay for the night’s stay.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Kindle Exclusive to Kick off the New Year

In 2011, I made my first acquaintance with Shell Scott after the urging of Barry Ergang, who has given me plenty of recommendations for hardboiled authors for me to read. While I haven’t had as much experience in the hardboiled field as Barry, I loved Strip for Murder for what it was: an outrageously funny book with a pretty good mystery and some very good standout scenes.

But when I found out about it, I hesitated before buying an Exclusive Interview with Richard S. Prather, Author of the Best-selling Shell Scott Mystery Series for my Kindle. Mainly I hesitated over its length. The print length is a mere 78 pages— far too long to read on a computer, but too short to publish as its own book. (The Kindle market is practically perfect for things like this, isn’t it?) Would it be worth the cover price?