Sunday, January 12, 2020

You Want It Darker

In the opening pages of John Blackburn’s Bury Him Darkly, we are introduced to the legend of Sir Martin Railstone. He lived most of his life in relative obscurity in the 18th century. However, late in his life, he entered an unexpected period of genius, both artistic and scientific. Rumours swirled that this was due to demonic possession, and many dark stories have circulated about him ever since. Sir Martin spent the last several years of his life furiously at work in almost total isolation. Upon his death, he decreed that all his work from this period be buried with him until the day that a (very specifically described) ancestor could lay claim to the inheritance.

Until then, the Church of England has been entrusted with the tomb and its contents. Yet due to the scandalous rumours about Sir Martin, the Church has refused to open the tomb. And now, time is running out. A new dam will leave Sir Martin’s tomb under hundreds of feet of water. Thus, a group of his devotees – including a historian, a former Nazi scientist, and a wealthy industrialist – take it upon themselves to open up the tomb before it is too late.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Baby Bye Bye Bye

It appeared that Bill Doolan’s death was a suicide. He was dying of cancer. He had just gotten word from his doctor that he could expect to live about three more months, and they would be filled with pain. And so, Doolan put his affairs in order: he even called a cemetery and bought a plot there. Then, while listening to music in the dark, he shot himself.

The medical examiner, the cops, the next of kin... everyone agreed this must be what happened. Everyone, that is except Mike Hammer, who has spent a year away in Florida, trying to keep a low profile after having gunned down Sal Bonetti, the sadistic son of a notorious gangster. Mike can’t shake the feeling that something is off, and so he begins a separate investigation into the death of his former mentor. Before long, the corpses begin piling up as Mike Hammer makes his grand return to the streets of New York, dispensing his particular brand of violent justice…

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fantastic Deities and Where to Find Them

I have never been very good at approaching my reading systematically. I will pick up whatever the heck I want to read, whenever I want to (or am able to). Thus, a look at my to-be-read pile will reveal a mish-mash of genres, authors, and page counts. Some books are barely longer than 150 pages, others are well over 1000. Dante’s Divine Comedy is palling around with a bunch of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, and my Paul Halter omnibus can be found next to a Latin edition of Winnie the Pooh. Sometimes, I pick up a book that is extremely long, and then it takes me a long time to finish it. Which means that the review takes a long time to go up. Hence the delay since my last review. With this word of explanation, I’d like to begin talking about Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

But before I do, let me answer the objection: “This is a crime fiction blog! What on earth are you doing reviewing a fantasy novel?” My answer is this: I have no answer for you. Technically, you could consider this a mystery novel – there is a mystery that is solved at a certain point in the novel – but I wouldn’t recommend approaching it as such. The reason I picked up this book is tangentially related to crime fiction – Bryan Fuller’s next project after the fantastic TV series Hannibal was a television adaptation of American Gods. I was intrigued by the description, and the book landed on my to-be-read pile. I felt like picking this book up a few weeks ago, so I did.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Picture Perfect

John Baird caught sight of a book and it captured his attention. On the cover was an old photograph of a street from a bygone era, but for some reason, the photograph haunted him. Desperate for answers, John even allowed himself to be hypnotized by a local shop owner to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. His obsession with the photograph begins to distress his new wife Andrea, who is equally puzzled by her husband’s reticence to discuss his London job – he disappears for the day and says nothing about where he was or what he did...

Meanwhile, Dr. Alan Twist and Inspector Archibald Hurst are hunting a serial killer known as the Acid Bath Murderer, and before long the two plot threads collide, along with a third thread taking place in Victorian London. There are even two impossibilities at work: first, a clairvoyant sends his own death prediction to himself, only to be found murdered in a locked room. Second, a man disappears without trace from a room that is under observation from all sides.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Signed in Blood

Mrs. Wentworth came to see Father Bredder with a very disturbing story. She was terrified of being murdered – burned to death – by her husband. She told him of the time her mattress was soaked in gasoline, and other mysterious incidents. She’s even heard her husband’s voice telling her that she must be burned! But how could this be possible? Mrs. Wentworth’s husband, a dentist, has been dead for two months, having died in a traffic accident!

