Book Review: Jack McEvoy Has A Story To Tell And A Killer To Find

The Poet is a crime novel written by Michael Connelly and was first published in 1996. In this novel, Connelly introduces readers to crime reporter Jack McEvoy. The novel starts off with McEvoy learning of the suicide of his twin brother, who was a homicide detective in Denver. Once he gets past the shock of his brother’s unexpected demise, McEvoy’s skepticism leads him to some questions. He learns of a line of poetry written by his brother. He also finds out about a rash of suicides among police detectives throughout the country where a piece of Edgar Allen Poe’s works are left behind. McEvoy manages to encourage the FBI to begin an investigation and finagles his way into the hunt as well since he understandably wants to have first crack at the story. Of course, there are many surprising revelations that brings McEvoy closer to one of the most devious killers he has even written about.

So this is pretty early in Connelly’s novel writing career, however his talent is quite evident even if the plot does seem rather outlandish. Connelly does have a pretty striking opening line. “Death is my beat,” declares McEvoy, which seems a little overdramatic, but it succeeds in sparking the imagination.

I don’t find McEvoy to be as compelling as Harry Bosch or Mickey Haller, Connelly’s more used protagonists, however this still managed to keep me intrigued enough to stick it out to the end. I try to finish any book I start regardless of how exasperated I get, but I still enjoyed this one reasonably well. Even if this one strained my suspension of disbelief a bit, it didn’t fall apart entirely. I would still consider this a worthy bit of leisure reading and does not shake my overall appreciation of Michael Connelly’s contribution to the crime fiction universe.

And so I move on to another effort to increase my exposure to more classical or acclaimed literature. My next indulgence has a bit of a notorious reputation, but it was a gift from a friend and something that I have been meaning to read anyway. Time to delve into The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Doctor Who Audio Review: Jo Grant Has A Wild Time

The Elixir of Doom is a Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish Productions and is an episode from the range known as The Companion Chronicles. Paul Magrs finally wrote the script that brings Jo Grant and Iris Wildthyme together. Lisa Bowerman returns to the director’s seat. Magrs created Iris many moons ago for the novel range. Katy Manning has long been employed by Big Finish reprising her role of Jo Grant and inventing the voice of the trans-temporal adventuress. Derek Fowlds lends his vocal talent as the guest actor.

Instead of traveling with the Doctor, Jo has found herself inside the double decker bus with Iris Wildthyme having adventures through time and space. This episode finds them landing in 1930’s Hollywood where the movie monsters of the day seem to be too suspiciously real and under the control of a matinee diva.

I don’t want to give too much away, but an unexpected Doctor appears to lend a hand as well, but he is a much different version than the one most familiar to Jo.

This was just a fun romp, but it really shows how talented Manning can be as a character actress and narrator. The post production editing is likely largely responsible for this, but Manning just shifts from Jo to Iris so easily. The story isn’t terribly deep, but it doesn’t need to be here. Magrs has long been involved with Big Finish periodically following his contributions to the novel range. This is probably one of his sillier plot lines, but the performances really work here. Particularly, Manning’s talent gets a well-deserved showcase of her vocal ability.

It probably is a fairly obvious gimmick to have Jo and Iris finally meet, but it works here, and it seems just right to have Magrs be the one to tell the story.

Doctor Who Audio Review: One Bride For The Eleven

The Eleven is a Doctor Who audio boxset from Big Finish Productions. Colin Baker is reunited with Miranda Raison, who plays Constance Clarke, who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Mark Bonnar returns as the Eleven, a Time Lord who has all of his previous incarnations mixed up with his current form. It is a trilogy of stories directed by Ken Bentley. Lucy Gaskell plays the not so blushing bride to the Eleven. Luke Barton, Simon Slater, Annabelle Dowler, and Glen McCready are included in the guest cast.

