Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mike the Giant Killer

Times are sure a-changing. And nowhere is that more obvious than in Mike Hammer’s New York. The city has not forgotten that fateful September 11th of 2001. The Communists are of course gone. Organized crime is no longer the main threat. No, what people really fear is a repeat of those terror attacks. All it might take is a single spark to set the powder keg off. That spark might just come from an unlikely source, from a Biblical giant who’s been dead for thousands of years.

Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath, of course… and when two post-graduate students uncover a massive human thigh bone in the Valley of Elah, the circumstantial evidence seems to point towards Goliath as the bone’s original owner. A crisis ensues. Islamic terrorist groups begin to target the students and their loved ones, trying to get the bone of a fallen hero. The Mossad is also expressing its concerns – after all, for Jews around the world, the bone of Goliath would represent a victory over a seemingly-unconquerable opponent. And Mike Hammer is damn interested, because he just saved the kids from getting shot in a subway terminal by shooting the gun out of their assailant’s hand…

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let it Shine

Somewhere in the Colorado Rockies, there is an old and isolated hotel known as the Overlook Hotel. The season for tourists is now over and the hotel is ready to close up for the winter. Everyone will be back in May for the summer season, but until then, the hotel needs a caretaker to make sure that the hotel is in shipshape condition throughout the winter. And so a caretaker named Jack Torrance is hired.

Jack, his wife Wendy, and his young son Danny all come to the Overlook, preparing to spend the winter together. Jack is a struggling writer, and he intends to work on his play and finally get it finished. But the Overlook is not a good place – years ago, another caretaker named Delbert Grady was hired for the winter… and ended up murdering his wife and two daughters before committing suicide. It’d be silly to talk about ghosts, of course… but what about those apparitions that young Danny has seen? What about those sinister hedge animals which sometimes seem to come to life? What about those odd noises, as though a party from 1945 has never quite wrapped up? And why do these phenomena keep getting stronger, and increasing in intensity?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dead Poet's Society

The scene is first set in Victorian London. The black-hearted magician and spiritualist Jonathan is in London on a quest to end all quests. He seeks the throne of Solomon. Why on earth would he do that? Well, perhaps it’s best to quote from the author’s preface:

History and legend, scripture and fable have all ranked Solomon as the wisest and wealthiest of kings. But it is within the occult lore of both east and west that one finds mention of the darker side of Solomon, for he is said to have commanded spirits, demons and evil forces to obey his every wish. Of all his treasures, none was the equal of his throne, a marvel surpassing any treasure owned by all of the world’s monarchs. … It is said that books showing the evocation and control of devils are buried beneath the throne and he who possesses the throne possesses more than all of the riches of the greatest sovereign who ever lived. He possesses power equal to that of Satan and rivalling that of God.

The prize is enormous, and so are the stakes. Jonathan follows a lead to New York City, a city of the worst kinds of slums and poverty. But someone is on his tail, looking for revenge. That someone is Pierce James Figg, a boxer well-trained in various arts of combat. Figg wants to murder Jonathan to avenge his wife, who was killed by him. But once Jonathan flees to New York, Figg cannot continue his quest alone. He gets help from Charles Dickens in the form of money and a letter of introduction to an American who can help him track Jonathan down… a certain Mr. Edgar Allan Poe…

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Do as I do, Mr. Splitfoot!

Lucinda had a wonderful idea for a prank. To pull it off, she needed the help of an accomplice, so she enlisted the help of Vanya. The two teenagers decided to pull off a much-deserved scare on the grown-ups, faking supernatural activity. Vanya has a secret hiding place (which he refuses to disclose to Lucinda), and he’ll be hiding there. Upon a verbal cue from Lucinda, Vanya will make series of ghostly raps in reply. That’ll be sure to scare ‘em.

Sure enough, that evening, Lucinda finds an opportune moment and calls out “Do as I do, Mr. Splitfoot!” and claps her hands three times. She gets the reply: three taps sound in reply. It’s unsettling to the adults, and she is ready to call the prank a success… which is when she gets the phone call from Vanya. He’s been kept at home and is unable to play the part of Mr. Splitfoot this evening! But if Vanya was not making the ghostly taps… who was?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Oops.

I'm afraid I've done something very foolish.

While messing around with my blog template, just to see what it would look like, I'm afraid I used my mouse pad instead of the USB mouse I usually use. It's a finnicky little thing which will bounce around all over the place and click on things I don't want clicked on. On this occasion, it clicked on "apply to blog", and idiot that I am, I didn't save the last version of the blog's template.

