Book Review: A Collection Of Crime

The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021 is a collection of short stories that caught the attention of Alafair Burke this past year. These stories appear in various publications and are collected in one volume. This apparently is quite an annual literary event.

So there are thirty stories here, so I will not make the attempt to break down each story. I will say that there are a few special ones that caught my attention. It starts off with Jenny Rhatt’s Return to India. Nikki Dolson’s Neighbors, Gar Anthony Haywood’s With Footnotes and References, and Wings Beating by Eliot Schrefer are three contenders for my favorite.

The collection is a great concept. The stories feature a variety of characters in a wide range of desperate circumstances. I think it will be interesting to peruse the selections each year. Of course, not every story captured my imagination equally. Burke does seem to have good taste in crime fiction overall. Of course, there is an attempt to diversify the ethnicity and background of writers and characters, but it seems to work well enough here.

Even if every story is the attention grabber, there is plenty of surprise to enjoy. It’s not a bad effort to celebrate short story writers.

Next up, I have seen the old movie with Bogart, so it’s time to read the novel. Philip Marlowe is doing his best to avoid The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

Film Review: Secrets In The Swamp

TF1 STUDIO

In the Electric Mist is a mystery film that was released in 2009. Tommy Lee Jones leads the way here as Sheriff Detective Dave Robicheaux. It is based on a novel by James Lee Burke with a screenplay written by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski. Bertrand Tavernier serves as director. The cast includes John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Mary Steenburgen, Ned Beatty, Justina Machado, and Pruitt Taylor Vince.

Dave Robicheaux is an investigator for the Iberia Parrish in Louisiana who learns of young prostitutes disappearing and then being found murdered. He also is haunted by memories of a murder of a young black man he witnessed as a child. Another decayed corpse is found that brings Robicheaux back to that rather unpleasant memory. He also has a reluctant encounter with a drunk Hollywood director and his actress girlfriend. Robicheaux finds his investigation somewhat hampered by these two Hollywood elites, however as a recovering alcoholic himself, he can’t quite leave the director to his own devices. There are former friends who are now enemies in the mix. There are mobsters lurking in the bayous. Not to mention, this all takes place in Louisiana, so the heat and stifling humidity isn’t likely to improve Robicheaux’s mood. One other interesting turn of events is that Robicheaux is having some conversations with a long dead Confederate general. A bit of a strange ghost story is added in here.

Yes, this all seems quite confusing and actually kind of is. Jones does manage to display his usual compelling presence. Robicheaux is a sharp and determined cop, but he gets a bit ruthless in this one. Goodman is also quite good as some sort of crime lord known as Baby Feet. Yeah, there are all kinds of peculiar monikers throughout this film.

It’s a decent enough movie, but there are times it seems a little muddled. I was not clear on the connection between the dead prostitutes and this forty year old murder witnessed by Robicheaux when he was a young lad. I might have to just read the book one day.

Probably mostly due to Tommy Lee’s presence, the film manages to be somewhat engaging, but it isn’t without its rough spots. I guess it leaves me with a mixed reaction with a leaning toward liking it for the most part.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Ghosts, Daleks, And Nellie Bly

Doctor Who: The Lost Resort and Other Stories

The Lost Resort and Other Stories is a Doctor Who audio boxset released by Big Finish Productions and stars Peter Davison as the Doctor. He is joined in the TARDIS by Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, and George Watkins. Scott Handcock and Samuel Clemens share the director’s seat. There are three stories in this set. The Doctor, Tegan , and Nyssa are joined by the former Roman slave who has been partially converted in a Cybermen, known as Marc. Marc is of course an original creation of Big Finish.

AK Benedict wrote The Lost Resort, which has the TARDIS crew on a planetoid which contains a sanitarium with unusual temporal activity. The patients are little more than shadows, and a lost friend makes a sudden reappearance. The Doctor finds himself in a situation which will force him to make a heart wrenching choice.