The Eleven was first introduced to the Big Finish audience through previous Eighth Doctor stories, but apparently the Doctor has now encountered him before that. I should also mention that it is refreshing to have Mrs. Clarke back with the Doctor. She has become a favorite creation of the Big Finish canon. Hopefully, she will have some further adventures with the Doctor for a while longer.

Lizzie Hopley is the author of the first story, One For All. The Doctor and Constance find an abandoned TARDIS in the vortex and figure out that it belongs to the Eleven. They learn that he is married and has taken refuge on the planet Molaruss where the people have two minds, literally.

It’s not a bad start. It is great to have Baker and Raison perform together again. I think the combination works wince the two characters are such unlikely friends. The Sixth Doctor’s bombastic energy is such a perfect foil for the formal, buttoned-up persona of Constance Clarke. But Constance is more than just a reserved disciplined WREN. There is a courage and nobility about her that the Doctor can’t help but respect. Anyway, it is interesting to see different Doctors react to someone as chaotic as the Eleven as well.

Nigel Fairs brings something a little slower and more cerebral with The Murder of Oliver Akkron. This is apparently kind of a flashback episode of how the a previous president of Molaruss was assassinated. The Doctor and Constance actually do not appear in this one, however this ended up not being without some interest. The performances were a bit more subtle, but Fairs does a decent job underlining the menace here. This episode does take a bit of patience before things pick up and may need a second listening to catch more details.

Finally, the Doctor and Constance return to Molaruss and find the Eleven as ruler and still married. The place seems relatively stable until the Doctor is reminded of the inherent instability and ambition of the Eleven in Chris Chapman’s Elevation. The Eleven has figured that a populace with two personalities is not enough and wants a society that reflects his disordered existence more.

Sometimes following the machinations of the Eleven in an audio format is a somewhat troublesome affair. He is probably a character that may work better visually, but he is a creation of Big Finish and has only been portrayed by audio performance. He can be an interesting character occasionally, but he is exhausting to really follow. Bonnar is a fine performer and does the best he can. He has no shortage of talent and creativity with his vocal performance. Of course, Colin Baker has not let his age slow him down behind the microphone and sounds as energetic as ever. It was intriguing enough to see how the Eleven interacted with someone other than Paul McGann’s Doctor.

This set of stories were pretty decent, but I probably need to reflect on them and listen to them again to really find a deeper appreciation, if there is any to be had. Big Finish rarely has a complete failure of a project, and this one of by no means a complete failure, however I would hesitate to consider it a home run either.

Book Review: James Bond Gets A New Number

Forever and a Day is a James Bond prequel novel by Anthony Horowitz which apparently explains how Ian Fleming’s iconic literary secret agent was designated 007. Although Casino Royale was the first James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming, it really was not an origin story. I am not one of those fans who actually needs an origin story for all of my favorite characters, so I was curious about this idea but not terribly impressed with anyone concocting their own notion of how another author’s creation grew into being.

This one is an exception since Horowitz is actually a decent writer. There isn’t a lot of time devoted to James Bond’s early days in the Secret Service. In fact, Bond is promoted quite quickly in the book and is taking the place of a 00 agent who is killed. He requests to be given the 007 designation to honor a friend and to investigate his death.

Then, the elements familiar to the fans are in place. We have the somewhat deformed or striking looking villain. We have the pretty yet dangerous woman who captures Bond’s eye and perhaps his heart. There is the impressive headquarters that has no easy escape.

Even though there were plenty of familiar patterns from Fleming’s original series, Horowitz does bring a sense of fresh air to the character. I think there Horowitz embeds a sense of respect for Fleming throughout the story. In fact, the book includes a scene that was taken from some notes or a draft of an unpublished story that Fleming had stored away. The affection that Horowitz has for the Fleming just seems more palpable than in many pastiche works. I could envision Fleming himself writing this.

The literary version of Bond came across as considerably more brutal than what was often seen in the films. Daniel Craig has probably captured that a bit better than the other actors in many ways. Horowitz doesn’t shy away from the graphic beatings that Bond has both endured and administered.