So... although I didn't intend to implement any redesign, it seems I've got one on my hands whether I like it or not now.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Twist Endings: You're Doing it Wrong!

It must be difficult being a writer. You spend so much of your time crafting a work of fiction which you hope will meet all the criteria. Trying to create credible characters, a good atmosphere, and a sense of time and place… and if you’re a mystery writer, you’re probably also trying to craft a good plot, maybe even one with a surprise twist ending.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the art of the twist ending has been lost. I have seen plenty of writers try their hands at twist endings in several mediums: in film, on TV, in books, on the radio… And sometimes, I see the same mistakes cropping up, the same heavy-handed clichés which make the twist ending very easy to guess with little-to-no brainpower. So I figured I’d compile a list of these approaches, the mistakes writers often make in trying to disguise their twist ending.

Now, I just want to be clear here: I’m not saying all of these approaches are inherently bad. In fact, many authors have done brilliant things with them. But I’ve seen the items on this list used very, very poorly over and over again. So if you’re planning to use this kind of twist ending, go ahead, but you want to make sure you’re not stepping into any of the obvious traps…

And so, without further ado, I present to you the post Twist Endings: You’re Doing it Wrong!

The Father Brown Maneouvre
It involves the suspects playing a merry game of ring-around-the-rosy, waltzing around the obvious, and saying things like: "My God, the killer could be absolutely any one of us! We are all suspects! Except Bob. Clearly Bob cannot be the killer. After all, he was having lunch with the Chief Constable in Nairobi at the time! Good old Bob. What a nice guy that Bob is. Good thing we can trust Bob! Because everyone else is a suspect!"

Dishonourable mention: This approach is named after the BBC series Father Brown, which first aired in 2013. It has the bad habit of going back to this method over and over again, as though it gets more shocking with repetition. This approach also shares much common ground with the Faux Christie Approach, in which the killer is the least likely suspect, and the least likely suspect is very obviously the least likely suspect. Father Brown has a bad habit of resorting to this twist ending as well.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oh, the Humanity!

Sometimes, you come across a book that is so good, you stop and wonder why you hadn’t read it before. When it comes to Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, the simple answer is that I had never heard of the book before. I’m not very knowledgeable about science fiction, and the only reason I picked this book up was on the strength of a recommendation from someone whose opinions I trust. Happily, the book was every bit as good as I expected.

More Than Human tells the story of a group of extraordinary people who come to find each other. They all have strange powers of one sort or another, and they come to “blesh” together, each person becoming one part of a new type of organism. In effect, they become the next stage of human evolution, homo gestalt. That’s all you’re getting from me about the plot, which is really tricky to describe without spoilers. But as with the neatest detective stories, all the plot threads you follow throughout the book end up woven into a tapestry of incredibly beauty.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Guest Post: Top 5 Film Adaptations

I have never featured a guest post on this blog, but there's a first for everything. And today, it's the first time I'm featuring a guest post. The author of this post is Kate Voss, whom you can follow on Twitter at this link. Kate has written a post on the Top 5 Film Adaptations within the crime genre. Although I would have approached such a post differently, I think this is a good post to get the conversation on film adaptations started. And, quite frankly, shouldn't the idea of a guest post be to give readers something a bit different to read than usual? So, without further ado from me, please welcome Kate to the blog.

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Sometimes the blood, sweat and tears that goes into writing a well-written, well-received book is depicted and reproduced beautifully into a feature film. Most often, however, we lose the imagination, characterization and plot development of the original written material. When it comes to mystery and crime novels, there is a rare group of films that capture the eeriness and thrill of a well-written book, and instead rely on the gore and shock-value, or sometimes just play out like a never-ending script.

In celebration of those film producers and directors who took a crime or mystery novel and actually got it right, I have presented a list of the 5 best film adaptations of all time.

Best Adaptations:
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)



This film was based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris which was the sequel to Harris’ 1981 novel, Red Dragon. Both books feature the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer who at times prepares gourmet meals with human flesh.

In the 1991 film adaptation, Anthony Hopkins gives a chilling performance as Hannibal, while Jodie Foster takes the role of Clarice Starling, a young F.B.I. trainee who seeks his help to solve a case. The film helped redefine the meaning of a thriller and serial killer and was able to capture the frantic tension that Harris imagined in the novel. It won an Academy Award in all the top five categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Writing, and is considered a horror masterpiece.