This is a pretty decent story. The Doctor has to make amends with his companions after abandoning them temporarily. It took a bit for me to understand what was going on. The cast seem to take on this story with accustomed enthusiasm. I sort of like this Doctor having to face some emotional consequences of some of his recent antics. Not everyone is as alive as they appear, and that sort of appeals to my sense of the macabre. This is likely the best in the set.

Time for a bit of American history in Sarah Ward’s The Perils of Nellie Bly. Nellie Bly was one of a few female journalists in the nineteenth century. She was best known for an exposure of the mistreatment of mental patients at that time and for an effort to beat the record of fictional character Phileas Fogg in his efforts to travel the world. The TARDIS lands on the RMS Oceanic where Nellie Bly is expecting to complete her journey, but a saboteur is nearby. The Doctor and his companions are enmeshed in another situation where they have to preserve the flow of history.

I do appreciate an introduction to a historical figure that seems little known these days. Sydney Feder does well in the title role. This episode seemed a bit bland overall though. The stakes were not all that compelling. The performances are fine, as expected. This just wasn’t the most memorable of episodes this time. I could probably find something a bit more to appreciate about it once I replay it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Martin Waites closes this set with Nightmare of the Daleks. Nicholas Briggs is once again shouting into the voice modulator as the Daleks are now invading dreams. This time, not everyone makes it back to the TARDIS.

This was better than the second story, but upon further reflection, Benedict takes the Kanelis Appreciation Award.

Overall, this whole collection is worth getting. Even Nellie Bly has some merit even if it wasn’t a personal favorite. Davison doesn’t quite sound like he did on the television program forty years ago, but he is still the Fifth Doctor. I wouldn’t mind if the writers would tone Tegan down just a little bit. I think I liked her more in the television series than what Big Finish writers do with her at times. That’s very unusual since I think most of the other characters benefitted from the attentions of Big Finish. Still, Janet Fielding is an important part of the Fifth Doctor era, and I certainly don’t want her to stop participating. Sarah Sutton continues to impress with how little her voice has changed in almost four decades though. She keeps Nyssa very recognizable on audio. I am not sure that the character of Marc was written all that well. It is vey easy to forget that he is from Ancient Rome. His speech seems a little too modern for me to buy into his background. Watkins is the nephew of Peter Davison and is talented enough as an actor, but I am not sure Marc was written all that convincingly.

As mentioned before, I still found plenty to appreciate. Doctor Who is a very flawed, muddled series in a lot of ways, but the overall journey still brings some joy and fires up the imagination. This particular collection certainly continues in that vein.

Film Review: A Treacherous Treasure Hunt

The Sign of Four (TV Movie 1983) - IMDb

The Sign of Four was the second novel to feature Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and has been adapted to the screen a few times. I recently watched the version that first premiered in 1983 and starred Ian Richardson as Holmes with David Healy taking on the role of Dr. Watson. Desmond Davis directed this version in which the screenplay was written by Charles Edward Pogue. Cheri Lungh, Thorley Walters, Richard Heffer, and Clive Merrison are included in the cast.

A young woman arrives on the doorstep of 221 B Baker Street and explains that she is about the learn the fate of her long lost father. She explains that for many years, a valuable pearl would appear from an unknown benefactor. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are asked to accompany her to this unusual meeting. They soon learn of a lost treasure, and it seems they have murderous competition in their search for answers. Holmes has to rely on a dog and the Baker Street Irregulars to find the scent that will lead him to his most unusual adversaries.

This is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, but this is not my favorite adaptation. Richardson does fairly well as Holmes, but there was nothing especially notable in his presentation. I found the viewing experience to be rather bland. Healy’s version of Watson is about as equally forgettable. Richardson did look close to how Holmes was often described in the original works. I suppose that’s something.

No one was notably wretched in their performance, but there was not anyone who stood out. It’s hard to overshadow a character like Sherlock Holmes, but Richardson should have stood out more. This version was a basic letdown and not worthy of much more comment.