There are times that the exposition seems to drag a little, and some conservations between characters felt longer than necessary, however I probably noted much of the same in Fleming’s original works.

I was rather pleased to find that whatever prejudices I had going into this particular novel were mostly unjustified. This is Horowitz’s second dive into 007’s world, and his third is apparently to be published later this year. I will be looking forward to seeing what other ideas he has for Fleming’s most celebrated agent.

Next up, a crime reporter in Colorado is struggling to understand the suicide of his twin brother, who was a homicide detective, and finds that there may be more to the tragedy than what was noticed. American crime writer Michael Connelly is probably best known as the author of the Harry Bosch novels, but one of his earlier works has Jack McEvoy in the spotlight of The Poet.

Film Review: The Scarlet Witch’s Strange Maternal Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the latest cinematic installment from Marvel Studios. Sam Raimi returns to the franchise as director with Michael Waldron providing the script. Benedict Cumberbatch suits up as Dr. Strange. Elizabeth Olson stirs up some magical mayhem as the Scarlet Witch. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, and Xochitl Gomez are also included in the cast along with a few surprise familiar faces from the Marvel universe.

Dr. Stephen Strange, the one time brilliant neurosurgeon, who has settled into his most recent role as a Master of the Mystic Arts and has been allied with the Avengers, finds himself on his most bizarre journey after rescuing a young girl with an uncontrolled power of creating portals into other universes. On the trail of the girl is Wanda Maximoff, who is also known as the Scarlet Witch. She has apparently lost a couple of children and wants to be reunited with them in another universe, but she wants to rely some dangerous mystical artefacts to do so. Dr. Strange has to rely on different versions of old friends and a couple of adversaries to help. He also has to search out other versions of himself so he can correct the collision course of various realities.

First of all, as expected, the visual effects were very well crafted. The performances were solid enough, but this thing just felt overstuffed in some ways. There have been longer films in this franchise, but this one felt like one of the longest. To be fair, Dr. Strange was not one of those comic book characters I followed terrible closely in my youth. It could be that this confusing, madcap, universe hopping is par for the course with this guy, but it may not translate to the silver screen all that well in spite of the recent achievements in visual effects creation. Cumberbatch is just charismatic enough to keep me from getting too frustrated here. Seeing some of the cameos was kind of fun. Yeah, this thing was a bit of a jumble, but I was still somewhat heartened by the promise of Dr. Strange returning.

Raimi is a talented director for the most part. I am glad that he has returned to Marvel Studios for this one. This film probably would have had more cracks if someone else was in the director’s chair.

This is another cinematic experience that manages to not be a total disaster but still falls short of a home run for the franchise.

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes Goes To The Trenches

The Great War is a Sherlock Holmes novel written by Simon Guerrier and is published by Titan Books. In this volume, Sherlock Holmes is a bit older, but his deductive abilities remain intact. He meets a young volunteer orderly during the First World War named Augusta Watson, who happens the narrator. Holmes explained that he was drawn into an investigation of a dead officer whose records have been stolen. There are some disturbing reports of cowardice. Holmes and this new Watson find themselves in the crosshairs of a conspiracy that stretches across opposing fronts.

Guerrier presents a pretty engaging addition to the vast collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiche works. Sherlock Holmes was first created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He has been the subject of several other original works by various authors. Guerrier is competent enough to add his voice to the pool.

Guerrier explores the social standing of women during this period of history. Gus Watson does aspire to be a doctor as well and also seems to share some of the abilities of deductive reasoning demonstrated by Holmes. Holmes has a famous distrust of the fairer sex, however he finds plenty of reason to respect this particular Watson.

This novel is pretty decently written. There isn’t much to have it be considered a stand out, but there is little reason to be overly harsh. I did respect that Guerrier did not rely on many of the trappings of his colleagues when writing about Holmes. Too many of the other pastiche writers in this series keep resurrecting Professor Moriarty or having Holmes in the middle of some supernatural type of problem. Guerrier manages to avoid those temptations. The notion of Holmes finally getting pulled into the Great War is not a bad idea.

