Saturday, July 28, 2012

Anatomy of a Murder

Peter Lovesey’s newest book, Cop to Corpse, follows a classic plot device: a serial killer is out there targeting policemen. Cop to Corpse opens on the third such murder by “the Somerset Sniper”. Three police officers walking their beat are now dead, a clean shot straight to the head by an expert marksman who chose ideal locations from which to fire.

This sounds like a job for Peter Diamond, Lovesey’s series sleuth. He’s not your conventional police detective. He isn’t in great shape, he’s middle-aged and decidedly old-fashioned (taking particular delight in the triumphs man can still claim over the computer).  But the case seems like one even he will have trouble cracking. The police are inches away from catching the mad sniper multiple times, but each time the culprit slinks silently into the shadows, leaving his pursuers empty-handed. And on one such occasion, he even runs down Diamond himself on his (or her) motorbike!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No Friendly Drop

I was bewitched—nay, downright seduced—by the blurb on the back of Sara Woods’ They Love Not Poison. I was promised a book that would serve as a sort of unofficial sequel to John Dickson Carr’s The Burning Court: a mysterious death via poison takes place and the culprit seems to be the reincarnation of a 300-year old witch! With such an awesome idea, how can you possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, and it breaks my heart to say this, Sara Woods finds a way to mess it up. I was hoping that today I would be able to sing the praises of an obscure minor classic. Instead, I find myself shaking my head in disbelief. The book’s story seems like it couldn’t possibly fail: set in post-WWII England, it involves Woods’ series character Antony Maitland. While staying at a friend’s place in a small farming community, Maitland gets involved in serious matters when a neighbour’s wife dies. Although she’s been ill for a while, the doctor finds the death suspicious and refuses to sign a death certificate. The rumours say that a young girl in the household is the reincarnation of a 300-year old witch, and somehow is the person responsible for the murder. And into all this we get some stuff about a lost treasure…

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? : The Smackdown

A Quick Word of Introduction: I originally wrote this piece back in March, submitting it to an online publication. Unfortunately, there seems to have been a major delay in the publishing of the next issue. Being infamously impatient, I have at last decided to publish this essay on my blog to share with my readers. I have made a few more-or-less minor revisions and have added images. In this piece, I tackle Edmund Wilson's infamous essay Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? using all the tools Wilson used, particularly sarcasm. Throughout my analysis I will challenge the claim that this essay "destroyed" the typical Agatha Christie mystery by claiming the precise opposite: it is an entirely useless essay from a critical standpoint. And so, without further ado, I give you:

Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? : The Smackdown

Edmund Wilson, Professional Troll
As a university student, I was seriously tempted to sign up for a course in Detective Fiction last term. What made me decide otherwise was seeing the book list: there was no Agatha Christie nor Raymond Chandler, and in fact, all the books were contemporary. Not only was the selection highly limited, it gave no sense of the genre’s rich and varied history from what I could tell… my fears were confirmed when I found out that one of the readings for the course was Edmund Wilson’s infamous essay Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?

But why is it famous? As I recently discovered on a re-read, Wilson’s essay contains literally nothing of substance. He only proved one thing: Edmund Wilson did not like detective stories. Which is a perfectly valid point of view. But Wilson did not substantiate it even remotely. He simply looked down at the genre through the eyes of a “true intellectual” and sniffed at it. In other words, Edmund Wilson was a troll.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

As I begin writing this review, it is 3:23 AM Eastern Standard Time. I got back from the movie theatre minutes ago, having seen The Dark Knight Rises at its midnight premiere in IMAX format. This for me is a first on a few levels: it’s the first time I’ve ever gone to see a movie at midnight, and it’s also the first IMAX movie I’ve ever seen. It’s also the most exciting movie I’ve gone to see in a while. I have awaited The Dark Knight Rises ever since I saw The Dark Knight. I looked forward to this movie more than The Avengers, more than Inception, more than The Dark Knight itself. So does the movie deliver or does it fall flat?

The Dark Knight Rises clocks in at an epic 2 hours and 45 minutes, but the movie doesn’t feel like it’s taking that long. There’s a lot of story to cram in, and although the first half hour or so is mainly build-up, when the action kicks in it does so with a vengeance, and everything builds up to the most spectacular conclusion I’ve ever seen in cinemas… and I’m choosing my words carefully.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Helen Clarvoe is terrified. A girl named Evelyn Merrick has been harassing her and making veiled threats, all while carefully treading a legal line that ensures her victim can’t call the police and have something done about it. But soon, Evelyn decides to expand on her work instead of limiting her victim to Helen Clarvoe. She begins to terrorize everyone connected with Helen, starting with telephone calls and escalating into more and more vicious behaviour…

And so Helen turns to her lawyer, Paul Blackshear, who makes it his mission to track down Evelyn. But things aren’t quite as simple as that might sound. Half of the people who know Evelyn describe her as an insane girl who will destroy herself one of these days. The other half is shocked at the first half, and describe Evelyn as a saint who would do anything for a friend and whose kindness knows no limits. What is the secret behind the enigmatic Evelyn Merrick?