Father Bredder doesn’t brush off Mrs. Wentworth’s story, though – he has a nasty feeling of having spotted Satan’s hand at work in this situation, and he enlists the help of Lieutenant Louis Minardi of the Los Angeles police to investigate Mrs. Wentworth’s story. When the case turns deadly, Father Bredder must investigate who made A Pact with Satan, selling their soul to the Evil One by committing murder…

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Enter the Murderer

Set in the world of the theatre, Derek Smith’s Come to Paddington Fair brings back Algy Lawrence as well as his policeman sidekick, Chief Inspector Steve Castle, from Whistle up the Devil. Their involvement in the story begins innocuously enough, as Castle has received a pair of tickets to the theatre. But included with the tickets was a mysterious message that simply reads: “Come to Paddington Fair.” The meaning of the message is not immediately apparent, but its sinister undertones become quite clear when the play’s leading lady is killed onstage, during a climactic scene in which her character was shot.

Fortunately, with two detectives in the audience, the investigation is poised to begin on the right foot, and indeed, a suspect is apprehended almost immediately! But, as the investigation proceeds, suspect after suspect is cleared, and it slowly begins to appear impossible for anyone to have committed the crime! Thus, Come to Paddington Fair establishes itself firmly as a sort of spiritual sequel to Whistle up the Devil. Instead of a conventional locked room mystery, Smith gives his readers an impossible crime in the vein of “nobody could have committed the murder… and yet it happened!”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Treasure Island

Introduction: Goodness me, it has been a very long time since I last reviewed a book, not since late August of 2015!! Unfortunately, the demands on my time during the school year have made reading fiction nearly impossible. Indeed, during the 2016-17 academic year, as I ended up writing over 160 pages worth of essays, I was only able to read one work of fiction – Shusaku Endo’s Silence – but it was a book I felt I should not review on the blog. Now that summer is upon us, I can take a deep breath, step back from academia, and read a little bit more fiction. So I decided to treat myself with some mysteries. My reviewing may be a little rusty, so I please ask you to forgive me in advance.

* * * * * * *

As Alice Arisugawa’s The Moai Island Puzzle begins, we are introduced to a group of students at Kyoto University who are on their way to Kashikijima Island in order to solve a puzzle leading to hidden treasure. One of these students is the author, Alice Arisugawa, who along with his friend Mr. Egami is heading to the island on the invitation of their friend Maria. (Alice, by the way, is a male name here.) Maria’s grandfather, Tetsunosuke Arima, hid a collection of diamonds somewhere on the island, but neglected to tell anyone the location of the treasure before dying. All that is known is that the moai statues all over the island, inspired by the Easter Island statues, are the key to solving the puzzle.

It doesn’t take long for the murders to begin, as two bodies are discovered. The victims were shot, but the rifle used is nowhere in the room, and all potential exits (the window and the only door) were locked. More mysterious events occur, and it is up to Mr. Egami to solve the puzzle, with Alice acting as his Watson.

Monday, May 30, 2016

You are not the millionth visitor!

Well, this milestone has come unexpectedly!

When I checked in on the blog today, I discovered that the view counter was well over 1 million visitors! This is despite the fact that I haven't posted anything at all recently, focusing instead on my studies.

I would like to take this moment to thank all of you, the readers, for your support. This blog would not be possible without you and your support! At the Scene of the Crime is not going anywhere for now.

This milestone has gotten me to reflect on how much I have changed along with the blog. When I started this blog back in 2011, I was a very different person. Although I had originally conceived of the blog as mainly GAD oriented, discovering authors such as William L. DeAndrea, Bill Pronzini, Paul Doherty, and Paul Halter helped to broaden my horizons into more contemporary mysteries as well.