No Country for Old Men (2007)


Based on the 2005 crime novel by the American author, Cormac McCarthy (who also is responsible for All the Pretty Horses and Blood Meridian), No Country for Old Men tells the story of an illegal drug trade gone wrong near the US-Mexican border, and a psychopathic hitman who seeks revenge. It is a hunter-becomes-the-hunted story that dramatizes McCarthy’s eerie prose shockingly well. We see Javier Bardem play a role wildly contradictory to his suave Eat, Pray, Love character.

The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, has become the biggest box-office hit for the Coen brothers to date, and was the first Oscar-winning film to be edited using Final Cut Pro. The popular film is currently streaming on DirecTV and Netflix.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
 

Based on the 2005 crime novel by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the first of the Millennium series trilogy. The story follows journalist Mikael (played by Daniel Craig) and a computer hacker Lisbeth (Rooney Mara’s breakout role) as they investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of a woman.

Although the 2011 adaptation of the novel was not the first, being beat to the punch by the 2009 Swedish rendition, it was a brilliant representation of Larsson's work. The chemistry between Craig and Mara was bewitching. The film won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Film Editing.

The Big Sleep (1946)


 
This film is based on the 1939 crime novel by Raymond Chandler and featured Detective Philip Marlowe. In the 1946 original film adaptation (much better than the 1978 adaptation) Humphrey Bogart perfectly captures the essence and complexity of the Detective Marlowe story. The film talks Chandler's storytelling and makes a brilliant film about the process of a detective, rather than what is solved.

The film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress and still remains one of Bogart’s greatest films.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)


Yet another film starring Humphrey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon is based on the 1930 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally published in the pulp magazine, Black Mask. While the story has been retold countless times in the cinema and the stale attempts at recreating the main character, Sam Spade, the 1941 adaptation was the most successful. The character of Sam Spade is credited as being the structural figure for future private detective genres, borrowing from his detachment and observational skills.

The Maltese Falcon has been named as one of the greatest films of all time by Roger Ebert and also Entertainment Weekly.

So, while some film adaptations may flop, destroying the original creative environment constructed in the original book, there are a select few who made authors proud and tell the story as it should be told. What are your favorite film adaptations?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Year in Review: Best Reads of 2013

Well, another year has come and gone, and with it, some excellent reads. And so today I’d like to close out my “year in review” series with a recap of the best books I read in 2013. My usual procedure would be to choose an initial hangman’s dozen of books, and then write a brief bit on each of them. But 2013 was a bit different for me, and so before I do this I’d like to give a brief word of explanation.

I read far more of Ian Fleming than any other author, (re)reading the entire James Bond series in order, and this time getting to read You Only Live Twice (which I had skipped when I read these books years ago). The only character who even came close to matching Bond was Sherlock Holmes, who kept popping up and doing battle with other characters from English literature – but various authors were trying their hand there, and the results varied. I have a very high opinion of Ian Fleming, and a hangman’s dozen would probably result in multiple James Bond books being chosen. But this would be unfair to the rest of the crew from this year, so I have resolved to choose only one James Bond novel for this hangman’s dozen. It’s a rule that applies to everyone else also—each author this year can only be represented by one book. This is to make the hangman’s dozen a bit more diverse and to make my job (writing a really quick blurb) easier.

With that being said, here is the hangman’s dozen of the best books I read in 2013 (ordered by author’s name)

As a big fan of Margery Allingham, the only thing I regret about her books is that she wasn’t more ingenious with her stories. She’s often at her finest coming up with lovably loony characters, but the plotting department just isn’t her forte. The strongest of her plots I’d read to date was Police at the Funeral, which had a plot that Allingham nicked from Sherlock Holmes. But in Death of a Ghost, she comes up with her own plot, and a beauty it is at that. It’s not so much a whodunit as much as it a how-will-he-get-caught novel. Campion knows whodunit instinctively, but he must find proof of his suspicions, and this leads to a very memorable conclusion in which Campion’s life itself is at stake.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Year in Review: Top 9 Discoveries of 2013

Meh, close enough.
I’m going to cheat in today’s article. When I do my “Top Discoveries” list, it is my time to showcase authors whose work I read for the first time the year before (here, 2013). But much of 2013 was spent by me in revisiting reliable favourites, so that the list of discoveries isn’t as big as it may have been in years past. (Hence only 9 inclusions instead of the usual 10.)