Book Review: Lost In The Dark Times

All Flesh Is Grass is a Doctor Who novel written by Una McCormack and is part of the saga entitled Time Lord Victorious. Yes, three Doctors come together to face the Daleks and Vampires during the Dark Times before the existence of the Time Lords.

The Tenth Doctor is about to eradicate Death from the cosmos and alter the universe’s history irreparably. Two of his previous incarnations have shown up to stop him. The Ninth Doctor has joined the ancient enemies of the Time Lords, the Vampires. The Eighth Doctor is the company of Daleks. The Tenth Doctor is about to break all of the rules to spare the universe chaos and death. As well meaning as that sounds, that could bring catastrophic consequences that even the Time Lord Victorious may not anticipate.

This is a rather interesting idea bringing together Doctors Eight, Nine, and Ten. McCormack is a prolific and competent writer. Brian, the Ood assassin, lends a hand. There are some space battles with Daleks as psychotic as ever. The Doctor even goes off the deep end for a while. The interaction between the Doctors is fairly entertaining and profound. This is a somewhat confusing entry because I am missing out on some of the other installments of this series. It had enough tension and action to keep me engaged.

Next up, I will be seeing if I agree with Alafair Burke in her selection of short stories as The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021.

Book Review: Precious Memories

Memory Wall is a collection of stories by Anthony Doerr. It was first published in 2010. Various characters try to find ways to preserve memories.

I would often go through each story in an anthology if there is under half a dozen, but there are too many for me to be interested in attempting that. Also, I had a very hard time staying interested in any of the stories. That is more likely due to this not being my genre of preference. I can appreciate that Doerr likely has his fans. He has won some literary awards, so he likely has some talent. He also does not appear to have much trouble getting published.

Anyway, this attempt to expand my literary horizons was a bit of a bust, however I will continue the endeavor. I will suggest that Doerr likely will appeal to someone who appreciates a more sentimental and thoughtful type of tale, and he has solid credentials, so I will not discourage anyone from checking him out. My reservations have more to do with my own tastes than with any lack of ability on his part.

So I step back into more familiar territory a Doctor Who novel entitled All Flesh is Grass by Una McCormack, which is part of the Time Lord Victorious series.

Book Review: A Cold Case Gets Another Look

Serpentine is the latest novel from Jonathan Kellerman to feature his best known protagonist, Dr. Alex Delaware. Detective Milo Sturgis will sometimes call in his best friend, Dr. Delaware to consult on his more unusual cases. of course, it looks like Sturgis is always needing Delaware’s guidance since that is the series focus. As readers, we are assured that Sturgis really does solve cases on his own. Anyway, I digress.

Sturgis is tasked with looking into a murder that occurred over thirty-five years over due to a wealthy socialite wanting some answers surrounding her mother’s demise. Milo isn’t that hopeful of a solution, however he notices some irregularities in the previous investigations. Milo and Delaware are somewhat surprised that they are starting to make some headway on piecing together what may have happened over three decades ago. They also find that someone is also very active in trying to misdirect them.

Kellerman has written too many books in this series to be that surprising, but he is still reliably diverting. The gimmick of a cold case being introduced is used well here. Sturgis and Delaware run into the usual sort of suspects that tend crop up the other books. It was fun to revisit these characters, however there is not much to make this particular addition to the series to stand out.

Time to take a break from crime fiction and indulge in an anthology written by Anthony Doerr. Memory Wall is the next one to pass under the reading lamp.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Lost Doctor, A Dalek Universe

Doctor Who: Dalek Universe 1

Dalek Universe 1 is a Doctor Who audio boxset starring David Tennant. It is a recent Big Finish Productions set directed by Ken Bentley. Tennant is joined by Jane Slavin and Joe Sims as Space Security Agents Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven. The Doctor has encountered them before in a previous incarnation. This time, they join him in a saga involving the Daleks. This set has three episodes.