This is a reasonably well written novel with a likeable enough narrator in Augusta Watson. The Great War is not a great entry into the Titan Books series, but it is still a long way from being a waste of time.

Speaking of pastiche writers, I am next going to revisit another well established literary and silver screen icon. Anthony Horowitz decides to present the first mission James Bond took on as 007 in Forever and a Day.

Film Review: Magic And Murder In Soho

Last Night in Soho is a supernatural thriller directed by Edgar Wright. Wright also co-wrote the script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Thomasin McKenzie stars in the lead role, Eloise Turner, alongside an impressive cast which includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, and the now deceased Diana Rigg.

Eloise, or Ellie, as she prefers to be called, is a shy young woman about to make a big move from her comfortable English village where she has lived with her grandmother. Her mother had died by suicide after some significant mental health issues. Ellie is not entirely free of the affliction and has hallucinations of her mother. Ellie is determined to make her mark as a fashion designer after attending school in London. Of course, the fast paced life of London and her new social situation requires some adjustment. When Ellie moves out of the dormitory and into her new apartment, she finds a conduit to Soho in the 1960’s where she encounters an aspiring singer named Sandie and is able to observe her journey without being able to interact directly. Ellie doesn’t understand how she was able to enter this life, but she enjoys the ride at first. Then, Sandie meets Jack who makes promises of getting her foot in the door to the stage. Well, Sandie’s path to stardom gets detoured drastically as Jack proves himself to be less than noble as her manager. Then the detour becomes a bloody mess, and Ellie finds the nightmares of the past intruding on her present day reality.

This is actually a pretty good movie. It is not without some flaws, however it delivers on the suspense. I am not all that familiar with Thomasin McKenzie, however she does put forth a compelling, sympathetic performance. Taylor-Joy is an actress with whom I have recently become familiar, so I already suspected she would be compelling. Matt Smith plays the charming yet duplicitous Jack and is very different from his more benevolent previous role on Doctor Who. I have very little criticism of the actual performances. Most of the writing was fairly believable in spite of the supernatural aspects of the story. There are a few knots to unravel in the story. There is a mistaken identity issue that I think should have been easier for Ellie to figure out. She seems to drop the ball on asking the most obvious questions of Stamp’s creepy old guy lurking around the alleys and pubs of present day Soho, so that was a little distracting. The setting was greatly realized. It was a bittersweet moment to recognize Rigg in what seems to be her final role before her recent demise.

Behind the more fantastical plot elements, there is a pretty decent effort to deal with the difficult subject matter of mental health issues. McKenzie really does well with avoiding any of the more cartoonish portrayals of someone whose sanity is unraveling.

This movie does not manage to reach the heights of a masterpiece, but it does hit the mark of being solidly thrilling and entertaining, and that has been an increasingly difficult target for Hollywood to hit these days.

Book Review: A New Doctor Meets An Old Ace

At Childhood’s End is a Doctor Who novel written by Sophie Aldred, who had played the Seventh Doctor’s companion, Ace. Ace is a few decades older and runs some kind of global charity organization. She also has resumed using her real name, Dorothy McShane. An alien satellite has entered the moon’s orbit, and Ace is compelled to investigate. When an old friend gets to the satellite, she sees a familiar blue police box belonging to an unfamiliar woman and her three companions. The Doctor has changed more drastically than usual, but Ace remembers her previous incarnation’s tendency to duplicitous scheming. Basically, they have some things to work out and some fences to mend.

Ace meets the current Doctor, who is currently being played by Jodie Whittaker. She has some friends of her own, and they all work with Graham, Ryan, and Yaz to help head off this latest alien incursion. The Doctor and Ace find themselves caught in a familiar war between two species they had encountered before. The previous involvement with this war is what led to their separation. Although the parting of the ways between this two has had several interpretations between previous novels and the audio plays.