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Literary Life For Me

Stewart Hoag, known as ‘Hoagy’ to his friends, was once a best-selling boy-wonder author. Now, his marriage has fallen apart and he hasn’t got much to show for his stardom. So when he’s offered a job mentoring/collaborating with the current literary boy-wonder, Cameron Noyes, he accepts the job. But it’s not quite so simple. Cameron is addicted to cocaine, has a problem with booze and women, and seems haunted by his past. But as time goes on, Hoagy learns more and more about this idol of the literary world…

… and the tensions rise as Hoagy investigates the cutthroat publishing industry. Many ugly incidents occur which leave the reader wondering what’s going to happen when the tensions boil over into violence. And sure enough, somebody falls to their death, an apparent suicide. But Hoagy is not entirely satisfied and soon enough the police begin to entertain similar suspicions. It’s up to Hoagy and his dog, Lulu, to investigate matters and sniff out the culprit.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Out of the Darkness

I have recently been doing a lot of Batman reviews as I prepare for the release of The Dark Knight Rises. Although initially I was hoping to see the movie on the Friday it came out, I just found out a few days ago that I won’t even be in town at the time. Luckily, this means that I can see the movie at midnight on Thursday night—so I look forward to going to my very first midnight IMAX screening in under a week!

This can only mean one thing: more Batman! And so, good readers, I give you The Black Mirror, written by Scott Snyder. Technically, this isn’t a Batman storyline—it initially appeared in Detective Comics—but it does feature Batman. Sort of. A lot of things have happened in the series since I last checked in (although thanks to the DC reboot, I suppose none of it ever happened after all—but let’s ignore that). Dick Grayson has taken up the Batman’s cape. Bruce Wayne apparently has a son now! And I’m sure there’s plenty of other continuity stuff I completely blanked out on. But as long as the reader knows that Dick Grayson is now Batman, they shouldn’t have a problem following the story along.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quoth the Raven

Imagine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meeting Harry Houdini in 1920s New York City, and a bizarre string of murders takes place. A madman is murdering people by using the works of Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration. Every grotesque murder seems more inexplicable than the last. Is there some sort of pattern? To top it all off, Houdini and Conan Doyle are in the middle of their famous spat over spiritualism and whether ghosts can be real. How awkward, then, that the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe keeps showing himself to Conan Doyle!!!

This extremely-awesome idea is the one behind Nevermore, a novel by William Hjortsberg. I’ve searched for this book for a long time, but with no success, before finding an edition for the Kindle. Unfortunately, after all the hype, the book turned out to be a major letdown.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Acquisitive Chuckle II: Return of the Chuckling

Hello everybody and I’d like to welcome you to another edition of me bragging about recent acquisitions of mine. This is the part of the show where I pretend to post in order to inflate my statistics, as well as taking advantage of an opportunity to just get up and brag about the newest additions to my collection. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this and there have been many acquisitions along the way—I wouldn’t be surprised if I managed to forget something along the way! So let’s get started.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Without a Trace

Anthony Quinn’s Disappeared opens on an interesting scene. David Hughes, an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s, suddenly encounters a ghost from his past. It seems to be the spirit of Oliver Jordan, a man who has been dead for nearly twenty years; it is implied that he was murdered by the IRA. Jordan has returned to sniff out his killers, and he demands David’s help.

A month later, David’s sister telephones the police in hysterics. David is gone, apparently kidnapped. Even if he wasn’t kidnapped, the odds are slim for a man with Alzheimer’s to survive on his own for a long time. Inspector Celcius Daly is called in to investigate. Before long, a corpse is discovered by a priest and the savagely-murdered victim had a connection with David: their mutual passion for duck-hunting.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Watchmen has been hailed as one of the greatest comic books of all-time, the Citizen Kane of comics if you will. It’s one of the few specimens in the comic book genre that “serious” critics will discuss, let alone look at. It even made it to Time Magazine’s Top 100 Novels list, the only comic book to do so. So how is it that I managed to know absolutely nothing about this book before picking it up and reading it for myself? I remember hearing about the movie adaptation directed by Zack Snyder, and I saw trailers for it. But that was the summer of The Dark Knight, and I have hated Snyder’s directing style with a fiery passion ever since sitting through 300. So I skipped the movie and refused to have anything to do with it. Until a few weeks ago, when I asked for suggestions on good comic-book mysteries. Watchmen came up on the list. I read the plot summary and suddenly I was kicking myself: it sounded like just my kind of plot! How silly of me to have passed this book up because a director I dislike made an adaptation of it!!!

So off I went to fill my digital shopping cart, and to make a long story short, that’s how I came to read Watchmen. The writer, Alan Moore, is one of the most respected comic book writers out there, being the mastermind behind V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and The Killing Joke among others. The book is illustrated by Dave Gibbons, but I’ll talk about the art later since I’m not an art critic (irony of ironies, I now work in a paint shop).

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Knight of Darkness

By now, readers of the blog are probably well-familiar with my recent spate of Batman-related reviews: short Batman stories written by various authors and collected in book form by the late Martin H. Greenberg. These reviews are an opportunity for me to change genres a little bit without straying too far from the blog’s focus on mysteries. It’s also a neat way for me to count down to the release of The Dark Knight Rises.

But this led to a very serious existential question: why stop there? Why not go all the way and actually review a mystery comic book (preferably with Batman in it)? After all, I’ve criminally neglected comic books on this blog—my only previous comic book review was of an adaptation of Paul Halter’s The Demon of Dartmoor. Thus began my hunt for successful mystery comic books, as I asked around various places for suggestions. I got some really great, intriguing suggestions: Watchmen, Blacksad, 100 Bullets, Powers, Batman: The Black Mirror… and then there’s today’s book, Batman: The Long Halloween.