John Dorney kicks off this set with Buying Time that contains a guest cast Gemma Whelan, Mark Gatiss, Juliet Aubrey, and Chris Jarman. Agent Anya Kingdom finds a crashed spaceship on a jungle planet. She meets up with a ruthless businesswoman and an android colleague. She also finds a displaced Time Lord. Predators are closing in, and the Doctor is without his TARDIS. The Doctor also may find his life ending earlier than he realizes. It’s not a bad start, but Dorney is one of the more reliable writers at Big Finish. Tennant returns with his usual energetic presence. Slavin and Sims also work well with this Doctor, but most everyone at Big Finish knows how to play well with others.

Dorney also introduces The Wrong Woman with a surprise regeneration. I was not sure I was going to appreciate this one with another surprise version of the Doctor, but it turns out to there is quite a clever twist going on here. This one turned out to be pretty entertaining and intriguing.

Andrew Smith wraps up the set with The House of Kingdom. Kevin McNally, Maria Teresa Creasey, and Nicholas Briggs comprise the guest cast here. Anya has a very uncomfortable reunion with her grandfather. The audience gets t find out a little more about her. The Mechanoids are also around as well. An attack on a space station around Neptune interrupts any possible reconciliation between the Kingdoms. Of course, a dangerous contagion can interrupt the lives of the Doctor and his companions. It was a good wrap on a promising new saga.

There is more to come with the Doctor lost during the Time War. I am in for the remainder of that ride unsurprisingly.

Film Review: From The Carnival To The Con

Nightmare Alley (2021) - IMDb

Nightmare Alley is a thriller directed by Guillermo del Toro and is a remake of a 1947 film. Del Toro also co-wrote this screenplay with Kim Morgan. It is based on a novel written in 1946 by William Lindsay Gresham. There is an impressive cast that stars Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle and includes Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe, and Richard Jenkins.

The film takes place in the 1940’s, which I appreciate since a lot of remakes are adjusted for the present day. The audience starts off seeing Carlisle hauling something into a hole in the floorboards of a dilapidated house in the country and setting the whole thing alight. He wanders into a carnival and gets a job helping out the psychic. A mentalist dies under some suspicious circumstances. Carlisle then runs off with a pretty girl and ends up in New York working as a mentalist, fleecing the wealthy. Then he meets a female psychologist who gets into his head and then into his scam. As one can imagine, the whole caper starts to unravel rather bloodily.

There is a lot to unpack here with this movie. It does require some patience because there are moments that drag a bit. The visual effects and the set design is very impressive. The performances are quite good, which is not all that surprising considering the cast. Stanton Carlisle is a complicated anti-hero here. This may be one of those films I may have to watch again to get the subtleties. I ended up not loving this film when I first saw it, but I can see the potential of my mind being changed. It just isn’t a film one can just watch with the same sort of attention given to a Marvel movie or something like that. I do give the films kudos for the visual and technical achievements. It felt a little longer than I expected though. I think it will have its fans out there, and there is likely a lot more to appreciate if the proper attention is given. I would recommend not giving this one a pass. I will also likely soon try to catch the original 1947 version fairly soon. I may even see if I can get the novel.

Book Review: Hope In Edinburgh

Kiss Her Goodbye is a crime novel by Allan Guthrie which was published in 2005. This is one of the installments from the publishing company known as Hard Case Crime.

Joe Hope is a working leg breaker collecting debts owed to his loan shark buddy Cooper. Hope is in a rather hopeless marriage and has a complicated relationship with his daughter. The daughter ends up dying of a drug overdose, and Hope’s wife is murdered quite brutally. When Hope finds himself accused of the murder, his priorities have to be readjusted. He is not the easiest of men to like, but even Joe Hope deserves to know the truth of what has happened to his family and why.

The story takes place in Edinburgh. There is quite a bit of cliché in the characters presented. It’s mildly interesting to have a bruiser like Hope as the protagonist, but there is not much in the story that is all that gripping. I made it through since it isn’t a difficulty read, but I doubt I will find it that memorable.

Next up on the reading agenda as this year winds down is a new adventure with an old favorite. Dr. Alex Delaware and LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis delve into the coldest of cases with Jonathan Kellerman’s Serpentine.