So for the 2013 installment of the “Top Discoveries” article, I’m going to include authors I’ve really come to appreciate in 2013 – if this sounds vague, then don’t worry, it will be clarified soon. I’m also going to cheat by including an author whose work I may have read in the past, but which I honestly can’t recall for 100%. So, without further ado, below are my Top 9 Discoveries of 2013 (in alphabetical order).

George C. Chesbro
Quite simply put, I was captivated by The Beasts of Valhalla, which has made Chesbro a new favourite of mine. The book started as a conventional mystery, but at around the 75-page mark, it did a complete 180 on me. All of my expectations were completely subverted, and it turned into one of the wildest mystery/fantasy/sci-fi epics I’ve ever read. It was terrific entertainment, and rarely was it predictable. I look forward to reading more Chesbro – for one thing, he knew how to come up with awesome-sounding titles. I submit as evidence the following: An Incident at Bloodtide, City of Whispering Stone, Two Songs This Archangel Sings, The Cold Smell of Sacred Stone, Shadow of a Broken Man

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Year in Review: Worst Reading Moments of 2013

I’m afraid that my year-end recaps of 2013 have started late this year. This is due to a variety of reasons that I really don’t need to go into detail here. But I’m here now and I’ll be running this show for the next little while, so please don’t change the channel just yet. As is tradition, I like to do a series of recap articles, highlighting various elements of the year that came before. And today, I’d like to start with the worst moments I experienced in 2013.

Let me just emphasize that these are my worst moments, and I’ve expanded the list this year to include categories other than books (for reasons that will soon be obvious). Just because a book is on this list does not mean it’s a terrible book; sometimes, something will happen to ruin my reading experience, and I can use these articles as a way to advertise the issue so that future readers can be warned. Sometimes, however, the items featured in these articles just plain ol’ suck, and the lower down you go on the list, the likelier this eventuality is.

I’ve been relatively lucky in 2013: it was a year of nostalgia for me, as I spent much of the year revisiting reliable favourites and so I didn’t run into quite as many bad moments as I did in years past, which is why I expanded the categories this year to include moments that otherwise would have remained unmentioned. (Remember that charming edition of Crispin’s Swan Song which spoiled the solution on the front cover? Or that Fred Vargas novel that was so poorly-edited it seriously made me question my knowledge of the French language?) But there were some bad moments nonetheless, so let’s get started with this last exorcism.

11. In which I learned why a reviewer’s responsibility includes knowing what they’re talking about… or, Jimmy the Stick by Michael Mayo
First of all, let me get this straight: Jimmy the Stick is not a bad book by any means. It’s actually quite a well-done hardboiled novel, clearly inspired by Dashiell Hammett. Unfortunately, I read the book expecting an homage to both Hammett and Agatha Christie, based on reviews by some other book bloggers out there. Unfortunately, they did not know what they were talking about. Just because part of the novel takes place in a country house, the name “Agatha Christie” entered their heads, and their reviews led me to expect a book in which a tough-guy-P.I. is transplanted into a genteel country-house mystery like the one forever associated with Christie. This did not happen, and because I was expecting such a different book, I didn’t enjoy the one I got nearly as much. So, to my fellow book bloggers, I implore you to please know what you’re talking about if you’re going to use a comparison. Your reviews can suggest a very different novel from the one you’ve read, and using a simplistic (and/or inaccurate) comparison can only mislead readers and could lead to unreasonable disappointment.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Murder Comes Up To Bat

Sometimes, you just want to sit back, relax, and take in the game. For Archie Goodwin and Saul Panzer, the sport of their choice is baseball. And so they venture out to the Polo Grounds to catch the Giants and the Dodgers battling it out. Of course, there’s a friendly bet on this game as with any other, and the winner will find himself being treated to an exquisite dinner at Rusterman’s Restaurant.

But this game isn’t quite like any other. There’s a notable guest in the stands, state senator Orson Milbank, who is at the Polo Grounds for Flag Day, enthusiastically supporting the American flag and getting some good publicity out of it. He needs all the publicity he can get, after losing many voters over some of his not-so-popular decisions. But apparently, he made one particularly bad enemy, because in the game’s fourth inning, the senator slumps over dead from a gunshot wound.

Happy Birthday, Sherlock Holmes!

January 6th marks the official birthday of the world's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes. And to mark the occasion, the good folks at Open Road Integrated Media have created an infographic of books and authors inspired by Sherlock. To celebrate, a review of one of these books can be expected later today... Ah, but which one will it be? Tune in soon to find out!