This novel was kind of interesting, but I am always interested in Doctor Who even if the current direction stirs little excitement. Aldred turns out to not be a bad writer. She isn’t the most talented of scribes either, but she is writing Doctor Who, so there is a risk of judging her too harshly. The novel was fairly entertaining but not that memorable.

Next up, Sherlock Holmes is quite a bit older, but that doesn’t keep entirely out of involvement in the The Great War by Simon Guerrier.

Doctor Who Audio Review: A Different Sort Of Watcher

Watchers is the second Doctor Who audio novel from Big Finish Productions. Matthew Waterhouse has written this tale and also narrates the whole seven hours. Nicholas Briggs returns to voice the Daleks. Nigel Fairs is the director. It takes place just after the Doctor and Adric encounter the Master on Traken and is very near to the end of the Fourth Doctor’s era.

The Doctor and Adric are trapped in the time vortex with other ships where desperate alien castaways fight to escape. There is a Time Lord known as a Watcher. She has a companion of her own. The Daleks also arrive to further complicate matters.

Waterhouse played Adric about four decades ago and has reprised the role for Big Finish several times in recent years. He has also displayed some talent in writing. I had a little trouble getting tuned in the first half, however I started being able to better piece it together as the story unfolded. Waterhouse is a capable narrator and makes a pretty good stab emulating Tom Baker’s distinctive baritone. Obviously, it isn’t a masterful impression, but it isn’t too distracting. The Fourth Doctor’s regeneration was the most intriguing considering it was preceded by the presence of a ghostly figure turning up throughout his farewell episode all those years ago. This story explores the origins of the Doctor’s most unusual transformation and manages to spark the imagination.

This may be one that I will enjoy better when I give it a second run, but I still liked it well enough to know I will want to give it another go.

Book Review: Off The Grid With The Allbrights

The Great Alone is a novel written by Kristin Hannah. The story begins in 1974. Ernt Allbright is a former POW during the Vietnam War. He cannot seem to catch a break until he receives word of an inherited land in Alaska. He takes his wife and daughter into the untamed wilderness where he encounters a small community of outcasts. The family is ill-prepared for the harshest of winters. The story is told largely from the perspective of Leni Allbright, the teen-age daughter. She notices her father’s grip on his sanity loosening. She certainly is finding it harder to overlook the beatings her mother takes when Ernt’s anger consumes him. As Leni gets older and becomes more attached to the community, her father becomes more irrational and dangerous.

Hannah has proven herself to be a formidable researcher and compelling writer. It’s a fairly lengthy work, but Hannah was able to keep me engaged with some intriguing characters and an ever increasing tension within the Allbright family. Not only has Hannah shown her diligence when it comes to her presentation of Alaskan culture, she also seems to understand the complexities of domestic violence as well. Cora Allbright, the much suffering wife and mother, somehow manages to be very misguided and yet understandably so as she attempts to protect her daughter from Ernt’s darker impulses. Of course, no fictional community is complete without a brash, wise black woman serving as mentor and protector, and Large Marge fits that bill quite nicely. Hannah creates quite a collection of supporting characters wanting to do more to help the female Allbrights, but circumstances force them to stand by as Ernt’s sanity and humanity slip away into the darkness of Alaska’s wilderness.

There are not many wrong notes to be found in this one. It can seem a little long at times, but Hannah gets the pacing mostly right. Hannah manages to pull off a few surprises in the story. There are some elements that seem a bit fanciful, but the story never veers too far off the road of believability. I am not too keen on the idea of roughing it like the Allbrights initially do at the beginning, but Hannah’s description of the wilds of Alaska does stoke the imagination and the desire to see the place for myself one day.

Sophie Aldred has proven herself to be an effective actress and is best known as Ace, companion of the Seventh Doctor. She takes on the role of Doctor Who novelist with At Childhood’s End.