The blog was founded after I had read a particularly bad book, and I wanted a forum on which to express my distaste with the book and, by extension, the author. There have been similar moments throughout the years -- such as when I was infuriated with The Act of Roger Murgatroyd or when I got absolutely disgusted with Mickey Spillane's I, The Jury (which led to all sorts of contradictory fun when I eventually became a Spillane fan). This kind of snarky, angry style was perhaps what I was best known for -- especially when it came to defending the honour of Agatha Christie or G. K. Chesterton. That being said, I'd occasionally switch it up, such as when I wrote a review of a Harry Stephen Keeler novel in the style of Keeler. I enjoyed doing this writing, and although I might phrase things a little differently if I were to write these reviews today -- for example, I don't think I'd get nearly as upset with Gilbert Adair -- I do think my work holds up relatively well.

However, my reading had to be put on hold extensively when I entered the seminary in 2014. My studies are very important to me, and consequently I'd find myself reading Winnie Ille Pu for entertainment (AND Latin instruction) instead of, say, the latest Nameless Detective novel. If it is any consolation, this focus on my studies has resulted in me receiving an academic award for my performance in the final year of my philosophy program.

Though my activity levels on this blog have dropped significantly, I'm glad to see that people still read my material, and I hope that it has been found useful, informative, or perchance even entertaining. I hope you continue to read and enjoy this blog, and I will continue to maintain the blog, even if I my posting is erratic and sporadic. (That being said, I do hope to have a review in the next week or so.) [edit (May 2017): Yeah, that review sadly never happened...]

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

When Good Screenwriters Become Missing Persons

By Chris Chan
(Note: An abridged version of this essay first appeared in the magazine Gilbert several years ago.)

When it debuted in 2002, Without A Trace (WAT) was a highly entertaining and well-acted drama about a fictional FBI Missing Persons Unit. In its second season, the series matured brilliantly into one of the best series on television. The dynamism that propelled the freshman and sophomore years dulled a bit in the still-often-decent third and fourth seasons, but midway through the fourth season, the clever plotting and subtle character development began a slow and heartbreaking disintegration. Despite occasional brief resurgences, by the time WAT was cancelled after its seventh season, it was an emaciated shadow of its former self, yet it always could have easily returned to greatness.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Digestif: A Farewell to "Hannibal" (2013-2015)

Patrick: When I first heard about Hannibal, my instinct was to roll my eyes and turn the other way. Really? Yet another Hannibal Lecter prequel? Hadn't we learned our lesson from the horrendous Hannibal Rising? And starring Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter? There's no way it could possibly work, I thought to myself. It would probably just glorify Lecter's killing sprees as he killed people, and fans would eat up the violence and consider Lecter a hero. So I went on my merry little way, discarding Hannibal into the same trash heap into which I mentally relegated shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter.

Of course, then I actually watched Breaking Bad and Dexter, and I learned that the fans who admired the protagonists from those shows were wrong to do so. Breaking Bad deals with the complete moral breakdown of Walter White, whose downfall is a direct result of his pride and greed. As for Dexter Morgan, he is an unreliable narrator who lies to himself and to the audience about his feelings - he calls himself a sociopath because it is easier than examining his choices and questioning the "code" given to him by his adoptive father Harry, surely one of the worst father figures in all of television.

As I was watching these shows, Chris Chan and I would discuss them and how my views about these shows were evolving. And almost inevitably, the subject of Hannibal came up. Chris highly recommended the show to me, and because I trust his opinions, I sat down and watched it.

Hannibal begins with Will Graham tracking down a serial killer named Garrett Jacob Hobbs, who kills young female college students. As part of his investigation, Graham is brought into contact with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who manipulates events behind the scenes to engineer a confrontation between Graham and Hobbs. Will kills Hobbs in order to save an innocent life, but the event is traumatic, and so he turns to Dr. Lecter as his therapist.

Throughout the first season of the show, Hannibal treats Will as a human Petri dish, conducting experiment after experiment to see how Will will react in a certain situation. This results in Will progressively losing his grip on reality— part of his brilliance as an investigator is his uncanny ability to visualize the crimes from the killer's perspective, but as the series progresses it becomes clear that this "talent" has serious consequences on Will's sanity.